All new teams go through stages of team development (some faster or slower than others). When a team forms, they experience five stages of team development referred to as Tuckman's Ladder. These stages of were proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965 who maintained that the stages were not only necessary for team development but inevitable.

As part of team development and assessment, it is important for the project manager to understand the stages of team development and how a team will go through each certian stages before becoming efficient and productive. Tuckman’s ladder describes these stages:

Tuckman's Ladder

Forming Stage: In this stage, team members seek inclusion. It is common for roles and responsibilities to be unclear and for teams to ignore process & procedures. You’ll find that scope and parameter setting is loosely attempted and discussions are vague and frustrating. In the forming stage, there is high dependence on leadership for guidance. That means the project manageer will be critical to the development of the team.

  • Team members meet and learn about the project and their roles.
  • This phase is characterized by each member acting independently.

Storming Stage: In this stage, team members seek direction and guidance. When teams enter the storming stage they often attempt to skip the research and jump quickly to solutions. They may show signs of impatience for other team members regarding lack of progress. Arguments about decisions and actions of the team will be observable as team member’s angle for position. Team subgroups or clicks may form and power struggles will also be evident.

  • The team begins to address work, technical decisions, and management approach.
  • If the team is not collaborative, this environment can be counterproductive.

Norming Stage: In this stage, team members seek agreement. After the team evolves through the storming stage they begin to find agreement and consensus. Roles and responsibilities are more accepted and team member engagement increases. Social relationships begin to develop and the project manager becomes more enabling while increasingly sharing authority.

  • Team members begin to recognize their roles.
  • Team members begin to work together and learn to trust each other.

Performing Stage: In this stage, the team collectively seeks results. Now the magic begins, the team is directionally aware and agrees on objectives. Autonomy is now characteristic of the team. Disagreements are resolved within the team and above average expectations of performance have been established in high performing teams.

  • The team is working well together as a unit.
  • The team is able to work through issues smoothly and effectively.

Adjourning Stage: In this stage, the team accepts closure. Team members expect to return to life before the project and help to bring closure.

  • The team completes the work and moves on (typically done in the Close Project process).

Well-chosen and well-structured project teams are essential components of any successful project. An energized project team that is properly managed through these stages of team development can be expected to be assets with regard to project success. Project managers will have far more success executing project deliverables if they understand and embrace Tuckman's five stages of team development.