From Forming to Performing: How to Make Teams Work

Tom Anastasi

Entrepreneurs often want and need to have teams for projects. The benefits of teams are immense: People working together can often bring to bear diverse skills and viewpoints, and apply greater experience than any one person has. Delegating tasks to teams allows you to take one or more things off your to-do list.

Improperly managed, teams, however can be slow and inefficient. The key to managing a team is understanding the natural stages of team development and using proven techniques to have your team perform well and quickly.

Bruce Tuckman, one of the first organizational psychologists to research teams, identified the predicable stages of team development: Forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.(1)

Building on Tuckman’s work, we have learned much about how to get the most out of teams in the shortest time.

The first of Tuckman’s four stages is forming.

The Forming Stage. The forming stage occurs when a new team first meets and lasts for the first two or three meetings, which is often a week or so. It’s the time when members get to know each other. The forming stage occurs when a new team convenes or an existing team has added an additional member or members which, in effect, creates a new team that must re-form with the new members included.

In the forming stage, introductions are made, contact information is exchanged, and members tend to act amiably. Conflict is usually avoided and agreement and the illusion of consensus is prized.

First impressions are important and lasting. A negative first impression in the first few seconds or minutes with any group will be hard to shake. So, people resolve that by doing what they can to fit in.They behave much as they think the group wants and say the “right” things.Imagine a new team forming at your work-place. Further imagine that someone says “Let’s meet every day.” Most people with busy schedules would not think this is a good idea, but at this formation stage would be reluctant to say so because they want to be thought of as “team players.”

In the forming stage sometimes a team leader is picked, or emerges. Sometimes it’s done formally, other times it happens naturally. Other times a person has the role of leader, though it’s never stated –it’s just understood.

To make of the most of the forming stage, encourage teams do bonding activities up-front. Corporations conduct training seminars, and have structured activities that act as ice-breakers. I’ve conducted hundreds of MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) seminars to help teams learn about each other, which is very effective for team development. You can get most of the same benefits with activities like brain-teasers, or even encouraging teams to go bowling or just have lunch together and discuss non-business related topics. This will accelerate the forming stage, and begin to have teams understand each members’ strengths and weaknesses. This makes assigning process and task roles much more robust than random assignment.

The Storming Stage. The next stage that might occur is the storming stage, in which unstated conflicts are voiced. Conflict isn’t always destructive, in its most basic form it’s just a statement that things need to be improved. Going back to our “meeting every day” example, this is the stage when one or more members would suggest that meeting every day is not a good idea, and that meeting every week or, even every two weeks is a better idea. This prompts a discussion of the best meeting schedule. It also allows other team members to voice their own concerns about that topic and others. Once the concerns are on the table, the team can invent options to satisfy, as best they can, the concerns of each member.

Of course, the storming stage can be destructive – very destructive, if the attacks become personal. If the resentments have been festering for a long time, especially if they are deep-seated, then raw nerves may be touched, and there could be an explosion of hostile emotion that can cascade out of hand quickly, which can be the dark side of teams.

The storming stage doesn’t always occur. A good thing to do at this stage is create a team contract.This is a written agreement that each person will sign. This will list the tasks that needs that need to be accomplished and who will do them. This will formalize expectations. The team will also assign process goals like organizer, devil’s-advocate, and note-taker. This will also codify positive norms and reduce unstated norms, especially the destructive ones. Most managers have found that having a team leader can reduce inefficiency and drift and improve the team process. Team leaders should be chosen for their leadership skills, not for solely for their technical skills.

The Norming Stage. The next stage is the norming stage. In the norming stage, powerful forces will affect how team members should behave, speak, act, and even think. There are two types of norms: positive and negative. There are also stated and unstated positive and negative norms.

Positive norms are actions and behaviors that contribute to the team’s well-being. They promote accomplishing the tasks the team was formed to do. Examples of positive norms are: recognition for jobs well done, being prepared for meetings, following-through on promises, being on-time for meetings, and sharing of unpleasant or tedious tasks. These allow each team member to feel he or she is an important and valued member of the team.

Negative norms are pretty much the opposite and include things like slacking, sniping, being unprepared, and missing deadlines.

The positive team norms can be included in the team’s contract. The heathiest teams hold members accountable if the team norms are not met. An example of positive norms being carried out is: “We’re all very busy, so let’s start our meeting at 4 PM and finish at 5 PM. Send me agenda items 48 hours in advance, and so we don’t waste time everyone make sure you read the documentation beforehand.”

But there are unstated norms. Behavior, not contract statements, will determine the actual norms. For example, if the team’s stated norm is to start the meeting at 4 PM sharp, and they consistently wait until everyone is present, and one or more of the members consistently arrives at 4:15, 4:15 becomes the norm. The group can decide if they want to modify the norm or the behavior.

The Performing Stage. The next stage is the performing stage. In this stage, positive norms have been accentuated and reinforced and negative norms have been reduced or eliminated. The team knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses and is progressing on all cylinders in meeting both its process and task goals.Without proper management, most teams will go from forming to performing in about four months, though the actual task the team needs to accomplish may take much longer.

Monitoring Team Performance

Since the goal is to get to the performing stage, a way to accelerate that process to much less than four months is to have an AAR(After-action- review) after each meeting. In these sessions, teams can analyze the meeting, in terms of both how they accomplished their tasks, and the processes they used. There’s no blaming, but in the AAR, the team will carefully analyze what went right, note that anything that was inefficient, and determine how to improve as the team moves on. This takes just a few minutes and has been shown to increase team efficiency, and greatly reduce the chances of the storming stage’s even occurring or being toxic, if it does occur.

The final stage, adjourning, happens when the team has completed its work. In 1977, Tuckman added this fifth stage which can also be a useful management tool. Here an AAR of the entire work of the teammay be analyzed for future learning. 


When setting up a team, even a small team, make sure to accelerate the stages of team development so time and money won’t be wasted and the best aspects of teamwork can be experienced. You’ll also reduce or eliminate the negative aspects of teamwork. (2)


1 Tuckman, Bruce W. (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-

2 Tuckman, Bruce W., & Jensen, Mary Ann C. (1977). ‘Stages of small group development revisited’, Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419- 427.

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