What Is Team Development? Definition, Stages, and More

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn about team development and why organizations use it to improve team efficiency. Discover the stages of team development, how teams may cycle through these stages, and what interventions may be helpful to mature growing teams.

[Featured image] Marketing team working on a competency development plan

Team development is an intentional, ongoing process by an organization to improve the efficiency and progress of a team working toward a common goal or mission. Many team development goals focus on improving the working relationship of team members through improved methods of conflict resolution and communication skills, so that everyone feels understood and valued.

Team development is helpful for organizations that want to improve, maintain, or grow a team. Some organizations implement team development via a team development action plan, which details goals, tasks, activities, strategies, and more for improving and supporting team performance and efficiency.

In this article, you'll learn more about team development, including why it's important, its different stages, and how to implement it in your place of work.

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Why is team development important?

Team development helps organizations evaluate and improve a team’s efficiency, progress, and overall performance as the team works toward a common goal or mission.

Organizations often use team development concepts to save time, money, or both. The main goal is to leverage and maximize the efforts of a team to complete a task more efficiently than one individual may be able to do alone. In effect, team development recognizes the individual and the team as a whole to improve aspects of teamwork, including communication, conflict resolution, problem-solving, accountability, and motivation.

Organizations can use team development for multiple purposes, depending on the team's goal or mission. For example, an organization may use team development to improve a failing team, maintain an emerging one, or grow a more mature one.

Some common reasons for team development include:

  • Clarify roles within a team to reduce the ambiguity of roles and responsibilities. 

  • Improve relationships among team members.

  • Create solutions for problems within the team. 

  • Improve team motivation. 

  • Identify issues impeding team progress. 

  • Create an opportunity for open communication, constructive criticism, and sharing. 

  • Promote individual and team independence and confidence. 

  • Better align the actions of the team to a central goal.

Who uses team development?

Organizations of varying sizes and industries that use teams to complete tasks may use team development to improve the functionality and performance of teams. From online shoe retailers to massive tech companies, team development is essential to evaluating team performance and providing support where needed.

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Tuckman's stages of team development

In the 1960s, Professor Bruce W. Tuckman identified four main stages of team development. Later, a fifth step was added, and today, these are most commonly known as “Tuckman’s Five Stages of Team Development.” These stages are forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. Also referred to as team development models, these phases or stages of team development can support team members as they work to achieve tasks individually and as a group.

Teams can use these stages to reflect and amend their structure when necessary. These stages also act as a roadmap to the end goal or mission. The speed at which teams move through these stages depends on many factors, including the expectations of team members, individuals on the team, leadership, and the team's overall goal.

Below, we dive into each of these stages in more depth.

1. Forming

As the initial stage in team development, team members can expect excitement and uncertainty as the team forms and begins to set its general structure, tasks, goals, roles, and responsibilities. During this stage, team members work together to create a mission and develop expectations among individuals within the team. Team leaders must create a safe, non-threatening environment for the team to progress to the next stage. Active leadership with structure and direction are critical in the forming stage.

During this stage, the team may:

  • Engage in “icebreakers” to get to know one another.

  • Take quizzes on work styles or personality types so each team member can better understand how they and others work.

  • Set and communicate team goals, expectations, rules, and other guidelines for the team.

2. Storming

After developing foundational elements of the team, such as goals and roles, the team may move into a more volatile phase called storming. During the storming stage, team members may begin to question the team's direction or decisions and express concerns that might create conflict among members.

Some team members may become critical of leadership or others as they work to resolve conflicts, reflect on the team's goals and mission, and refocus the team's direction as needed. Necessary leadership during this stage should include teaching team members appropriate conflict resolution methods while praising and supporting the team through this challenging stage.

During this stage, the team may:

  • Clarify team roles with written job descriptions. 

  • Engage in healthy and appropriate conflict resolution activities or discussions. 

  • Rely on other team members to help with specific tasks. 

  • Provide verbal or written praise to other team members.

3. Norming

In the storming stage, the team experiences some growing pains. However, the group may move into a more settled, peaceful phase where team members begin resolving conflicts and evaluating team processes in a way that leads to increased productivity.

The norming stage is also where team members begin to accept constructive criticism as they better understand and trust others in their team. A sense of cohesion forms during this stage, which is critical for the team's livelihood to produce and be effective. Team leaders may allow for shared leadership, encouraging team members to collaborate and contribute more with less structure.

During this stage, the team may:

  • Complete regular, formal check-ins with team leadership. 

  • Begin to express constructive criticism amongst the team. 

  • Develop team routines. 

  • Set smaller individual task milestones.

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4. Performing

During the performing stage, team members have increased confidence in their abilities, the team's ability, and the team's direction. Members accept differences among one another, roles are more fluid and flexible, and the team as a whole works more efficiently together toward the common goal. The team continues developing and improving during the performance stage until the final termination stage.

Teams that reach this stage are typically interdependent and rely on one another and team leaders to fulfill needs. The result is that the team can collaborate effectively and share leadership.

During this stage, the team may:

  • Set new team goals. 

  • Meet existing team goals. 

  • Offer support and reinforcement to fellow team members.

5. Adjourning

The team naturally dissolves in the adjourning or termination stage as the goal or mission is completed. Team members might feel sad, accomplished, or anxious about the team's ending.

During this final stage, team members complete deliverables, evaluate their progress, and formally close the team. Planned terminations help team members better cope with a team's ending. Reflection on the team’s accomplishments can also aid in successfully terminating the team.

During this stage, the team may:

  • Change roles in preparation for a new project, goal, or mission.

  • Restructure itself. 

  • Attend a closing celebration or event to signify the termination of the team. 

  • Fill out surveys or evaluations on the progress and performance of the team and leadership.

The cycle of team development

According to Tuckman, teams naturally cycle through stages when developing, from the initial formation of the team to its termination once it achieves its goal or mission.

The purpose of each stage and the feelings and behaviors felt in each can vary. These stages often work as a framework to assess team progress and productivity. In other words, they're a way to better understand why a team may struggle or thrive.

Read more: What Is Team Management: Strategies, Duties, Job, Career Outlook

Team development benefits and considerations

It’s helpful if organizations that want to use team development know its advantages, considerations, or drawbacks before implementing. For many, team development leads to increased productivity and a greater feeling of appreciation in the workplace. Still, for some, team development can lead to conflict among coworkers or feelings of frustration at their team’s progress.

Benefits of team development

Many organizations find numerous benefits from using team development techniques and methodology to improve team performance and longevity. Working as a team often cultivates a sense of camaraderie and enhanced feelings of accomplishment.

Employees who work within teams might find greater job satisfaction since teamwork can generate stronger, more positive relationships among coworkers and organizational leadership. Team development can ensure team members feel appreciated and valued while providing opportunities for intervention when needed.

Teamwork can lead to additional learning opportunities employees might not access on their own, making team development an advantageous concept for employers. When employers or organizations use team development, employees naturally improve skills and build knowledge essential to their organizational roles. Team development also supports the relationships of employees working on teams.

Other advantages of team development may include: 

  • Role clarification 

  • Fewer interpersonal conflicts 

  • Successful goal setting 

  • More collaborative environment 

  • Alignment of the team to organization goals and mission

Considerations before using team development

Potential barriers organizations should consider before using team development include the time and energy it takes to implement team development methods. Team development can take longer than team-building activities aimed solely at building relationships among team members. Still, organizations will glean richer results with more in-depth data to support and make lasting changes within a team.

During certain stages of team development, team members may feel dissatisfaction with the direction of the team or frustration at the team’s progress or team leadership. While it’s common for team members to cycle through feelings of frustration and criticism, these feelings can lead to a lack of progress or growth among team members. Some teams may also experience issues progressing from one stage of team development to the next. Teams unable to progress from one stage to the next may not experience optimal efficiency.

Once a team dissolves after completing its intended purpose, team members may also feel sad or fatigued depending on how they feel the team performed and the relationship among team members.

Other disadvantages of team development may include:

  • Conflict among team members 

  • Frustration with the complexity of tasks or lack of team progress 

  • Fear of change at the culmination of the team or project 

  • Feelings of uncertainty or anxiety during the formation of the team 

  • Development of unhealthy or harmful team norms

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How to get started in team development

To get started in team development, first establish foundational elements of the team, such as team values, team rules, and an end goal. Establish clear leadership and individual roles within the team to build structure and support for the team.

A key element of successful team development is trust among team members and leadership. To build trust, create opportunities for team members to openly share thoughts and feelings and allow most problem-solving to happen within the team rather than involving leadership or outside parties. Equipping teams with the tools they need to effectively work together, facilitating communication, and using consensus to solve problems when possible allows teams to work independently of leadership while receiving support when necessary. Try to create natural opportunities for team members to lean on one another and share in the team experience of working toward a common goal.

Team development action plans can be a helpful, tangible tool for organizations that want to use team development to intervene when teams aren’t performing as they should. A team development action plan essentially outlines the team goals and strategies to improve overall performance. First, gather data about the team using tools like evaluations or observations to create one. Identify strengths and weaknesses within the team. Ensure the team goal is attainable, realistic, and aligns with the team's abilities. Once you’ve identified weak areas in the team, create actionable steps to address and implement these problems. Examples of interventions in a team development plan may include team-building activities, mentorship opportunities, or training programs or workshops.

Finally, understand that teams go through stages of development. When organizations can recognize the difference between a team's natural growing pains and the real issues that need addressing, they can better support the team's growth. Learning about the stages of team development and aligning team development methods to these stages can help when implementing team development.

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Written by Coursera • Updated on

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