The Role of the PM in the 5 Stages of Team Development

Each team goes through a natural development path, divided into five stages. This is what the American psychologist and researcher Bruce Wayne Tuckman theorized in the latest Sixties after researching group dynamics. Initially, in 1965, Tuckman identified four inevitable stages in the growth of a team. He added a fifth, in 1977, in a review paper written by the psychologist Mary Ann Jensen, at the time a Ph.D. student at Rutgers University with Tuckman.

Understanding each stage's characteristics can help us guide our team to the highest maturity stage, the point where they effectively work together and produce high-quality results.

The 5 Stages of Team Development

Stage 1Forming
DescriptionAt this stage, the team members don't know each other and meet for the first time. They exchange information on experiences, interests, and backgrounds and try to get to know each other, to understand their own and others' roles within the team. This phase is generally characterized by enthusiasm for starting a new project and concern for how every individual will adapt to the other and how each one's skills and competencies will integrate to work together. The team will not be very productive, and the focus will be more on people than on work.
Role of the PMThe project manager should ensure that all members have adequate knowledge of the project and its objectives and that each is actively involved in determining the team's roles and responsibilities as a whole. The PM should support the team in defining how they will work together, discussing, for example, the skills and interests of each, the ground rules and individual roles, and organizing team building activities. It is necessary to allow the team to become familiar, develop relationships, and understand how every piece is inserted in the design mosaic.
Stage 2Storming
DescriptionIt is the phase of contrasts, tacit or manifest. Team members begin to encounter the first obstacles in carrying out the work and to collide with different ideas, opinions, and personalities. They might discuss how a task should be done, how a process should be addressed, or a problem solved. In the "storm" phase, competitions for power emerged to affirm one's ideas and points of view and determine how they will work together. Furthermore, in many teams, these conflicts may not find expression. Still, they do exist anyway: the project manager's ability to recognize the signs of a latent conflict will be decisive to ensure that it is resolved immediately and does not explode.
Role of the PMConflicts are natural and inevitable and, above all, a team matter: each team member must be aware of their responsibility in resolving conflicts within the team. The project manager will support the team by ensuring that everyone listens, understands, and respects the point of view of the other, that everyone is free to express that unique perspective that can be fundamental for the project. The PM will promote and facilitate discussions, encouraging openness, concentration on the problem and not on personalities, focus on the present and not on the past. As team members express their ideas and thoughts, team members will learn how to solve problems and work together.
Stage 3Norming
DescriptionThe team begins to work more effectively on the project, developing "norms" such as processes and procedures that govern how we work together. Team members begin to trust each other, individual goals make room for group goals, diversity is respected and valued, and conflicts, less frequent, are resolved more quickly.
Role of the PMThe project manager should monitor that the team continues to resolve conflicts quickly and move in the right direction, intervening when necessary. In this phase, the team members work effectively in a more independent way and take on the necessary responsibilities, requiring less involvement of the PM in the decision-making processes and solving everyday problems.
Stage 4Performing
DescriptionThe degree of maturity, motivation, and independence achieved by the team allows the project to achieve significant progress with the project manager's least degree of supervision. The team is a high performing, makes decisions, and solves problems quickly and in complete autonomy, focusing on common objectives and thinking as a team, aware of its members' interdependence. Not all teams can reach this stage, especially due to the persistence of conflicts unresolved or addressed with solutions suitable only for the short term.
Role of the PMIn this phase, the project manager's work will certainly be simpler: his supervision on the team's daily activities will not be necessary, nor his intervention in the decision-making processes. The PM role for a Performing Team will be limited to action in the issues and decisions that need to be addressed at a higher level within the organization.
Stage 5Adjourning
DescriptionThis stage was added in 1977 by Tuckman and Jensen. It takes place at the end of the project. Each project, to be defined as such, must have a beginning and an end. This temporariness inevitably also reflects on the team that carried it forward: the teams in Adjourning have completed the project and thus conclude their time as a team. Often also referred to as the "mourning" phase, the team generally experiences sadness for the team's dissolution and the end of the experience.
Role of the PMAt this stage, the project manager should grant time to celebrate the team's successes and reward everyone's commitment to achieving the objectives through a formal or informal meeting. It could be an opportunity to retrace the lessons learned during the realization of the project, the success or failure factors, to enrich everyone's baggage with good practices or factors to consider to avoid a mistake already made.

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