Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development in Sport

Bo Hanson
4x Olympian, Director, and Lead Consultant

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Performing at a high level as a team is not a rite of passage, and it very rarely just happens, even when you start with a group of quality athletes. Every team, sporting or otherwise, starts as a group of diverse individuals and follows predictable patterns, or stages of development, on their way to becoming a cohesive team.

So, what can a coach do to help their team through the stages of team development? It’s a good question, and the answer is a lot! Coaches and team leaders can play a pivotal role in progressing their teams through the stages they will inevitably go through, while ensuring their people don’t get stuck in stages where conflict is present. Ultimately, every team shares the end goal of getting to the performance stage as efficiently as possible.

In this article we’re going to give you a brief overview of each stage, what it looks like, and what its purpose is. Importantly, there is also a section in each stage which details what a coach can do to help guide their team through that stage and onto the next.

These stages of development are not unique to the sport environment, but sport teams follow the stages of development just like any other group of people, so it’s a useful framework to view your team’s current dynamics through – wherever they’re up to. So, to help you further understand each stage, we’re going to delve into the theory and background surrounding team development.

Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development

The first four stages of team growth were initially developed by Bruce Wayne Tuckman and published in 1965. His theory titled “Tuckman’s Stages” was based on research conducted on team dynamics. He believed (as is a common belief today) these stages were inevitable for a team to grow to a point where they could function together effectively and deliver high quality results.

Watch Bo Hanson Explain The Stages of Development

In 1977 Tuckman, jointly with Mary Ann Jensen, added a fifth stage to the 4 stages: “Adjourning.” The adjourning stage is when the team is completing the current project (or it is at the end of a competition season). They will be joining other teams (and/or moving on to other work) in the near future. For a high performing team, the end of a season or project brings feelings of sadness as team members who had effectively become as one, are now going their separate ways.

The 5 Stages of Team Development in Sport are:

  1. Stage 1: Forming
  2. Stage 2: Storming
  3. Stage 3: Norming
  4. Stage 4: Performing
  5. Stage 5: Adjourning

This article provides background on each of the five stages of team development in sport and an example of a team going through each stage.

Stage 1: Forming

The “forming” stage takes place when the team first meets each other. Team members are introduced, they share information about their backgrounds, interests and experience and form first impressions of each other. They learn about the plans for the year ahead, training and competition, discuss the team’s objectives/goals and start to think about what role they can play on the team. They are not yet training or working together, it is the very beginning. They are effectively “feeling each other out” and finding their way around how they might work together.

An Example of Forming in Action

An Example of Forming in Action

You have just finished the selection process for the State Team. At the first team meeting you may notice the athletes interacting politely, but distantly. Some athletes who have previously competed fiercely may be particularly wary of each other or even aloof. Before this selection, many of the athletes may have only interacted as competition. Athletes who have worked together at a regional level may gravitate towards each other.

Asking athletes not to wear anything associative with a particular region or club may help emphasize that previous competitors need to work together. On this point, it can be a great time to hand out State Team clothing. I recall being selected on Olympic Teams and immediately being rewarded with an Aussie Olympic Team shirt – a new identity.

During this initial stage of team growth it is important for the Coach or team leader to be very clear about team goals and provide a clear direction regarding the team or project. The Coach / team leader should ensure all of the members are involved in determining team roles and responsibilities and should work with the team to help them establish how they will work together (creating “team norms”.) The team is dependent on the Coach / team leader to guide them at this stage.

Stage 2: Storming

As the team begins to work, train, play and compete together they move into the “storming” stage. This stage is not avoidable; every team – most especially a new team who has never worked together before – goes through this part of developing as a team.

At this stage the team members compete with each other for status and for acceptance of their ideas. They have different opinions on what should be done and how it should be done – which will often cause conflict within the team.

As they progress through this stage, with the guidance of the Coach and team leader, they learn how to solve problems together, function both independently and together as a team, and settle into roles and responsibilities in the team. For team members who do not like conflict, this is a difficult stage to go through. Having athletes complete their AthleteDISC Profile will assist the Coach and athletes in developing self-awareness and team awareness at this stage. 

The Coach and team leader needs to be adept at facilitating the team through this stage ensuring the team members learn to listen to each other and respect differences and ideas. This includes not allowing any one team member to control all conversations and to facilitate contributions from all members of the team. The Coach and team leader will need to coach some team members to be more assertive and other team members on how to be more effective listeners.

This stage comes to a close when the team is more accepting of each other and learns how to work together for the good of the team. It means valuing diversity and arriving at the position of knowing the team needs all the different types of personalities and behavioral styles to be a success.

At this point, the Coach and team leader can start transitioning some decision making to the team to allow them more independence, but still stay involved to resolve any conflicts as quickly as possible.

An Example of Storming in Action

The first training camp for the State Team has just begun. Even though the selection process has finished there may still be competition between athletes for positions and status. Two athletes, who have had previous conflict, may exchange words in a heated training session. Athletes will begin to take a greater responsibility in the leadership, and resolution of conflict as time goes on and the team becomes more established.

Stage 3: Norming

When the team moves into the “norming” stage they are beginning to be more effective as a team.

They are no longer focused on their individual goals, but rather are focused on developing a way of working together for the best results of the team. They respect each other’s opinions and value their differences. They begin to see the practical value in those who are different on the team and want to be the best athlete for the team.

At this stage, working together as a team seems more natural and it becomes obvious when the team is not functioning as a “team”. At this stage the team has agreed on their team rules for working together, how they communicate and resolve team conflict, and what tools and processes they use to get things done. The team members begin to trust each other and actively seek each other out for assistance and input. Rather than compete against each other, they are now helping each other to work toward a common team goal. The team members also start to make significant progress as a team, evidenced by their successful collaboration.

At this stage, the Coach and team leader may not be as involved in decision making and problem solving, since the team members are working better together and can take on more responsibility in these areas. The team has greater self-direction and is able to resolve issues and conflict as a group.

An Example of Norming in Action

At this point the team has melded together much more efficiently. You might notice the captain or leader in the team seeking input from another member over an idea. Maybe a teammate recognizes the strength of another teammate and how this could be best utilized. In competition, the team may have some success, and you may notice that the team appears to be guiding themselves with less direction from you as a Coach.

Stage 4: Performing

In the “performing” stage teams are functioning at a very high level. The focus is on reaching the goal as a group. The team members have gotten to know each other, trust each other and rely on each other. Performance can be measured by the morale of the team and the actual on field performance of the team. That is, are they achieving their performance statistics or quite simply, are they winning and feel great about being part of a team.

Not every team makes it to this level of team growth; some teams stop at Stage 3: Norming. 

At this stage, the highly performing team functions without oversight and the members have become interdependent. The team is highly motivated to get the job done with the best results. They can make decisions and problem solve quickly and effectively. When they disagree, the team members can work through it and come to consensus without interrupting progress. If there needs to be a change, the team will come to agreement on changing processes on their own without reliance on the Coach and team leader.

At this stage, the Coach and team leader is involved less in decision making, problem solving or other activities involving the day-to-day work of the team. The team members work effectively as a group and do not need the oversight that is required at the other stages. The Coach and team leader will continue to monitor the progress of the team and celebrate milestone achievements with the team to continue to build team camaraderie. The Coach and team leader will also serve as the gateway when decisions need to be reached at a higher level within the organization.

Even at this stage there is a possibility that the team may revert back to another stage. For example, it is possible for the team to revert back to the “storming” stage if one of the members starts working independently. Or, the team could revert back to the “forming” stage if a new member joins the team. If there are significant changes that throw a wrench into the works, it is possible for the team to revert back to an earlier stage until they are able to manage through the change.

An Example of Performing in Action

The change between Norming and Performing may have been helped along by a team bonding exercise which brought the team together. Maybe it was just a natural progression of the team working together. Either way the team begins to work much more independently. Conflicts you would previously have to resolve might now be easily handled by the team. The camaraderie between the team may be at its highest level. A big difference in teams at this stage is the degree to which they significantly add value to their fellow team members by encouraging, challenging and motivating each other. 

Stage 5: Adjourning

The final stage; “adjourning” is when the team is disbanding at the end of a competition season or the project the team was working on is complete. For a high performing team, the end of a season or project brings feelings of sadness as team members who had effectively become as one, are now going their separate ways. It is an important opportunity to complete a review of what has been achieved and how you would further improve the experience next time.

(For more information about the service Athlete Assessments provides to clients, click here to read more about our Program Reviews)

An Example of Adjourning in Action

It is the end of the competition season and you are having your celebration dinner. Those involved may be feeling saddened at the end of the season and the end of this team as they know it. It is very unlikely that the exact same team will be working together again, so the loss of the camaraderie between the team may upset some athletes.

Is the Team Effective or Not?

There are various indicators for whether a team is working effectively together as a group. The characteristics of effective, successful teams include:

  • Clear communication among all members.
  • Regular brainstorming sessions with all members participating.
  • Consensus among team members.
  • Problem solving by the group.
  • Commitment to the team goals and the other team members.
  • Regular team meetings are effective and inclusive.
  • Positive, supportive relationships among all team members.

Teams that are not working effectively together will display the characteristics listed below:

  • Lack of communication among team members.
  • No clear roles and responsibilities for team members.
  • Lack of concern for training quality.
  • Team members work alone, rarely sharing information and offering assistance.
  • Team members blame others for what goes wrong, no one accepts responsibility.
  • Team members do not support others on the team.
  • Team members are frequently absent.

Summary of the Stages of Team Development in Sport

It is important to remember that every team – sporting or otherwise – will follow these stages of team development. It is the job of the Coach or team leader to help see the team through these stages; to bring them to the point where they are working as effectively as possible toward a common goal.

More information on how to get your team off to the best start is available in our article on ‘Pre-Season Preparation and using the GRIP Model’.

At Athlete Assessments, we’re here to provide you with excellence in service and here to help you be your best. If there is anything we can assist you with, please contact us.

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