This article is part of a series of learning resources developed by Accelerate and
Intend Health Strategies to establish a shared language and focus on Relational Leadership practices for U of U Health leaders and teams.
The work of Intend Health Strategies is grounded in Relational Leadership (RL), a human-centric approach that cultivates authentic human connection and awareness to increase belonging, collaboration, equity, and impact across health systems—the foundation for better care and the catalyst for meaningful and sustainable change.
reating effective and engaged teams requires constant vigilance and intention. Organizational leaders may create a “team” by bringing individuals together and even giving them shared space without a team ever actually developing.
Teams, like people, move through stages of development. These stages, introduced in 1965 by Bruce Tuckman, remain real and relevant today for teams in clinical, research or educational settings or whether members work in-person or collaborate in virtual spaces.
The role of the leader and all members of the team consists in recognizing what stage our teams are currently in and what strategies are needed to move the team forward to reach its full potential.
In clinical terms, Tuckman’s stages give us the tools for both diagnosis (what stage is my team in) and treatment (what do we need to do to move forward).
Stages of team development
The stages include:
Forming a group together, whether for a short-term or long-term project. Forming brings excitement and enthusiasm for the work in addition to some anxiety or uncertainty about the future.
Storming involves the initial disagreements as groups acclimate to each other and bring forth different ideas. Because team members come from different backgrounds with diverse experience and ideas, storming will naturally and always happen. Storming may manifest loudly through expressed disagreement or more quietly through disengagement.
Norming, the result of storming, means setting up the norms and expectations for our team. Members begin to settle into ways of communicating and functioning together.
Performing means working well together toward our project goal and focusing on improvement. In this stage a team is at peak efficiency and engagement, recognizing and handling potential issues and continuing to learn and grow.
Transforming occurs when the team or environment changes. For example, a team may transform when a new team member or leader joins. Often there is an external occurrence that can alter the established function of the team (e.g., pandemics, financial crises). Transforming factors often require a team to move back into previous stages.
Adjourning means purposefully coming together at the end of a project and providing feedback on the process and outcome. Time is given for the group to consider how the experience will inform future work. Hint: This stage is often overlooked, resulting in a missed opportunity to reinforce connection, improve, and build culture.
Teams may not always develop in a linear way. A shake-up in transforming might push the team back to storming. If team members work together, it is fine to move back and forth between stages.
Strategies for each stage
Forming: Make sure team members are clear on the project and their roles and responsibilities. Set norms for how team members will work together. It is critical that team members spend time getting to know each other, sharing their experiences and values to build trust and foster psychological safety.
Storming: You cannot manage conflict if no one will talk about it. When conflict arises, give team members words or tools to bring up what they are feeling or seeing into a shared space – you could even say, “I think we are storming!.” Be transparent and embrace difficult conversations, recognizing that people may have different ideas or views. Shift the noted differences from conflict between people to dissonance between ideas. Focus on what will help accomplish the shared goal or purpose.
Norming: Team members must share what they are learning through their own development or by making mistakes. Emphasize problem solving skills and offer space and praise for those who share ideas or suggestions. Give others the chance to lead.
Performing: Continue to support individual and team improvement. Be on the lookout for conflict and directly discuss challenges as they arise. Pause and provide space to reflect, evaluate progress and check-in.
Adjourning: Plan a celebration or closure activity. Ask team members to share their thoughts on how well the team did in accomplishing the goal and how they felt in the process. What did the team do well? What could go better next time? Offer praise and gratitude.
Teaming is very intentional. We need to recognize as we move through each stage of team development so we can keep acting with the right intentions.