Every organization's team goes through varying phases of the team life cycle.

Team Life Cycle – What It Means For the Leader Promoted From Within

Written by on February 21, 2014

Teams in the workplace have “life cycles,” different stages of evolution during which members exhibit different patterns of behaviour and productivity. Being promoted from team member to team leader is rife with challenges. In that situation, it’s critical to understand what stage of its life cycle your team is currently in, in order to understand the team dynamic.

This life cycle is based on a model developed by Bruce Tuckman, an American psychologist, more than 40 years ago. It is based on the theory that group dynamics go through distinct phases of development, including:

  • Forming: The first stage of the team process realizes the transition from a group of individuals to a functioning team. In this stage members develop confidence in each other and in their leaders.
  • Storming: A difficult, but natural, stage known for its negativity. During “storming,” team members often lash out at each other when they realize the amount of responsibility and amount of work that lies ahead.
  • Norming: The rainbow after the storm, norming is the sweet phase when members become accustomed to working with each other co-operatively.
  • Performing: This involves group maturation, and is characterized by extreme productivity.

More recently, a couple of additional phases have been added. The first is called “dorming.” This is the phase in which people are  too comfortable with the status quo, perhaps even bored and or experiencing  a lack of team activity. This leads into stage called “transforming,” where the team and its leader either need to dismantle the group or reinvent it.

Each phase has peaks and valleys, as team members work within their roles and recognize the best methods of functioning with each other. These phases are a key marking point for a new team leader who is grasping to understand how to lead their team.

No matter which stage the team is in, whenever there is a change in team membership, the entire team reverts to the “forming stage.” Sometimes when people are promoted internally, they assume the team will continue along its life cycle seamlessly. It is imperative, however, to be aware that such a personnel shift has a huge effect on all of the members  of the team. 

Team goals, individual goals and acknowledgement of roles and responsibilities must be laid out anew as soon as a fresh leader is at the helm. A new leader, or even a change in team members, often affects the entire team dynamic so drastically that these basic team characteristics need to be reviewed so the team can re-form.

Team members may not know how to incorporate the new leader into the work process, how to deal with the new addition when there is conflict or even how to collaborate and form a relationship with the new leader. To encourage re-formation, bring team members together to have a frank conversation about shared goals, processes and even areas for improvement.

Understanding what stage a team is at and acknowledging when it reverts to “forming” due to a change in team membership, which goes a long way toward clearly defining accountability, as well as outlining roles and responsibilities. This awareness allows the team to spend less time forming storming and norming and move quickly in to the highly productive performing stage.