Fostering teamwork and collaboration through 4 stages of group development

There are no shortcuts to quality collaboration and teamwork. Effective collaboration and high-performing teamwork require a strong organizational foundation, a dedication to quality collaboration practices, and a bit of nudging in the right direction. 

Building and maintaining collaborative teams is a continuous effort through different stages of their existence, from their inception to advanced performance. The set of requirements and desirable actions will differ depending on the developmental stage of a team. 

In this guide, we will examine concrete steps towards fostering teamwork. Specifically, we will focus on the organizational support that enables teams to perform at the highest level. As the degrees and models of support change over time, we will highlight the beneficial practices through the stages of group development (as defined by Bruce Tuckman):

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing

Note: In a later revision of the model, Tuckman adds the fifth stage of team development — adjourning. As it represents the conclusion of a team’s existence (and involves no collaboration), it will not be further discussed in this article.

It is important to note that each of the stages requires different nourishment for teamwork and collaboration. This is why we will examine them separately. We will focus on two areas of impact for each stage — the organizational framework needed for fostering collaboration and the best practices that can contribute to it. 

How to foster teamwork and collaboration through 4 stages of group development - cover

1. Fostering teamwork in the forming stage

The forming stage of team development is a period of orientation. A team is formed and its members become acquainted with one another, their working environment, roles, and expectations. In this stage, team members are greatly dependent on leadership, as they look for guidance, test out boundaries, and aim to understand expected manners of behavior. The stage is marked by setting ground rules, defining early goals, and understanding the team’s overall purpose. 

The organizational framework for fostering collaboration in the forming stage

Laying the groundwork for successful collaboration begins even before a team is formed. In the (pre)initial stage of team creation there are three critical focus areas: 

  • Planning
  • Recruitment
  • Onboarding

Let’s take a look at them individually.

Planning

Team success starts with a strong plan. Before we start working towards establishing a team, we need to have a clear idea of what it is supposed to achieve. 

When planning a team, we need to ask three crucial questions:

  • What are the team’s goals and objectives?
    A team needs to be an answer to an existing question or a challenge. We must first understand what we wish to achieve, and then formulate how a team will achieve it. 
  • What are the roles needed to realize these goals and objectives?
    Understanding the first question helps us answer this one. We must think of all the individual contributions needed to achieve the defined objectives. Team roles and their individual occupiers can change over time, but it is necessary to start with a clear and logical structure and division of responsibilities.
  • How will these roles interact with each other?
    Once we define the unique individual team roles, we need to figure out how they will collaborate as a team. Team processes can evolve to suit the member’s strengths and preferences, but the initial team will benefit from clear guidelines and procedures that connect their individual work into a functional whole.

Recruitment

Finding the right people is essential for any type of business. With collaborative teams, it is highly important that we not only consider the required skill sets and experience, but also the candidates’ personality types and interpersonal skills. Aside from performing their formal professional roles, team members always assume informal team roles as well. Achieving the right balance of these informal team roles can be crucial to the success of a collaboration. 

Recruitment of the initial team extends not only to team members but also to team leaders. For leaders of collaborative teams, it is important to look for both strong organizational skills and strong people management skills.

Keep in mind that the recruitment process sets the tone for future collaboration. Present-day candidates are tomorrow’s team members. Therefore, it is recommended to communicate openly and consistently from the very start.

Onboarding

The forming stage of team development is riddled with confusion and uncertainty. New team members look to the organization for answers and direction. Onboarding is all about providing clarity on all aspects of their future work, primarily in these three areas:

  • Roles and responsibilities:
    Before they can collaborate, team members need to know what individual role they will perform and how they are expected to perform it. A high degree of clarity of individual roles and responsibilities eliminates confusion and helps the team grasp its overall structure. 
  • Goals and objectives:
    Collaborative teams are marked by a shared vision. The first step in creating a unifying purpose is clearly communicating team goals and objectives. This includes long-term goals, but also short-term goals as measurable stages along the way. Understanding of shared goals will not only help team members better grasp the importance of their individual roles but also create a sense of shared purpose. 
  • Processes and procedures:
    New team members will need to know how they are expected to interact with their teammates. This includes both operational procedures and codes of conduct. The understanding of procedures infuses teamwork with structure while defining boundaries and models of desirable behavior lays the foundation for future interpersonal relations. 

Best practices in the forming stage

Alongside the necessary organizational framework, building teamwork simultaneously takes place in informal ways. New team members are made aware of the formal “rulebook”, but they also pick up cues from others around them, particularly people of authority. Therefore, it is important to understand that the way team leaders and other supervisors interact with others sets the tone for all interactions. 

Regardless of the specific team culture we are trying to build, all teams in their forming stage can benefit from the following practices: 

  • Transparency
  • Team bonding
  • Championing team values

Let’s address all of them in greater detail.

Transparency

Openness is the foundation of trust, one of the key elements of team collaboration. Building trust begins by communicating openly and honestly about all aspects of the shared work. This works both ways — being honest and encouraging honesty from others. Creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere where all team members are comfortable with speaking their minds is rooted in good communication practices built on the transparency of everyone’s work and opinions. Transparency should extend not only to the manner of communication but also the means of communicating. In practice, this means providing a platform that ensures that everyone has all the relevant information and enables two-way communication necessary for healthy collaboration. Pumble team chat is a communication platform that enables transparent and efficient team communication. 

Achieving transparency of information ad two-way communication with dedicated public channels
Achieving transparency of information ad two-way communication with dedicated public channels

Team bonding

The quality of teamwork and collaboration is greatly determined by interpersonal relationships. In their forming stage, teams are essentially groups of individuals who are just beginning to learn about one another. It is important to provide a platform for relationships to develop. 

In traditional office spaces, bonding and familiarization can take place spontaneously, but for distributed teams, it is important to have a channel or a room in a team chat app dedicated to informal, non-work communication. Organizations can further encourage bonding by devising collaborative tasks that bring team members closer together or organizing various team-building activities.

It is perfectly fine to dedicate a communication channel to non-work topics 
It is perfectly fine to dedicate a communication channel to non-work topics 

Championing team values

All teams have their values, whether they are overtly stated and defined or less formal. Ideally, core values are not just empty phrases but shared qualities that infuse our work and our relationships with team members.

Communicating these shared values with new team members is important, but they also need to be reflected in the actions of leaders and influential figures. If we wish to encourage teamwork and collaboration, it is always good to set an example by engaging, welcoming other opinions and perspectives, and modeling the type of working relationship we wish to see. 

Note: The above-mentioned practices are not limited to the forming stage. While they can play a crucial role in the early stages of team development, they are equally valid throughout the entire evolution of a team.

🔸 Example of a team-building activity in the forming stage

In order to get to know their team members a bit better, the whole team gathers for a game of “Two truths, one lie”. In this game, each team member shares three facts about themselves, of which two are true, and one is false. Other team members then ask questions to try and determine which of the three facts are truthful.  

2. Fostering teamwork in the storming stage

The storming stage represents the most turbulent point in the development of a team. After the initial period of feeling out, team members begin to find their place and, unavoidably, the first conflicts arise. 

Internal conflict is a necessary evolutionary stage of a team. Frustration, disagreements, and personality clashes will always take place in the workplace. Rather than avoiding it, healthy teams learn how to resolve conflict. The storming stage represents the start of that process. 

The organizational framework for fostering collaboration in the storming stage

The ultimate resolution of the storming stage is achieved when teams learn how to overcome differences and resolve conflict. The role of the organization in this process is to enable, monitor, and moderate the process, as well as intervene if the situation calls for it. There are many different approaches to resolving conflicts on teams, but regardless of the preferred style of conflict resolution, there are actions organizations can take to be prepared when the situation arises, namely:

  • Coaching
  • Conflict resolution mechanisms
  • Process reassessment

Each of these areas deserves a closer look. 

Coaching

People management is a skill set that can be fine-tuned and improved. Organizations need to prepare leaders for a variety of scenarios they will encounter in charge of a team. By providing coaching on communication and conflict management skills, organizations enable team leaders to properly guide the conflict resolution process towards a positive outcome. Some organizations will take an extra step and provide such training for all team members, which will further increase the team’s capacity to manage conflict and disagreements. 

Conflict resolution mechanisms

Ideally, team members will be able to resolve conflicts within the team. However, if conflicts persist or escalate beyond the boundaries of a team, threatening to jeopardize operations, organizations need to have clear mechanisms for conflict resolution. Authority figures within an organization need to be aware of unresolved conflicts and available to step in if the situation requires it. Again, different organizations will have different procedures. Whatever they may be, they need to be clear and effective. The process of conflict resolution needs to be fair, transparent, and impartial towards all involved parties, but it also needs to be efficient and decisive if a win-win situation cannot be achieved. 

Process reassessment 

There are many roots of frustration in the workplace, and they are not all interpersonal. Team members can also experience frustration with different aspects of the workflow. This is why it is crucial that the organizations listen and properly diagnose the issue. If the root cause of dissatisfaction lies within the process, smart organizations will take the opportunity to reassess their processes and procedures to see if they can improve them. 

Best practices in the storming stage

The key to properly navigating the storming stage of team development is open and honest communication. The understanding of diverging perspectives is the foundation of conflict resolution. Aside from healthy communication practices, organizations can take active steps that can either prevent or minimize the effects of conflict. These practices should include the following: 

  • Safe environment
  • Two-way feedback
  • Reaffirmation
  • HR practices

Let’s clarify what they all represent.

Safe environment

A healthy collaborative team is a forum for a free exchange of ideas and opinions. This is true for all stages of team development, but particularly in the storming stage. Team leaders and other team members need to strive to create a safe and welcoming environment that encourages all collaborators to speak their minds and be heard. Team members need to feel comfortable to speak freely about negative aspects of their working experience. Establishing an ecosystem of respectful and constructive discussion is a continuous and often slippery process, but one that comes with a great payoff in the long run. Through the storming stage, managers need to strongly encourage team members to speak openly without fear of judgment or repercussions. 

Two-way feedback

Two-way feedback is the lifeblood of constructive communication. Team members need to be aware of how their work and attitude are perceived by the organization if they wish to improve, while team managers need to know how team members feel about various aspects of their work so that they could understand and remove any obstacles. Whether gained through one-on-one interviews or collective discussions, the practice of two-way feedback will ensure that the team has all the information needed to overcome challenges, resolve conflicts, fortify teamwork, and improve the collaborative process. 

Reaffirmation

The storming stage is a time of turbulence where disagreements and conflicts can overshadow the bigger picture. In this stage, it is advisable to reaffirm the shared values and consistently remind team members of their purpose. This includes re-clarifying team roles to avoid any ambiguity, reassessing (and potentially revising) team goals and objectives, and refocusing the shared vision. It is easy to get lost in petty squabbles, and all team members can benefit from placing things into a broader perspective. 

HR practices

Involving trained members of the HR staff into conflict management can help expedite the process and ensure a positive outcome. Whether in an advisory capacity or in a mediatory role, HR professionals can provide an impartial presence that takes all perspectives into account and indicates the best path forward. Furthermore, HR staff can provide guidance and training in communication skills and conflict management. 

🔸 Example of a team-building activity in the storming stage

The team gathers for a group meeting intended to address disagreements related to certain aspects of work. The moderator (most commonly the team leader) starts by setting the ground rules for discussion (agenda, goals, procedures, unacceptable behavior). The moderator then addresses the situation as objectively as possible, allowing team members to confirm the assessment or provide their own perspective. The moderator asks additional questions to clarify diverging perspectives. Following this, all team members are given the opportunity to provide their view of the situation and offer potential solutions. The team discusses the potential solutions and agrees on the best path forward.   

3. Fostering teamwork in the norming stage

The norming stage represents the quiet after the storm in the process of team development. Once a team successfully overcomes internal conflict and adopts mechanisms of tackling it in the future, team members develop shared standards of interaction and collaboration. The team itself grows more cohesive, inching closer towards full collaborative performance. 

The organizational framework for fostering collaboration in the norming stage

The norming stage is a good time for organizations to reflect on the team’s journey and assess its present state. Organizations can use the experience gained through the first two stages to fine-tune their processes, with a particular focus on the following areas:

  • Revisiting the structure
  • Recognizing collaborative efforts

Let’s see why both of these areas are important.

Revisiting the structure

After teams go through the stages of forming and storming, chances are that the initial team structure has evolved. Whether formally or informally, team roles evolve to suit the strengths of team members and processes adjust to the flow of collaboration. Collaborative organizations should not insist on rigid structures. Instead, they should monitor and review the course of the collaboration, measure team performance, and, if needed, modify the structure to enable teams to collaborate more efficiently. This includes reassessing individual roles and responsibilities, the overall team structure,  as well as the processes that order the collaboration. 

Recognizing collaborative efforts

Norming is a stage of increased productivity, where teams begin to tap into their collective strength. While recognition is important in any stage of individual or team development, it is particularly relevant in the norming stage where teams are growing into their shoes. Recognizing and rewarding team achievements and individual contributions to the team (whether verbally or materially) improves team morale and lets the team members know that they are on the right path. 

Best practices in the norming stage

Unlike the storming stage, which usually requires a more hands-on involvement of team leaders, the norming stage is a period of fine-tuning. Aside from maintaining the positive practices from the previous stages, team leaders can further develop teamwork and collaboration by giving teams a greater degree of freedom and autonomy to shape the collaborative process and the work itself, with actions such as:

  • Encouraging innovation
  • Reinforcing team bonds

Both of these practices can positively influence a team growing into its collective shoes. 

Encouraging innovation

Once teams are able to overcome individual differences, they can fully embrace the diversity of individual strengths that’s at the core of high-performing collaborative teams. Team leaders need to seek out, encourage, and welcome fresh perspectives and outside-the-box thinking. This enables teams to fully tap into their potential and evolve the structure to suit everyone’s strengths and professional styles. 

💡 Pumble allows you to provide guest access to external collaborators, clients, and other relevant stakeholders. Guest users can be admitted to specific channels and user groups instead of the entire workspace, to participate only in discussions relevant to them. Involving people outside an organization can provide fresh perspectives that boost innovation, 

Reinforcing team bonds

By this stage, team members are fairly familiar with one another and accepting of their individual differences. The professional relationships become more substantial and meaningful, strengthened by a shared effort towards a shared cause. Again, norming is a time of fine-tuning, which not only takes place in the realm of team structure and processes but also on an interpersonal level. The norming stage is a good time to refocus on shared team activities and celebrate the emerging team spirit and identity.

🔸 Example of a team-building activity in the norming stage

The team gathers for a brainstorming session. Instead of being given specific assignments top-down, the team is encouraged to collectively decide on how to move forward. The team leader informs team members about the objective, and everyone gets a chance to speak about the possible courses of action. A whiteboard (or a similar virtual tool) is on hand to help with planning. The team members agree on the team’s future activities and define the individual assignments towards achieving the objective.

4. Fostering teamwork in the performing stage

Collaborative teams reach their full realization in the performing stage. This is the “gravy” stage, where teams have overcome interpersonal challenges, found their areas of strength, and fine-tuned the processes to perform at their finest and most productive. 

By this stage, we shouldn’t technically talk about “fostering” teamwork and collaboration, as they are already deeply ingrained into the team’s identity. Rather, this stage is about maintaining and celebrating teamwork. 

The organizational framework for fostering collaboration in the performing stage

If a team has reached the performing stage of development, the organization has done its job. However, it is never the time to rest on laurels. In fact, teams in the performing stage still require the organization’s attention, primarily through performance monitoring. 

Performance monitoring

Monitoring and measuring the performance of a highly productive team has two primary purposes: 

  1. To ensure that the performance remains on a high level and look for any dips in productivity that may indicate an emerging challenge. 
  2. To recognize the team’s achievements in order to provide incentive and motivation for continued excellence. 

Even the highest-performing teams can slip from their standards. Without challenges and incentives, team members can become content and lose their drive and motivation. Organizations need to monitor performance and provide adequate fuel for continued dedication. 

Best practices in the performing stage

As well as the formal framework, the informal practices in the performing stage should be aimed at celebrating team achievements and the team itself, as well as providing motivation for future work. The key objective for managing a team through this stage is avoiding relapse into one of the earlier stages of development. 

Avoiding relapse

Once a team reaches its productive pinnacle, there is nowhere to go but down. Teams in a performing stage can revert to an earlier stage through contentment, lack of motivation, or deterioration of team relationships. The goal is not just to reach the performing stage, but to stay there for an indefinite period of time. To this purpose, team leaders (and, ideally, team members) need to celebrate and champion the values, principles, and actions that have helped them reach their collaborative best. In other words, they need to continue to remind themselves of all the big and small things that make them a team that succeeds through teamwork and a shared dedication. 

🔸 Example of a team-building activity in the performing stage

The team gets together to recap a completed project (or a different form of a work cycle). The team leader acknowledges and evaluates the results,  commending the relevant individual and team contributions to the work, and/or reflecting on any specific challenges and subpar aspects of the collaboration. Team members are encouraged to show appreciation for the work of their colleagues and provide their views on what could have been done better. Once all important matters are addressed, the team goes for a round of celebratory ice cream. 

Wrapping up

As we can see, fostering teamwork and collaboration requires a continuous effort across a variety of areas of the inner workings of an organization. There are no shortcuts and quick fixes. To build a culture of teamwork, organizations need to be genuine, consistent, and invested in the team’s well-being. Teamwork and collaboration need to be emphasized and put into practice from the beginning, infusing all considerations and informing all decisions. Ultimately, quality teamwork and collaboration are a combination of pragmatism and idealism, and it is up to the organizations to provide both the practical framework and a strong unifying vision.

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