The Five Stages Cycle of Team Development: From Forming to Adjourning

Working alone and finishing tasks is easy. What is challenging is to play along with the team and succeed. Effective teamwork achieves much more than any individual can! There are higher chances of individual success while working alone and may also accomplish the desired results, but teamwork brings amazing results for the organization.

Talent wins battles, but teamwork wins wars

Team effectiveness is enhanced by a team's commitment to reflection and ongoing evaluation. In addition to evaluating accomplishments in meeting specific goals, for teams to be high-performing, they need to understand their development as an entity, as a team.

We've all heard the phrase "teamwork makes the dream work."


  • Tuckman’s five stages of team development
  • #1 Forming Stage – Learn to walk before you run
  • #2 Storming Stage – Agree to disagree
  • #3 Norming Stage – Within every cloud, there is a silver lining
  • #4 Performing Stage – Good things come to those who wait
  • #5 Adjourning Stage – All good things must come to an end
  • Why is team development important?
  • How to sail each stage of the team development calmly and successfully?

Tuckman’s five stages of team development

Imagine teamwork as a puzzle, where each piece is different, but it gives out the perfect picture when put up together. Likewise, people in the team have distinctive yet complementary roles. Creativity plays a huge role in making teamwork efficient. 

Today's modern work is much more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic.

Yes, teamwork makes the dream work, but there's more to it than just throwing together a group of people and hoping for the best. A dream team needs time to form, structures around it, and management to perform at high levels.

A team is like an organism, and like any other organism, it takes time to form and evolve. Before learning to work together effectively, a team must develop. Research has shown that teams go through definitive stages during the process of development.

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, an educational psychologist, identified and published his 'Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing' model that most teams follow to accomplish high-performance levels. He later added a fifth stage, Adjourning, in the 1970s. 

Team progress through the stages is shown in the following diagram:

Bruce Tuckman's model describes how the team members first come together, polite and a little wary, how they descend into conflict while establishing their positions, how the boundaries are established, and, if all goes well, how the team reaches a place of stability where it can perform to the best of its combined abilities.

For some 40 years, Bruce Tuckman's classic model has been delivering comfort and new perspectives to managers either charged with running a team or trying to function within one, assuring the players that they are not alone and that the discomfort of conflict is a normal part of the journey towards an effective and enjoyable unit.

Each stage leads into the next for a team to go from a group of individuals working towards a common goal to an efficient team that draws on each member's strengths and weaknesses for optimal output.

The five stages of team development are forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. Bruce Tuckman breaks them down as follows:

#1 Forming Stage – Learn to walk before you run

This is when team members meet. It is like the first day at work or going out on a first date: some are nervous, others are more relaxed, most are excited to start something new and get to know the other team members.

Team members focus on the leaders, accepting only their guidance and authority and maintaining a polite but distant relationship with the others. During this stage, the leader must be prepared to answer lots of questions about the team's purpose, objectives, timeline, rules, and roles. Boundaries, strengths, and weaknesses will be tested, including those of the leader.

The time invested by the leader and the team members listening to and empathizing with the others will pay off substantially further down the line.

As the group starts to familiarize themselves, responsibilities and relationships begin to develop. But, because this stage focuses more on the people than on the actual work, the team will not deliver results yet.

#2 Storming Stage – Agree to disagree

The storming stage is a difficult phase for everybody. Effective teams are built on communication and strong alliances. Like any other relationship, the intra-team relationships have ups (when everyone seems flawless and perfect) and downs (uncertainties persist, factions form, and compromises may be required to overcome the block).  

In this storming phase, personalities may clash. Team members are more concerned with the impression they are making than the project at hand. They disagree over tasks and how to complete them. They want respect and voice their concerns if they feel that someone isn't pulling their way. They may even question the authority of the leaders.

Team members should focus on delivering sincere, positive feedback to others, working towards stable relationships where suggestions will be viewed as contributions rather than criticisms. Skipping this stage or avoiding the conflict only makes the problem grow. If you are the leader, recognize conflict and resolve it early on.

#3 Norming Stage – Within every cloud, there is a silver lining

If the team can reach Tuckman's norming stage, they are probably home and dry. After the storm passes, people start to notice and appreciate their team members' strengths. There is general respect for the leadership; everybody knows their roles and responsibilities amongst the team. Groups are finding their rhythm and moving in the same direction. The team may engage in fun and social activities.

Big decisions are made by group unanimity, while executives may delegate small decisions to individuals or small groups. Storming sometimes overlaps with norming, but the risks or failures are simply another step on the pathway to success. A team at the norming stage will have much to offer in terms of experience and ideas that save leaders time and energy.

#4 Performing Stage – Good things come to those who wait

If you reach this stage, congratulations! It is not for everyone. Many teams fail to overcome conflicts and can't work together.

A team is now a powerful machine driving full speed ahead towards the final goal. Everyone is on the same page, and success almost seems to create itself. The work environment is cohesive. Members are confident, motivated, and familiar with the project and teammates.

Team members have a high degree of autonomy. They operate without supervision.  A "can-do" vibe is everywhere, and the roles on the team are more fluid. There are still disagreements among members. However, they are appreciated, resolved positively, and used to enhance the team's performance.

During this stage, the leader and team members recognize the contributions of others and ensure that credit is awarded where due. Giving credit applies as much to team members validating the leader as the other way round.

While working on a high-performing team may be a truly pleasurable and satisfying experience, it is not the end of team development. Changes, such as members coming or going, can lead a team to cycle back to an earlier stage. If these changes - and their resulting behaviors - are addressed directly, teams may successfully remain in the Performing stage indefinitely.

#5 Adjourning Stage – All good things must come to an end

In 1977, Tuckman added a fifth stage called 'adjourning.' This stage is also known as the "mourning stage" as it's the final stage of the team working together. Most teams will achieve the adjourning stage at some point, but not always. Some groups are explicitly created for one project that has an endpoint, while others are ongoing. Even teams built for a permanent project can go through this stage due to re-allocation or restructuring.

This stage brings a sense of closure to a team whose project is at its end, and the members are ready to embark on a new journey in another project. If the team successfully negotiated the first four stages, there may be some bonding between members and a sense of loss at disbanding those relationships. Some teams deal with this stage of group development through celebration, and some with sadness. Adjourning is a time for thank-you's, recognition, and reflection. The leader uses this opportunity to help members prepare for their next step and encourage long-term connections.

Why is team development important?

Team development doesn't just happen. There are many resources involved in building a group that is working interdependently and cooperatively to accomplish a specific set of purposes and goals.

In theory, the concept of team development is simple: amass a group of talented and engaged individuals and task them with completing a specific goal.

For a team to be as successful as possible, it's crucial to use the full potential of each development stage. After going through all stages, the team will feel more in sync. No one is afraid to ask a question, bring up a concern, or pose a new way of doing certain tasks. Everyone can bring their whole self to the team, play to their strengths, and step up and help one another when needed.

Throughout the five stages of developing a team, leaders will witness both positive and challenging situations. Using Tuckman's framework, leaders will experience more positives than negatives, most notably:

  • Increased productivity: Productive teams achieve goals. While team building has many benefits, its core purpose is to enable individuals to work together to produce something great.
  • Increased trust: Trust matters in the workplace. Through correct team development, team members will have plenty of opportunities to build rapport with a foundation of acceptance. When people trust one another, they're more likely to share ideas, collaborate effectively, and make the right decisions for everyone and the project.
  • Improved communication: Teams that don't communicate don't succeed. Poor communication can lead to lower morale and missed opportunities for understanding and growth. With proper development, communication becomes a core element of the make-up of the team, increasing its ability to innovate and create.

Strong team development is an essential element of any successful workplace or organization.

How to sail each stage of the team development calmly and successfully?

During the team's forming stage, team leaders may include ice breaker exercises for the team members to know one another and understand potential work styles.

When frustrations and tensions arise in the storming stage, the team leader must emphasize the roles and responsibilities to avoid team members feeling overwhelmed by the workload and respecting individual boundaries.

After the storm passes, team members start to resolve any issues and settle into working together as a team. During the norming stage, the team leader checks with team members to help things stay on track and looks for opportunities to provide leadership support where needed.

Amid the performing stage, the team achieves results, and the group is performing at its best. The team leader spends time developing each team member and introducing new goals to focus on.

In the final stage - the adjourning phase - the team leader meets with each team member to outline the next steps and support role changes, restructuring, and future initiatives.

Wrap up

Team development is a complex process where the leaders can easily find a balance between their needs and the project's goals. Their understanding of their team members will help them cross all the stages of development successfully.

The five stages of team development can be tailored to fit a leader's needs based on the team, project, and goals. Leaders can work with their team to help them become more than just individuals working together on a common goal by understanding the stages of team development.

Tuckman's model of group development can help leaders understand how a team might theoretically grow, but alone it isn't sufficient to help your team succeed and meaningfully develop. Being conscious of the process is a great place to start, but it's worth remembering that reaching the performing stage isn't a given, and many teams get stuck early on. 

Combining the team development model with practical action and teamwork-focused methods at each stage effectively moves through the process and enables personal and group growth.