Posted on Jan 7, 2013 by dave in Articles

Understanding Group Dynamics - Stages of Team Growth

Before we actually look at what is commonly regarded as the 4 stages of team growth, it's worth spending some time understanding the team dynamics when, for example

The team gets together for the first time

  • Someone leaves and someone joins an established team
  • The team leader is replaced by an "outsider"
  • The team leader is replaced by a current team member

Why Does The Team Exist?

Fairly obvious I suppose - to achieve a task, or set of goals that cannot be achieved by one individual - football team, task-force, quality improvement team, new department.

I can see huge similarities between, for example, a sports person playing for their club side and their national team and a member of a department who is also seconded to an organizational quality improvement team. Think of it in the sense of the pushes and pulls in belonging to two teams especially when priorities are perceived to be different.

I believe the same dynamics, the same issues, the same concerns can exist and if not managed carefully, will greatly inhibit the success or progress of any team.

Unfortunately, in the cut and thrust of running a business, managing a department, coaching a team, these undercurrent issues are rarely talked through and yet everyone is surprised when the team doesn't achieve as everyone expected.

The Undercurrents

Team Member Identity

  • Am I an insider or outsider?
  • Do I belong in this team?
  • Do I fit in, can I fit in?
  • Who has influence, will I have any influence?
  • Will I be allowed to participate, will I want to?
  • How can I build relationships with other members?
  • Will we become a cohesive, successful team?

Team Relationships

  • Will this be a friendly team?
  • Will it be strictly task oriented?
  • Will we get along, will we like each other?
  • Will position or rank get in the way of progress
  • Will we build trust and be open or totally guarded?
  • Will we grow to be successful or become dysfunctional?

Organizational Conflict

  • Where will my loyalties lie?
  • Where will my loyalties be perceived to lie?
  • Will there be conflicts between my department and the team?
  • How will my department co-workers react?
  • Will the team suffer because of my departmental objectives?
  • Can I influence others to minimize this risk?

As I mentioned, rarely discussed but just imagine if you have just set up a quality improvement team with members from six different departments and they are all asking these same questions but nobody is listening!

Once the team comes together and starts to work together on what is, hopefully, a common goal or purpose, individual team members usually begin to deal with these issues. It is this act of beginning to work together, manage any conflicts (internal and external)and growing that has led to the commonly regarded 4 Stages of Team Growth

4 Stages of Team Growth


During this crucial stage it is normal that little progress will be made towards achieving the goal that brought the team together in the first place. I repeat this is normal.

Moreover, individual team members will be looking towards the team leader for direction and guidance so it is paramount that he or she recognizes this as normal.

What To Recognize

  • Eagerness to impress
  • Feeling good about being chosen as team member
  • Feeling of belonging not quite there
  • Nervousness, maybe even fear of what needs to be done
  • Continued concern over roles and contribution
  • Trying to define the objectives
  • Trying to define roles
  • Digression
  • Trying to solve the group's problems
  • Blaming others outside the team for lack of progress
  • Blaming the organization for lack of conflict resolution

Surprised that little progress is made?


This is the most aptly named stage. Individuals become increasingly impatient due to lack of progress and can be fearful of the organization and management. Co-operation can take second place to team members trying to push forward individually trusting more in their own skills and attributes.

What To Recognize

  • Significant swings in attitude
  • Lack of individual contribution
  • Some members may seem to panic
  • Arguments and internal conflict ensues
  • Dominant members seem to take control
  • Team may even begin to split
  • Disrespect for other team members or team leader
  • Placing the blame on other team members
  • Doubting the validity of the team's purpose and goals

As team leader, the key, massive point here is that as tough as this stage is, it is still normal that little real progress is being made. However, also recognize that underneath it all team members are beginning to come together. Now the good bits...


This is the turning point, competition becomes co-operation, team members begin to value contribution of others, personal conflicts are minimized, ground rules are established and agreed to, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and agreed to.

What To Recognize

  • A huge sense of relief
  • Growing belief in the team and its purpose
  • Individuals begin to believe in their worth
  • Constructive criticism
  • Less suspicion of others, more confidence
  • A 'Team' sense of purpose
  • Willingness to resolve problems and issues

As team leader it's a time to celebrate but not relax!

The team's ground rules must be maintained, continue to support the team as real progress is made, continue to keep this 'cohesiveness' and sense of belonging, communicate significant achievements. Above all continue to help members work out any issues they may still have so that the team as a whole move to the fourth stage.


Now it's happening!

The team is acting as one, working as one, individuals and their contributions are valued, objectives are clear, members fully understand their individual roles and the roles of others, problems are being solved and actions implemented.

What To Recognize

  • Sense of achievement
  • Sense of belonging
  • Individual growth through contribution
  • Proactive approach to solving team problems
  • Structured problem solving and decision making
  • Members also recognize they have gone through these stages
  • Strengths AND Weaknesses accepted
  • Real results

Now, the team is performing, the work is being done, goals achieved by one cohesive unit with a common sense of purpose.

As team leader, celebrate with the team and communicate success.

Join the Discussion

Comment Title:
Your Name:
Your Email Address:
Additional Comments: