The developmental stages that all teams experience are Formation, Experimentation, Coalescence and Performance. Typically, the states occur in sequence, but it is possible for a team to experience several stages at the same time. The critical, and sometimes difficult, part of team reaction is recognition of movement from one stage to another. Team members must also recognize their unique team dynamic. If they don’t, they might never be able to move on or become victims of any number of team killers.
Let’s examine the four stages:
Formation is the how-do-you-do state. It can also be identified as a period of testing and of facing the unknown and unfamiliar. During formation, team members come together for the first time. Maybe they volunteered, maybe they were told to take part. They might be co-workers known to each other or they might never have had the chance to meet. Even within the department people might know each other by reputation only. Maybe what they’ve heard is good; maybe not. Some almost certainly wonder why they joined or why they were chosen.
They will start as individuals, gradually become a group, and if all goes well, in time grow into a true team. In this elementary state, each person will begin to define his or her place in relation to the others on the team. Members will nervously but politely test each other, looking for personal connections: similarities, attitudes, and obvious traits and talents.
If formation is the how-do-you-do state, experimentation is getting to know you. This state of a team’s life has also been called storming, and with good reason. Once the members become acquainted with each other as team members, issues of power, control, and influence become primary. This is a time when team members stretch social limits, look for boundaries, and search for ways to work together as a team. During experimentation, even team members who have previously worked together try to sort out relationships, personal needs, and team goals. Gentility and politeness can wear thin. Frustration sets in as individuals realize that, having become part of a team, they can’t jump ahead with their own solution to a problem facing the team.
Coalescence is also known as the integrating state. During this state in a team’s life, members start to pull together. One of the most obvious changes is that each member has developed clear lines of communication with others. They consolidate their activities and efforts. Ideas are exchanged without conflict. For the first time, the team approach becomes a consistent presence in everything the team does. As process and personal position issues fade from prominence, working as a team feels like second nature. The team members focus on the task and, in doing so, they:
• Begin to tackle their work.
• Recognize the need to cooperate.
• Listen to and respect one another.
• Concern themselves with completing tasks effectively.
“Together, we can do anything.” That’s the sentiment that characterizes the performance state of a team’s life. There’s solid rapport among its members. Their closeness is observable. Comfortable in their own competence, team members extend themselves to their colleagues in a positive and supportive manner. They come to expect honest, open feedback from other team members, and rely on each other for guidance and direction. Performance is the visible work of the team. Members are concerned with getting the task done; the team process seems automatic and hassle-free. The members derive satisfaction from the work itself and collaborate to achieve the team’s goals.
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