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Team Building 101: The Four Stages of Team Development


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Forming - Storming - Norming - Performing


While chemistry class is not required for most coaches, it is typically one of the most important subjects to comprehend. One of the best ways to build team chemistry is to have a clear understanding of the typical stages of team development. Much like a child growing up, just about every team progresses through certain developmental stages throughout the course of a season. Your role as a coach is to use the following stages of team development as a guide and facilitate your team's natural progression through them.

It is important to remember that not all teams will automatically progress sequentially through these stages but this model will serve as a good guide for developing your team's chemistry. Most problems arise when coaches are not familiar with the stages of team development or when they try to push a team to "peak" too soon.


Stage 1 - Forming

Forming is the first stage and occurs as your players begin each new season. Your returning players are a year older (and hopefully wiser) and your new freshmen and/or transfers are trying to figure out what is going on. This initial stage involves excitement as well as uncertainty because some players are not even sure if they are going to make the final cuts. Others know they will make the team but are unsure about the role they might play. Experienced players will be trying to get a feel for the newcomers in an attempt to see if they can help the team or if their position might be threatened. On the surface, most people will be cordial and friendly as they meet and interact with the new team members, but internally there are often a lot of unanswered questions that can cause stress.


Stage 2 - Storming

The second stage occurs when a group of individuals with various wants, needs and insecurities starts to more closely interact and compete with one another. Inevitably, because of the various personalities and individual goals on your team, conflicts between players, coaches, staff (and any combination of these groups) will surely arise. Players will be testing your standards just as you will test theirs. Individuals will be overtly and covertly vying for starting positions and leadership roles. Work ethics and positive and negative attitudes will be exposed. Your team will begin to discover who is playing what positions and roles and how much playing time each person might get. Remember that each player enters the season with a certain set of expectations of how things should be for them individually and for the rest of the team. Naturally conflict arises when the expectations and desires of various individuals come into contact.

What many coaches do not fully understand and appreciate is that the Storming stage is a necessary and important stage of team development. Your goal as a coach is not to prevent conflict from happening, which of course is impossible, but to handle and channel conflict into effective individual and team development. Your approach to conflict is a crucial variable in successful team building. You may even want to alert your team to the fact that not everyone is going to agree and like each other 100% of the time and that this is a normal and necessary part of team development. The biggest key is how constructively your team handles the inevitable conflict. Typically, we take time on the front end to teach our players some conflict management skills in an effort to weather the Storming stage.


Stage 3 - Norming

The Norming stage occurs when your team begins to settle on a set of rules and standards as to how things will be done. Norming relates to your team's standards in practices, the classroom, weight training, conditioning, mental training, social life, etc. Occasionally, these standards are formally written and agreed upon but typically they evolve unobtrusively over time as "this is the way we do things." Obviously, your team's norms and standards concerning attitude, work ethic, team support, academics, etc. have a tremendous impact on the success of your team. As a coach, it is important that the team norms you establish help to create and foster a successful environment. During my work with teams, I encourage the players to openly discuss, establish and monitor the standards they want to commit themselves to - both on and off the field.


Stage 4 - Performing

The Performing stage is the eventual goal of all teams. This stage follows Norming and occurs only after effective standards are in place and firmly embraced by the team. The team begins performing as a cohesive unit that respects and trusts each other. They know what to expect from each other and this yields a sense of comfort, confidence and consistency. Coaches talk a lot about peaking at the end of the season. This Performing stage is exactly the "peaking" that coaches are trying to achieve - when the team is jelling and working as a well-oiled machine.

Unfortunately the Performing stage is not a guaranteed aspect of your season. Performing requires that your team has constructively handled the conflict of the Storming stage. Not only do you need to overcome the conflict, but you and your team also have to be sure that you have set effective rules and standards in the Norming stage in order to ascend to the Performing stage.


Common Problem Areas of Developing Your Team

Teams can go back and forth between these stages, especially as new challenges and demands arise during the season. Injuries, conflicts and losses can cause a team to regress from the Norming stage back into the Storming stage. As you probably realize, team building is a complex, ever-changing process that must be continually monitored and adjusted.


1. Stuck in Storming Stage

Keeping these stages in mind, most of the problems that I see with teams are ones of conflict where teams get stuck in the Storming stage. Conflicts are continually flaring up because individuals often do not have the skills and/or maturity to effectively handle their differences. These differences are either perpetual open sores or they are swept under the carpet only to fester and rear their ugly heads at the most disastrous times.


2. Negative Norms

Additionally, some teams make their way through the Storming stage but the unproductive norms that are established become their eventual downfall. The norms that are established may be totally counterproductive to your team's success. For example, "Do just enough to get by," "Every person for themselves," "Coach plays favorites," are all norms and attitudes that have prevented teams from reaching their potential. Teams with poor standards continually keep themselves from progressing.

In this situation, it is often best to intentionally shake your team up and move them back into the Storming stage. This is where you as a coach challenge their attitudes, work ethics and standards because you recognize that they are actually hurting the team. Your goal is to get them to recognize their behavior and how it runs counter to the goals that they have set. Then you need to encourage and help them establish more effective standards - or sometimes even impose more effective standards.

As you realize, you are an important catalyst in monitoring and mixing your team's chemistry. Keep the stages of team development in mind as you guide your team from Forming to Performing.


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