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5 stages every high performing team must experience

By Clay Morgan

We celebrate great teams that accomplish amazing things. Most healthy teams share seven common elements. How can you achieve greatness while leading your own groups?

Success doesn't magically happen. While it is tempting to try to take shortcuts, teams must face the conflicts and obstacles that arise as they develop and cohere.

It's been just over half a century since social scientist Bruce Tuckman proposed his now famous model of the four stages groups go through. Ideally, said Tuckman, a group or team's decision-making process should occur in four stages: forming, storming, norming and performing.

Whether you are leading a team overseeing daily operations or want to create a social media volunteer team, groups, especially smaller ones, consistently follow a predictable path on the way to becoming high performing units.

Successful church groups consistently follow a predictable path of forming, storming, norming & performing. TWEET THIS TWEET THIS


Welcome to the polite, everybody-is-nice stage in which information is gathered. New group members learn some basics about each other, such as professional background and a few personal tidbits. Task details, performance expectations and initial ideas for solutions are bandied about. Even if everyone isn't actually getting along during the forming stage, they are almost certainly pretending to do so.

Perhaps, you're a pastor wondering how to transition into a new appointment. Your team members may be shy or anxious about what lies ahead, or they may be bouncing off the walls with excitement because the future is bright and new things are coming. Yay! Consider using a personality test to create a more balanced team.

This stage won't last long, perhaps only for part of the initial meeting. Leaders have to balance diverse personalities, such as the folks who want gobs of details and those who want to dive in head first and save all the questions for later. Either way, the team members will need clear direction and objectives.

TIP: Make forming fun by hosting a team-building event, maybe even something off-site. Prepare some party games and icebreakers to get started.


Once the group figures out why it's together, each individual's need for approval should start to diminish as squishy goals turn into clear measures. However, almost immediately, cliques will begin to form.

Politeness will wane as everyone gets down to business, and it may not be long before tempers flare. Members will have different thoughts on how to move forward and who is most qualified to take the reins of various activities. Some people may even question the church's primary goals. Indeed, plenty of groups and virtual teams fail in this stormy stage.

As a leader, you should not fear the storming phase. Your job is to guide the team into and through this stage. Constructive critique and conflict is the goal. Invite open sharing of ideas, even competing visions. Calm difficult people by reminding them to be civil. Stay positive. Support everyone, especially those who tend to be insecure.

TIP: When things get heated, remember to criticize ideas, not people. Debate may become intense, but it should not be personal.


Once the initial conflicts are dealt with and a hierarchy is established, team members will recognize your authority as leader. If individual members have not fully accepted the "reality of the team" by embracing their role and fulfilling the responsibilities that come with it, then the storming stage is not yet over.

People need to get used to each other in order to develop trust and become more productive. Try to step back as group members attempt to work together, and offer healthy criticism without actually intervening. Encourage full group interaction to avoid the cliques. Healthy communication is key to prevent silos from forming.

TIP: Be prepared for some choppy waters still as the group may lapse back into storming behavior as new tasks and issues arise.


Congratulations! All that hard work to navigate interpersonal tensions, establish productive processes and support the structure you formed pays off when your group morphs into a high-performing, goal-achieving team.

You have reached the performing stage when the team cooperates and functions efficiently without your interference. Celebrate successes and recognize those who made them happen.

TIP: Realize the need to return to forming as new members join your high-performing team. Nurture the cycle.

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Adjourning (Mourning)

Whether tasked with a short-term project or united for decades, every team must eventually disband. Tuckman circled back to his original stages in the late 1970s and added adjourning to his model. Others have called it mourning, because precise rhyming is the best. Also because breaking up is often stressful and can be sad.

Closure is good, but be on the lookout for folks who face uncertainty over future roles and opportunities, particularly if the dissolution is unplanned. In reality, this stage is less a phase of how teams function and more an extension of the process that good leaders recognize for the good and long-term development of their people.

TIP: Know what it takes to finish strong.

TIP: Know when to replace or redeem volunteers

Leaders can use the predictability of human nature to have a better shot at successfully bringing people together to work to achieve goals. Consider sharing these stages of development with your team — maybe even during the storming stage. They will better understand why conflict occurs, gain more trust in your leadership and realize that things will improve. The path to team success isn't always smooth, but it is knowable.

Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is an author from Dallas, Texas who spent a decade teaching college courses in the social sciences before becoming a consultant in communications and organizational strategy. Clay enjoys writing at the intersection of culture and spirituality. He has done ministry with college students for years and loves finding creative ways to engage millennials.