Understanding Team Development Stages: Forming, storming, norming & performing

As they develop over the course of a project, team members are likely to go through many ups and downs. The FSNP theory attempts to explain the various stages of team development throughout a project…


It can take time for teams in the workplace to become successful and build up tactics and techniques for effective collaboration. Every team member is required to put in the effort needed so they can grow and hit the goals it was created to tackle.

Understanding how to manage a team effectively and lead them to this same success is often down to how well leaders can grasp team development and behaviour concepts. The FSNP model, therefore, was created to help explain the various stages a team will go through as they work on a project together so that leaders can do their job to the best of their ability.

In this guide, we’ll take you through how the model works and how managers can ensure they implement the relevant interventions to get the most out of their team at each stage of development.

What is FSNP (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing)?

FSNP theory was created in 1965 by the American psychologist Bruce Tuckman using basic ideas about team development, and the path they walk on the way towards high performance.

It suggests that every team will go through four stages over the course of completing a project: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

The theory is a powerful tool that leaders can utilise to benefit themselves and their team, helping to identify and recognise group behaviours as their team gains experience and graduates through different levels of maturity.

Why is FSNP theory useful?

The model is particularly useful for managers and leaders to understand how their team works. The idea behind the theory is that they can use it to identify which stage their team is currently in and consider what needs to be done to move on to the next stage.

 

 

It’s important to remember that the process might not always be linear. For example, new variables, like the addition of a new team member, can cause the team to regress from the norming back to the storming stage.

FSNP theory also offers explanations that can assist with reviewing progress and encourages leaders to take a step back now and again to assess team behaviours.

The stages of FSNP

Below, we’ll take you through each stage and explain how leaders can manage their team between each one.

What is the forming stage?

The first stage of FSNP is forming, which marks the point at which a team begins to come together to address an issue and propose upcoming solutions and techniques for tackling it. Each team member will turn their attention toward the task and start forging relationships with other members of the team.

The initial stage is often the most positive since the team is coming together with a common goal.

The main characteristics of the forming stage are: 

– Team members have a lack of clarity on individual roles and responsibilities

– A High reliance on leadership for guidance and direction

– Little consensus on team objectives other than those shared by leadership

– Lots of team questions around purpose, objectives, and external relationships but low focus on processes

– Members are testing the boundaries of the system and leaders in the initial stage

Managing a team in the forming stage

Establishing buy-in is the main goal of leadership at this stage. By creating clear team and personal goals from the get-go, your team members should gain clarity earlier on and understand the vision they’re working towards.

 

 

What is the storming stage?

The storming stage is when the group dynamic begins to shift, and conflict is more likely. Team members will often test and find the boundaries of their leaders and other individuals, which exposes the natural clashes and conflicts between personalities and working styles as they come together.

The main characteristics of the storming stage include:

 – Lack of agreement on decisions within the group

– Increased clarity on the team’s purpose, but some uncertainty persists

– Smaller cliques begin forming, which can lead to power struggles as the team becomes distracted by personal relationships rather than the goals

– Compromising in order to enable progress

Managing a team in the storming stage

Building team trust and managing conflict are essential when trying to move from storming to norming. Ensure everyone has an equal chance to be heard with both one-to-one and team discussions. It’s also important to voice any progress throughout this stage and establish transparency so that collaboration can properly flourish.

What is the norming stage?

As the team starts to settle in, they’ll naturally reach the norming stage. Here, team members start to resolve their differences, appreciate the strengths of others, and respect the leadership.

Team members are also likely to feel more comfortable asking for help and offering constructive feedback without causing conflict. The commitment to the shared goals becomes stronger, and steadier progress can be made as a result.

The main characteristics of the norming stage might involve:

– Roles and responsibilities become clear and are accepted by members of the team

– Group discussion facilitates decision-making, while smaller decisions can be delegated to smaller teams or individuals

– Commitment and unity are strong

– Agreement and consensus become the norm amongst the team members

– General respect for leadership, with regular discussion around the team’s processes and working style

Managing a team through the norming stage

As the team gets more comfortable in their roles, the priority for managers should shift to maintaining strong bonds. Encourage collaboration through team exercises and continue to facilitate regular check-ins with each team member to ensure you retain their commitment to the project.

 

 

What is the performing stage?

In the original final stage of the FSNP model, your team is performing to its full potential. They’ve often established structure and have a clear focus on the project’s goals by this point, which allows them to reach them more efficiently.

The team is the most fluid at this stage. Although they have fixed roles, their responsibilities can fluctuate and change depending on the needs of the project.

The performing stage is usually classified by:

– An increase in strategic awareness and full clarity on the team’s purpose

– More effectively managed disagreements with positive conflict management

– Team members have an increased sense of belonging and look after each other

– A focus on over-achieving goals

– A shared team vision of how they will achieve the goals and make the most of decisions

– No interference is needed from outside of the team

– The team can work towards achieving the goal while amending the relationships and working style along the way

Managing a team through the performing stage

Personal development becomes one of the most important things to prioritise as the project naturally comes to an end. Ensure you stay up to date with any other upcoming goals or areas where your team could potentially benefit the business. You should be encouraging your team to search for any available opportunities and point them in the direction of helpful resources such as additional courses or training to develop their personal skills.

What is the adjourning stage?

A later addition to the theory came in the form of the final adjourning phase, in which the team begins to disband. Once they’ve reached their purpose and hit their goals, the team is no longer needed, and members can be redeployed to different areas. This can be stressful for team members that enjoy routine, although it can present the opportunity for new business ventures too.

This stage can also lead to the redeployment of the full team onto a new project due to their previous success. Regardless, this stage marks a period of change for everyone involved in the team.

Managing a team through the adjourning stage

The successes of the team must be acknowledged and celebrated. Some team members might be thrown off by the upcoming changes, so any opportunity to praise their efforts should be taken.

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