In coaching executives, managers, and team leaders over the last few years, I keep encountering one common developmental hurdle. This is what I refer to as “leadership agility”: adapting your leadership style to meet others’ needs. This ain’t easy to do! We all tend to fall into habits in how we show up, and we naturally excel as leaders when the situation calls for those habits. And when they don’t, we stumble.

A great example of this is the approach we use to help a team we are leading to improve its overall effectiveness. What makes this tricky is that the approach to use depends on the stage of development of the team.

Bruce Tuckman, an educational psychologist, first published his findings on the various stages that all teams go through during the course of their work together. He initially found 4 stages, and these were later refined in subsequent decades to the following 6 stages:

  1. Forming: the initial stage of team formation characterized by ambiguity around team structure

  2. Storming: in this stage, which is not avoidable, members compete with each other for status and acceptance of their ideas - causing conflict within the team.

  3. Norming: here, the team eventually agrees to rules of engagement for working together, how to share information, how to resolve conflict, and which tools and processes to use.

  4. Performing: in this stage, the team is practicing and getting progressively better at applying agreed-upon norms, as well as self-evaluating and self-correcting on a regular basis.

  5. Dorming: here, once the team works well for an extended period, it settles into stagnation and may become lazy in team processes or self-evaluation, letting performance slip.

  6. Adjourning or Transforming: at some point, the team either disbands, changes in composition, or is exposed to new challenges that force it to rejuvenate and revitalize itself.

So as an HR leader, what steps can you take to support leaders in raising team effectiveness at each phase? Start by helping leaders identify which stage the team is in. They can ask each team member to state their opinion on the stage of the team, and see where there is agreement and talk through where there is any difference in perspective. Next, invite them to take the steps below based on the stage identified by the team.


Team Stage


How to Boost Team Effectiveness



At this stage, leaders need to clarify team purpose, mission, and goals for the team - as well as facilitating definition of team roles and responsibilities, as well as shared vision and values, with everyone’s input. Invite leaders to conduct 1:1 meetings with all team members to find out their personal goals and interests to ensure they will be met, at least in part, during the course of the team’s work.

Leaders may be tempted to jump into the work with their team, so help them plan and conduct chartering and team building exercises at this phase. Help them see that this is an investment in effective teaming that will pay off later, and have specific examples handy of what impact this has had for other leaders and teams you’ve worked with.


At this stage, leaders need to help the team address conflict as it arises, working through interpersonal problems so that team members function both independently and together as a team and settle into their roles and responsibilities.

Leaders often need coaching to strengthen their discussion-leading skills. They need to learn to help teams discuss, foster acceptance of, and negotiate each team member’s needs as conflict arises - ensuring members respect differences in perspective, and focus on team goals above their own. You may need to support leaders to coach some team members to be more assertive and others to be more effective listeners during this time. Leaders may also need to limit the degree of decision-making autonomy and independence on the team until they begin to work together more smoothly.


At this stage, support leaders in clarifying and applying “rules of engagement” on the team - the processes and procedures for how the team plans, makes decisions, handles conflict, uses meeting time, and communicates and shares information. Leaders may need help in noticing when team norms get violated, drawing members attention to this, and inviting them to apply these norms consistently. They may also need help to strengthen approaches that help the team value the differences in perspective that emerge - to show how this leads to improved decision-making.

Invite the leader to encourage members to help each other and the team as a whole, rather than focus exclusively on their own functional issues. Keeping team members motivated with first results, indicating they are on track, will help encourage them to move to the performing stage.


Coach leaders to stay focused on team self-evaluation - determining how the team is regularly assessing how it’s performing. At this stage, leaders need to keep the team motivated by recognizing and rewarding the emerging gains in team performance, productivity, collaboration, and achievement. Support leaders in empowering the team to self-manage changes to their own processes without leader involvement, honing decision-making and problem-solving processes. At this stage, invite leaders to delegate much of your work and concentrate more fully on developing team members through mentoring and coaching.


Help leaders at this stage to stay vigilant for signs of stagnation, disengagement, or process inefficiency on the team, and share these observations with the team to boost self-awareness. Coach leaders to get curious, inviting team members to add their own observations, diagnose what’s going on, and clarify what actions they want to take as a result.

Adjourning or Transforming

For time-limited team engagements, the team’s work will eventually come to an end. Leaders may be tempted to move on at this point. Invite them to dedicate time to fully celebrate the team’s accomplishments, and capture learnings (both in terms of the work itself and the collaboration) that contributed to them.

For teams with ongoing mandates, there will eventually be a need for the team to self-transform. When team composition changes, or a major challenge emerges that will require new skills or capacities from the team, leaders may jump into the work once again. Invite them to plan a strategic offsite meeting to re-launch the team. Help them to use it an opportunity to lead the team through the forming stage and invite members to recommit to capitalizing on the big, new, and time-limited opportunity. A sense of urgency and excitement is something all great team leaders instill at this stage.


The key to optimizing team effectiveness with this approach is to maintain your awareness of the stage the team is at, and adapt your approach to the stage - knowing you’ll need to remain agile as conditions change.

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By Jonathan| Mar 28, 2019

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