Recently I did several courses about leadership and conflict management, because that is the best way to earn more money as someone who is not that skilled in stuff like coding. Oh… and of course it could make me a better colleague!

What really resonated with me were the five stages of team development, which every team goes through in theory. And oh boy, do my personal experiences align with this concept.

It all boils down to this: After the team assembly and a short phase of “good vibes only”, where everyone is very sensible towards the others’ feelings, while finding their individual role, the team eventually will enter a storming phase.

The five stages of team development in more detail

Forming stage

People are looking for leadership and authority. Most interactions are social as members get to know each other and seek how everyone fits in. Everything seems fine.

Storming stage

But then conflicts emerge, based on individual personalities. The team performance actually decreases in this stage. Subgroups and cliques form around strong personalities or areas of agreement, which I personally experienced several times. If not to say this happened every team I was ever part of.

To get through this stage, members must work to overcome obstacles, accept individual differences and work through conflicting ideas. Failure to address conflicts often result in long-term problems. Further down I give some tipps, when and how to approach a conflict then.

Norming stage

When teams can push through the storming phase, conflict is resolved and some degree of unity emerges. Team performance increases during this stage as members learn to cooperate and begin to focus on team goals. However, the harmony is precarious and if disagreements re-emerge, the team can slide back into storming.

I believe it is important to finally have defined team responsibilites here. Especially naming someone the Project Owner, makes a big difference. Everyone wants the project to succeed from their own perspective. So when someone has the responsibility to make final decisions, it eases the tension for everyone.

Performing stage

In this stage, consensus and cooperation have been well-established and the team is mature, organized, and well-functioning. The team is focused on problem solving and meeting team goals. Everyone can bring in their strenghts.

Adjourning stage

In the final stage, most of the team’s goals have been accomplished and the emphasis is on wrapping up final tasks and documenting the effort and results. There may be regret as the team ends, so a ceremonial acknowledgement of the work and success of the team can be helpful.

How to approach a conflict

So in the storming phase, the team needs to accept individual differences and has to work through conflicting ideas. But how to know when and how a conflict should be adressed? As the INFJ personality that I am, I rather stay away from conflicts. But this can result in long-term problems…

This is why I wanted to share this matrix, which can help to decide, how to approach a conflict:

In this matrix, I personally like the avoid or ignore approach. The best example in which this should be applied, is on the road: The relationship to other drivers is not important and the issue definitely not, as well. So just ignore that someone cut you off or drove to slow.

To accommodate is a more passive approach and the perfect example here is when your grandma wants you to eat another Kloß, although you are not hungry anymore. The issue is relatively small in comparison to the important relationship to your grandma. So you just nod and go on with eating that Kloß.

Collaboration should probably be applied to almost any team conflict. It can be phrased like “The issue is important but also our relationship”. It should be resolved in a focused and reasonable conflict on facts. Sit down and have a talk.

To advocate is the more agressive approach, where the issue is way more important or time critical as the feelings of another person. For example when the building is burning, you don’t suggest to sit down and discuss the request of leaving the building. Another example is a compliance issue, which isn’t open for discussion at all.

What do you think?

Do you have similar experiences with team projects and the five stages of team development? Should I share more of these learnings? Leave a comment below!

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[…] Every team goes through this! […]

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I don’t think the title of your article matches the content lol. Just kidding, mainly because I had some doubts after reading the article.