Navigating the first stage of team development: Forming

Practical tips to turn a bunch of strangers into a tight collaborative team

From the moment it is created, every single team has the same goal: to get to a stage where it is working well together, highly performing and contributing to the organisation’s objectives in a meaningful way. But is forming a team as simple as putting the most talented individuals you can get your hands on together and sitting back, waiting for amazing results? Well not quite, as you’ve probably guessed it. Teams sometimes just don’t quite gel, and never get to a stage where they perform well together. Team leaders can facilitate the bonding process and there are many tools available to help turn teams from underperforming collections of individuals to amazingly collaborative units. But how do you know which tactics to deploy?

According’ to the trusted Tuckman model of team development, there are four stages involved in generating high performance teams: forming, storming, norming and performing. And knowing where you are in this process can really help you pin down the strategies to deploy to reach the next stage.  Jo Taylor, MD at Let’s Talk Talent, says: “It’s about understanding where you’re at so you can take charge, get unstuck and get back to moving forward.”

And getting teams to the final performing stage is something we have experience of. We’ve helped countless organisations pinpoint the right measures to take to reach a stage where collaborative units formed quickly contributed to business goals. We thought we’d put our experience to good use by creating a series of blogs, each exploring one of the stages involved in team development and, more importantly, the tools available to you to ensure you move smoothly along and reach the next phase fast. So let’s start at the very beginning and go through the first of our four stages: forming.

The first stage of team development: forming

We obviously all assume that forming is day zero of a new team’s creation. And whilst this may be the case, you could find yourself going back to the forming stage at any point in your team’s journey, for example after an individual has left, a new leader has arrived, or the purpose of your team has changed. As such, a bit of recalibration may be needed to get everyone back on the same page. Jo, throughout her career as an Human Resources Director (HRD), has had to build sizeable teams from scratch a few times. On how best to start, she says: “I think everyone has potential, but the key is quickly finding out what that potential is for. In a team, you need every single cog to work well, so understanding who you have on your bench and what their strengths are really is step one.”

Signs your team is going through the forming stage:

  • Goals are a bit unclear;
  • Roles are not yet defined;
  • The team is just getting to know each other.

Defining the purpose of your team during the forming stage

The best way to ensure all team members are aligned and working towards a common goal as a unit is… Well, to define that common goal. Establishing a clear purpose for the team should be your main priority from day one. To achieve this, we have a few tried-and-tested tips:

  • Try the ‘Six-word team story’ exercise. Summarise your team’s purpose in six words or less. If you can’t do this, you probably need to go back to the drawing board.
  • Team charters are also a useful way to keep everyone focused and committed to a shared objective.
  • If your team has been created to work on a new project, make sure you start with a project kickoff and lay down clear foundations for everyone to start building from.
  • Team away days are also great opportunities to get everyone together to define your team’s purpose and generate engagement at the same time. 

Setting up roles and responsibilities as part of the forming stage

Clarifying your team’s structure and defining specific roles should then be next on your list. To do this, getting to know your team members is essential. You’ll need to quickly find out who is on your bench and what their strengths are so you can determine which position to assign them to. We often use:

  • Skills mapping exercises (ask us about the STAR map)
  • Psychometrics tests, such as DISC profiles

Understand the makeup of your team will empower you to find everyone’s rightful place and maximise individuals’ strengths.

Fostering a climate of trust during the forming stage

Those leading new teams should also look for opportunities to deepen connections between team members. Getting to truly know and understand each other will help staff build a climate of trust, collaboration, and psychological safety, which are all essential traits of highly performing team. But this kind of climate doesn’t happen overnight. It needs to be fostered, encouraged, and nurtured. Knowing one another on a human level is key. So go beyond the psychometrics and find ways to encourage discussions and generate social interactions.

To accomplish this, we are big fans of away days and team events. Whilst some shudder at the thought of taking time out of the office, we believe that focusing your team development efforts into a series of customised exercises led by professional coaches is one of the most effective ways to quickly move towards team performance. Some of our best success stories involve leading team away days, each designed with a specific organisation and issue in mind. For example, client Said Business School’s HR team was taken out of the office for a two-day event packed full of workshops, each aimed at clearly defining the team’s vision, values, stakeholders, and target personas. What could have been weeks of woolly discussions, conflicting opinions or ineffective communications was greatly accelerated through a short event that set the team on a clearly defined journey towards performance.

The main takeaway here is that helping teams develop and thrive requires effort and dedication. It’s not the kind of evolution that just happens organically.  Or as we like to say: “There are no silver bullets.” But hopefully, being able to quickly spot where your team is at on the scale will help you map out a course of action that will take you from forming to performing quickly.

And remember that, as a manager, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is a simple one: demonstrating and role-modelling the kinds of behaviours you wish to see within your team. Being authentic and vulnerable as a team leader will contribute to creating the kind of trusting climate that encourages psychological safety, innovation and high performance. So don’t watch from the sideline whilst you send your colleagues off on their team event or psychometric testing.

Get involved in the process, show authenticity and transparency, and make sure you understand your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader. More importantly, have fun and enjoy getting to know what will undoubtedly turn out to be a wonderful bunch of people.

And if you would like a bit of help to speed through the team development process, or if your team is stuck on a particular stage, don’t hesitate to reach out. We have a few aces up our sleeves just for that.

Otherwise, watch out for our next blog on the storming stage.

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