Cartwright, R. (2002) Mastering Team Leadership, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Read the following and consider how different public service teams are from the teams
that Cartwright writes about – nonetheless his analysis is pertinent and provides insight
for how difficulties in long established teams may occur. Consider also if managers
could promote storming and reforming as a way of ‘challenging’ long established
team’s norms and how this might be done to good affect
Page 68 Mastering Team Leadership (Cartwright 2002)
The team life cycle
All living things and many concepts have life cycles - the product life cycle is a
well-known example from the world of business.
Teams, as entities, also possess a life cycle. Early studies suggested a rather simplistic
life cycle arranged around the 'orming' model of Forming - Storming – Norming -
Performing. The author's experience with a wide range of work teams suggests that this
is too simplistic, and that three other stages are also present - Dorming, Re-forming and
Adjourning (the latter suggested by Bedian, 1993) or Mourning (Yeung, 2000).
The actual times and intensity for each stage of the life cycle will vary from team to
team but the basic principles hold good for the vast majority of team situations.
The model starts prior to the formation of a team and in its revised format covers
changes to team membership and the decline of the team when its purpose has been
To aid the illustration of the model, Figures 53-5.10 plot team performance against
time, although it must be stressed that these are illustrative and not quantitative.
Negative performance (when the life cycle line drops below the time axis) can be
defined as a time when the output of the team is less than the inputs into it. In
manufacturing terms, this can occur when more defective items are produced than
The first meeting of any members of a potential team can be crucial. It is often tense. It
may be that the prospective members do not know each other and even if they are
acquainted either professionally or socially they may never have worked as a team
The key issues will be of communicating the team objectives, orientation and
socialisation. Icebreaker activities may be performed as a means of the team
communicating information about themselves. While there are likely to be many
questions that the team members require answers to, it is also likely that individuals
will wait rather than be the first to ask a particular question. A team leader may well
have been appointed before the members are brought together and even if this is not
the case it would be wise for a temporary co-ordinator to be appointed in order to give
form and focus to the team.
The Forming stage is not usually very productive. Any 'performance' that there is will
be due to individual rather than team efforts.
While the Forming stage may be relatively unproductive in terms of task objectives, it
is a very important part of the team life cycle and cannot be omitted. Time needs to be
made to ensure that the social relations within the team can begin to develop. Forming
is best accomplished without any task demands being made. It can be quite helpful if a
social occasion can be arranged to bring the team members together to meet in an
informal atmosphere. Too little attention paid to the Forming aspect of the team life
cycle may mean that the next stage, Storming, lasts longer than necessary and that will
be detrimental to the accomplishment of the objectives the team has been formed to
5.3 Team life cycle – Forming
A simple graph showing an upward curve in productivity as the team form
The major process involved in the Forming stage involves development of bonds
between the team members, the exchange of both professional and personal general
information and the beginnings of individual orientation within the team. Forming is
characterised by its social nature, politeness and the tendency to silence rather than
discussion, as team members sort out the various positions and expertise held by the
other members (Figure 5.3).
Storming can be the most worrying period of the team life cycle. In the most extreme
cases it can appear that, almost at its inception, the team is riven with internal conflicts
and falling apart. Paradoxically it is the internal tensions that, properly managed, will
enable the team to emerge as a strong entity and that will aid later performance.
As Figure 5.4 (p. 71) shows, there can be a burst of performance following the
Forming stage but in many cases it is a false dawn.
Due to the fact that at the Forming stage, what is called the team is in fact just a
collection of individuals with their own agendas, preferences and ways of doing things,
it is perhaps inevitable that conflicts will arise. Conflict is often considered destructive
but in the work situation, properly managed and resolved, conflict can lead to increased
Conflict in teams occurs at this stage due to a jockeying for position among team
members, inappropriate behaviour by team members and a feeling that
Page 69 Team development
personal objectives may not be fulfilled. While important to the individual, all of these
can be resolved provided that the team is aware first that it has entered a Storming
phase and second that this phase is important as it can lead to increased effectiveness.
If, of course the problems are not resolved the team may well fall apart. It may be that
managers try to stop the Storming from outside, but unless the problems are resolved
they will fester and eventually become destructive. Managers should manage the
Storming process, not prevent it.
Jockeying for position
As primates, humans tend to work within a social hierarchy. Within the team it is not
everybody who will want to be leader, but nobody will want to be at the bottom of the
hierarchy. Teams are often set up as completely flat structures with no formal
hierarchy at all, but it is likely that the team itself win construct a hierarchy even if it
is informal and even subconscious. The remedies for the causes of conflict will be
discussed in the section on the Norming phase. While team members may not wish to
admit that there is any jockeying for position occurring, it would be a strange human
situation if it were not occurring at all.
Inappropriate behaviour can cover a multitude of sins, for example smoking in the
company of non-smoking team members, offensive language, inappropriate dress and
even sexual/racial harassment (both of which are not only inappropriate but against the
law in most jurisdictions). Whatever the form of behaviour, if it causing offence it
needs to be dealt with.
One of the problems may well be that one person's normal behaviour may be deemed
offensive by another. The importance of discussing such issues in the Norming phase
will be discussed later.
Personal objectives not being fulfilled
While it may be presumed that all of the team members have bought in to the overall
team objective they will each have their personal objectives that they wish to fulfil and
an agenda to accomplishing this. If team members find that membership is not assisting
them personally, this can be a considerable source of conflict. While team members
may be unwilling to share their personal objectives and agendas, the team and its
sponsors should ensure that an atmosphere exists in which people can feel free to
express themselves. Norming (the next section) provides a mechanism for long-term
conflict resolution and should lead to the Performing phase.
While conflict is on going in the Storming phase, whether it is outright aggression or
more subdued, there are important things that the team can do to ensure that it does not
become out of hand and relationships permanently soured. Too much conflict can sap
morale and destroy a person's confidence and this leads to diminished performance. In
extreme cases a disgruntled team member may even attempt to undermine the team’s
Page 70 Mastering Team Leadership
Figure 5.4 Team life cycle – Storming (during the storming stage outputs can reduce
From the team leadership point of view the aim in the Storming stage should be to bear
in mind that:
• Conflict, if managed can be productive
• People who disagree on issues can still respect each other
• Openness aids resolution
• Listening is usually better than talking.
If these points are kept in mind during the Storming stage it is likely that it will be
short. It may well be a painful period for the team but it will also be a learning
Performance is likely to slump during this phase, as shown in Figure 5.4.
In the Storming phase the major processes are competitive, procedural and personal
disagreements and even out-and-out conflict. This phase can be characterised by low
morale, a feeling that the team will never work, impolite behaviour and even hostility
The resolution of work conflict is covered by Ronald T. Potter-Efron (2000) in his
book Work Rage - Preventing Anger and Resolving Conflict on the job, a text that
forms part of the recommended reading at the end of this chapter.
During the Storming phase morale may become very low. It will be clear that if the
team is to fulfil its objectives then it will have to find a way of moving away from
Storming towards Performing. This is accomplished by a process or phase known as
Norming, a name derived from the setting of norms (or rules).
Page 71 Team development
For any society or group to work together there need to be a set of norms, accepted by
the members to govern behaviour. In general society we refer to these as laws.
Storming has to precede Norming as it is probably impossible to set rules for every
eventuality. What happens is that something causes a conflict and then the team decide
how such matters should be resolved and what rules will apply.
If smoking is an issue, the team may decide that smokers can use a particular area.
There may be norms for the dress code for the team, for the way in which members
address each other and for meeting deadlines. Any part of the teams activities will have
a set of norms that accompany it. The constructive part of Storming is that it is the
team that sets the norms, and people are more likely to obey rules they set themselves
than ones that are imposed from outside. The team's norms must not, of course conflict
with those of the wider organisation.
The important function of norms and rules is that they allow conflicts to be resolved by
reference to a mutually agreed process and thus the 'personal' part of the conflict is
diminished. Once the norms are in place the team is in a position to begin its main task
- that of Performing (Figure 5.5).
The team norms may not be written down and operate in an informal manner but it is
imperative that all team members, especially new ones (se Re-forming below) are
aware of the need to comply with them.
The main processes in the Norming phase are those of developing a working structure
and relationships, the establishment of roles and the setting of mutually agreed norms.
The phase is characterised by an easing of any tensions, the seeking of consensus, a
growing feeling of support between the team members and a feeling of unity
Figure 5.5 Team life cycle – Norming (following the early rise in output during
forming and the slump as the team storms it is expected that output increases during
the norming phase)
Page 72 Mastering Team Leadership
As well as setting norms the team will need to decide how those transgressing the
norms will be sanctioned and who will be responsible for it. In a well-constructed and
formed team it may be that members will actually sanction themselves for breaches of
the norms. It is necessary, however, to have a set of fair and practical sanctions in
place. Often the feeling that one has let the team down is sufficient sanction.
Consider teams you have been a member of.
• Can you recognise the Forming, Storming and Norming phases?
• What type of issues caused conflict and what norms were adopted to deal with them?
Performing is what the team will have been formed to do. However, as has been shown
it needs to go through the processes of socialisation, conflict and rule setting before it
can reach the stage where the team members can give the task in hand their full
attention. In the Performing phase the focus is on achievement. The phase is
characterised by a high task orientation and the smooth running of the team (Figure
Teams that fail to perform will often revert to an almost continuous process of
Storming. In these cases members may well attempt to leave the team as the
atmosphere becomes difficult to work in.
Many texts finish their discussion of the team life cycle at this point. The team is
Performing and all is well. Even Bedian (1993) who has added Adjourning as a team
life cycle phase has it following on from Performing. The author however, considers
that there are two other highly important phases, the first of which he has entitled
Dorming - from the word dormant.
However much management might wish it, performance cannot be continually
improving. There is a stage when efficiency is either at its absolute maximum or has
reached a plateau. Children in school do not learn at a regular rate. In one year there
may be a huge progress made with less in the next and then another spurt. Plateaus are
often psychologically necessary in order to consolidate information.
Obviously if the team remain on a plateau for a long period it has either reached its full
potential or it has stalled in its growth. A plateau does not mean that performance has
decreased but that it has stopped increasing. If the level of performance reached is
acceptable then no action is needed (Figure 5.7). It is only if it is clear that there is
more potential to 6e gained that steps need to be taken to stir up the team to achieve
higher performance (Figure 5.8).
Page 73 Team development
Figure 5.6 Team life cycle – Performing (during the performing stage the increase in
outputs should be considerable)
A team that is self-aware may realise that it is in the Dorming phase and will be able to
assess whether there is more potential for a growth in performance. If the team is not
so self-aware then external managers will have to assess the situation to see whether
full potential has been reached and, if it has not, what can be done about it.
A Dorming team may be very comfortable with itself and is characterised by very
smooth operations but perhaps less dynamism than it displayed earlier in its history.
The problem the author faced with team life cycle models that ended at Performing
was the issue of what happens when the team is disrupted in some way. While in an
ideal world the team retains its original membership, in the real world members leave,
new members join and sometimes old members who have been away owing to
sickness, secondment and maternity rejoin the team.
Working with a large number of teams the author found that what happens at
Re-forming is that there are often mini-Forming, Storming and Norming phases before
performance retains its original level or indeed, rises due to addition of new blood.
Page 74 Mastering Team Leadership
A similar situation can be found in families after the birth of a child. The original
family dynamics are disturbed and it may be a tense time until the balance is restored.
If a functioning team is thought of as being in balance then it can be seen how a change
can upset that balance and there will need to be a rearrangement of the team dynamics
in order for balance to be restored.
Thus the bringing in of a new person supposedly to improve performance may actually
lead to a temporary drop in performance as the team gets used to its new member and
the new member in turn adapts to the tearm's norms. Norms will also have to be
adjusted to take account of the new member. Even if the person joining has had a
previous relationship with the team, the dynamics will be different to those in place
when they left.
Teams need to be aware that there may be some Storming and Norming required when
the team composition is altered (Figure 5.9).
How can a team minimise the disruption that re-forming can cause?
One of the simplest things that can be done is to ensure that a new team member or a
returning member receives a proper and comprehensive induction into the team. Their
role and the team objectives should be made clear and they should be given time to
adjust to the tearm's mode of working.
Figure 5.9 Team life cycle - Re-forming (after a brief drop outputs should increase)
Page 76 Mastering Team Leadership
While some teams may be permanent, albeit with different membership (the
Manchester United football team of 2002 has no team members in common with that
of 1982 but it is still Manchester United), having gone through a series of Performing -
Re-forming - Performing - Re-forming stages, other teams reach a stage where they are
Adjourning can be a difficult phase as the team is likely to have developed strong
relations between the members. It is not unusual for these relationships to persist long
after the team has been disbanded, with ex-members going to each other with problems
rather than to their newer colleagues.
If a team is not meant to be permanent then this should be stated at the very beginning
so that there is no doubt that it will be adjourned. This allows for members to
concentrate on completing the tasks and fulfilling the objectives rather than diverting
their energies into strategies for keeping the team alive.
If the team has been very successful there may be a feeling of euphoria about the
achievements but as the final day approaches performance is likely to drop
dramatically as the team members revert almost to a socialisation phase to get the last
bit of comradeship from their colleagues. Once the team has been disbanded the
greatest problem is its ex-members constantly referring to how good it was to be a
member of that team, often to the annoyance of their new colleagues (Figure 5.10).
Yeung (2000) calls this stage Mourning, to reflect the fact that the breaking up of a
long-established team can be quite emotional for its members.
Figure5.10 Team life cycle –Adjourning (team outputs drop as the team adjourns)
Cartwright, R. (2002) Mastering Team Leadership, Basingstoke: Palgrave.