Psychology of Teamwork | Team Building

So by now we understand what makes a group, how interpersonal relationships work, and the ways different leadership styles affect groups. But how can team building exercises help improve these components of teamwork? The final step in this journey of understanding the psychology of teamwork is figuring out what takes task groups from being a loose collection of coworkers to a strong and effective team. Let’s first look at the life cycle of a team.

team life cycle formingThe concept of a team “life cycle” has been around since the 1950s, and has become somewhat standardized into 5 separate stages. These stages of the formation of a team are as follows: forming, storming, norming, performing, and transforming.2

Forming is a pretty easy stage to understand. Teams come together at this stage and begin to figure out how they fit into the group. During this stage it’s important for those in leadership positions to encourage team members to get to know each other. Ice breaker games, or other methods of cultivating familiarity between colleagues will be especially effective at this stage.

The next phase, storming, is when conflict tends to arise within a team. Team members are beginning to get comfortable with their roles in the team, and may begin to push back in one way or another. There may also be personality conflicts between team members that will arise at this stage. MBTI training or opening paths of communication may help significantly at this juncture.

Storming can overlap with the next phase in the cycle, norming1. During the norming stage, teams begin to hit their stride. Team members may begin to explore social connections outside of the professional environment. It’s not unusual, however, for a new conflict to team life cycle normingarise that brings the team back into the storming phase. This stage is an ideal time to encourage socialization with a teambuilding activity like a scavenger hunt or other interactive entertainment. Teams will benefit from the strengthening of the social bonds already in progress, as well as practicing communication in a more relaxed environment.

The performing stage is when everything within the team is working exactly as needed. Team members are working well together, and everyone clearly understands their roles and are working towards the team’s goals with efficiency and enthusiasm. Interpersonal relationships between the team members are strong, and everyone is comfortable with the role of their team leader. During this stage, teams can still benefit from having their bonds reinforced, which makes it a perfect opportunity to give back to their communities. Doing charity work together will help reinforce the feelings of camaraderie and good will among the team members.

The final stage, transforming, can occur for several different reasons. For example, a team may complete a task or reach a goal they have been working towards. This can require changes in roles within the team, or perhaps the transformation of the team into something all together different. Some teams dissolve at this stage, while others reorganize and begin working on a different project. Another thing that can prompt the transforming stage within a group are changes within the make up of the group. Team members may leave or join, changing rolls within the group. The shift in group dynamics may be dramatic enough to push a team back to the forming stage, at which time the cycle starts over again.

Understanding these different stages of the life cycle of a team can help us understand why team building experiences are as effective as they are. Studies have been done on the subject, and the findings all point towards the effectiveness of team building.

“Our findings are encouraging—team building improves team outcomes; that these team-development interventions are beneficial to team functioning is the good news.”3

This study also stresses the importance of understanding exactly what kind of team building a team needs, as certain styles may be more effective based on the desired outcome.

Luckily, here at TeamBonding, we are happy to help potential clients address their specific needs to achieve a desired outcome. We truly believe that team building is the key to a successful, well performing workplace. Contact one of our sales reps to learn more about how we can help you succeed in the future!

2. Nazzaro, Ann-Marie, and Joyce Strazzabosco. Group dynamics and team building. DEVELOPMENT 4 (2009).
3. Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C. S., Lyons, R., & Goodwin, G. F. (2009). Does team building work?. Small Group Research.


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