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Helping teams through stages

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How a team leader can support a team's development.

Teams don’t automatically move through the stages of development to become fully effective. They can become stuck in different stages. They might be unable to move beyond superficial politeness in the inclusion phase. They might get bogged down in seemingly endless argument in the control phase. The team leader can be very influential in helping teams to navigate stages. This process can’t be rushed but it can be helped on its way.

What can a team leader do?

The inclusion stage

In terms of team development there are four major and inter-related tasks for the team leader at this stage:

  • to foster members’ desire to be part of the team
  • to establish structure and control
  • to develop trust and cohesion
  • to negotiate agreement on the working of the team.

In practice this means:

  • making the meeting environment as attractive and friendly as possible, greeting people as they arrive, providing drinks for an informal start
  • breaking the ice at the beginning of meetings with introductions or ‘check-ins’
  • developing cohesion by acknowledging common themes emerging through discussion
  • modelling and encouraging good attention and communication skills
  • encouraging individuals to bring issues to the table and fostering joint problem solving
  • developing a climate where it’s acceptable to admit mistakes, ask questions, and ask for help
  • agreeing a degree of structure (agenda setting, note taking, chairing, participation, meeting times, frequency, etc) that gives consistency without being rigid
  • being directive when needed, largely through guiding and showing the way rather than imposing ‘rules’
  • clarifying team purpose and goals
  • agreeing mutual expectations as team members – for example how you will maintain contact, work together, support and learn from each other.

The control stage

It can be alarming when there’s a change of atmosphere in a previously cohesive team. There might suddenly be competition, conflict and rebellion. It’s not helpful for the team leader to feel overly responsible for this, to fight back or simply ignore it. It’s a time to hold steady, allow expression and encourage the whole team to take responsibility for resolution.

Four major tasks for the team leader are to:

  • provide good leadership without becoming authoritarian
  • maintain the team’s well-being
  • help the team to be productive
  • protect standards.

Practical ways of doing this are:

  • allow people to express themselves without jumping in too quickly to resolve arguments - allow space for the team to take responsibility for resolving issues
  • in protracted disputes point out what is going on in the team, and invite contributions to identify the issues
  • ensure everyone gets a fair hearing by picking up on non-verbal cues and encouraging less vocal people to speak up
  • remember underlying needs for power, control and influence may be at stake - ask individuals what they really need at this time
  • encourage positive problem solving: get the team to identify the problem, analyse it, draw up alternative strategies, and select a strategy
  • discourage coalitions or alliances that block or stifle others
  • remind people of the teams’ purpose and goals. Stress the importance of resolving differences to enable goal achievement
  • enable good decision- making. Because decision-making involves choice it immediately creates a power dimension amongst competing views and interests. Resolving these power struggles through good decision-making processes at this stage will enable the team to work more cooperatively in future. Try to involve everyone. Bring differences of opinion into the open.  Insist that people listen to each other and discourage rigid position taking. Explore underlying assumptions. Share relevant information and examine facts, ideas and values. Aim for consensus on decisions where team commitment is needed.  Encourage compromise. Make it clear whether you are consulting the team before making a decision yourself, and when you are making decisions jointly.

The affection stage

Following resolution of control issues the team is usually ready to settle down to work on its task and goals. The team is more likely to be working cooperatively. There is greater maturity and self-confidence. There is the potential for greater involvement and interdependence. This means the team leader can adopt a less central role and encourage the team to do more of its own work.

At this point the team leader can move to a more participative and less directive style. A mature team should be able to make decisions consensually and to organise themselves to carry out work.

The team leader role becomes one of:

  • providing and modeling good ‘guiding’ leadership
  • enabling the group to be productive
  • affirming the personal value of each team member by utilising their unique qualities and skills
  • developing teamwork that fosters co-operation, goodwill, creativity and choice.

Practical ways of doing this are:

  • develop the team’s confidence and inner authority by trusting them to take on tasks
  • share and utilise individual skills and resources, encouraging the team to use their diversity to come up with better solutions
  • share incidents or ‘stories’ that illustrate good performance or shared values and enhance understanding
  • reinforce the commitment to achieve goals
  • review and evaluate achievements and performance
  • encourage everyone to participate fully and to share leadership through taking on responsibilities
  • develop more sophisticated communication processes (such as giving each other feedback, positive confrontation, dialogue)
  • stimulate creativity through encouraging critical thinking, questioning, reformulating, originality and innovation.

Spirals not lines

Of course teams don’t go through stages in a neat linear fashion as any model might suggest. They are in constant motion, oscillating back and forth as membership and demands change. The team leader needs to keep a constant eye on team relationships and processes as well as ensuring the team carries out its tasks well. 

These two facets are inextricably linked. Good team relations and effective processes enable high performance. High performance generates team pride and confidence.

Have your say

Have you identified your team’s stage of development? What are you doing to help your team develop? What else will you do to help your team develop? What support would you like for yourself in terms of developing your team?

Page last edited Jun 23, 2017

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