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Why is team development important to a leader?

Effective leaders know, you’re only as good as the people you have around you. With this in mind, great leaders know that developing their team is an essential part of their role.

While many leaders are aware of the notion of team development, it’s important to understand the core concepts that go into building a team, and what proper implementation can mean for forward-thinking leadership.

Team development is easy, in theory

Those leaders who are capable of building and developing effective teams have amassed a critical advantage over others. When delivered correctly, team development can create an innovative atmosphere that encourages cooperation, teamwork and trust among its members.

But as most leaders know, team development doesn’t just happen; there’s a lot involved in turning a group of people into a functioning and productive team. At its core, team building is a considered process of transitioning separate individuals into a cohesive group. A group that is at once working interdependently and cooperatively to accomplish a specific set of purposes and goals.

In theory, the concept of team development is simple: amass a group of talented and engaged individuals and task them with completing a specific goal. In reality, the effort and planning that goes into team building is strategic.

Team development in context

When applied in real-world contexts, team development can get tricky, fast. However, there’s one point that continually emerges in studies and research as pivotal for leaders to understand: when a team's cognitive, motivational, and behavioural resources are appropriately aligned with task demands, the team is effective.

This powerful alignment between a team’s intention and the task can be noted in a variety of everyday contexts. In a general sense, we can regularly witness effective team development in the sporting arena. The most successful sporting teams are driven by this alignment of motivation to work in unison to achieve a singular goal – defeat over their opposition.

The sports analogy can also be readily applied to the workplace. The most successful teams are those that connect, communicate and collaborate towards the achievement of a singular goal or task. It’s the role of effective leaders to know how to develop these individual strengths and direct them to realise the results that lie in wait within their collective potential.

The five stages of team development

No matter what type of team you’re forming, there will be a defined set of development stages each leader will need to progress through. According to noted psychologist Bruce Tuckman, five key stages occur during any team’s development. In his 1965 article Developmental Sequence in Small Groups, Tuckman theorised that groups went through four main phases of ‘forming’, ‘storming’, ‘norming’ and ‘performing’. Tuckman later added ‘adjourning’ or ‘mourning’ as the final and fifth stage in a team’s development.

1. Forming

During this first stage, most team members will be approaching the situation with various attitudes, ranging from excited and positive to anxious and reticent. Without clear goals, expectations or roles to rely on, team members are at a stage of the unknown, seeking cues and direction from those around them.

Leaders need to play a more active role to nominate responsibilities and help establish goals. They also need to be prepared for this stage to be a lengthy one; it can take a while for team members to get to know each other and feel at ease working together.

2. Brainstorming

Once team members find their feet, they’ll move onto the next stage. During this stage, members become more comfortable expressing their own opinions and pushing the boundaries of what has been formed. As differences and conflicts arise, many teams falter or fail at this stage. 

For leaders, this stage tests your ability to manage conflicts and lead by example. Leaders need to encourage team members to see beyond the arising conflicts and refocus on the task at hand.

3. Shared Vision

At this stage, your team starts to hit their stride. With bumps in the road behind them, they have a clearer roadmap of what success looks like to them. Realising that they’re in this together, your team is able to enjoy and celebrate one another’s differences and strengths.

As a leader, the struggle here is keeping your team on track and focused. By encouraging a feeling of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, leaders are able to solidify the bond that has been developed amongst the team and focus it towards achieving greater results.

4. Performing

During this stage, your team members are at their most productive. With the initial development stages complete, they can focus on more complex and challenging tasks involving problem-solving and creativity.

Leaders of more mature and self-motivated teams are able to focus on growing individual strengths, as well as their own leadership skills. As your team becomes more capable and willing to learn, leaders should jump at the opportunity to develop, mentor and coach individuals to realise their own potential.

5. Adjourning

In workplaces driven by short-term projects, restructuring or agile environments, this stage becomes more recurrent. Some team members struggle with the idea of continual change, while others see it as an opportunity to move on and learn new skills.

In both instances, leaders play an important role in facilitating opportunities for reflection and celebration.

Team development in the workplace

Strong team development is an essential element of any successful workplace or organisation. Throughout the five stages of developing a team, leaders will witness a number of things, both positive and challenging. If the five stages are used as a framework, leaders will experience more positives than negatives, most notably:

  • Increased trust: Trust matters in the workplace. Through correct team development, your team members will have plenty of opportunities to build rapport with a foundation of acceptance. When people trust one another, they’re more likely to share ideas, collaborate effectively and make the right decisions for everyone and the project.
  • Improved communication: Teams that don’t communicate, don’t succeed. Poor communication can lead to lower morale and missed opportunities for understanding and growth. With proper development, communication becomes a core element of the make-up of the team, increasing its ability to innovate and create.
  • Increased productivity: Productive teams achieve goals. While the act of team building has many benefits, its core purpose is to enable individuals to work together to produce something great.

Want to learn more about leading and developing people?  Consider taking an online course in leadership where you can enhance your skills and become a future-focused leader.

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