Team Processes

Now we turn our attention to internal team processes. Team  processes pertain to those dy- namics that change over time and can be influenced  by team leaders. In this section, we discuss the team processes of stages of development,  cohesiveness, and norms. The fourth type of team process, conflict, will be covered in the next section.


After a team has been created, it develops through  distinct  stages.59 New teams are different from mature teams. Recall a time when you were a member of a new team,  such as a frater- nity or sorority  pledge class, a committee, or a small team formed  to do a class assignment. Over time, the team changed. In the beginning,  team members had to get to know one another, establish roles and norms, divide the labor, and clarify the team’s task. In this way, each member  became part of a smoothly  operating team. The challenge for leaders is to understand  the stages  of team development  and take action that will help the group improve its functioning.

Research findings suggest that team development is not random but evolves over definitive stages. One useful model for describing  these stages is shown in Exhibit 14.5. Each stage confronts  team leaders and members with unique problems and challenges.60

Forming. The forming stage of development is a period  of orientation and getting acquainted. Members break the ice and test one another for friendship possibilities and task orientation.  Team members find which behaviors  are acceptable to others. Uncer- tainty  is high during  this stage, and members usually accept whatever power or authority is offered by either formal or informal leaders. Members  are dependent on the team until they find out what the ground rules are and what is expected of them. During this initial stage, members are concerned about such things  as “What is expected of me?” “What is accept- able?” “Will I fit in?” During the forming stage, the team leader should provide time for members to get acquainted with one another and encourage them to engage in informal social discussions.

Storming. During  the storming  stage,  individual personalities  emerge.  People become more assertive in clarifying their roles and what is expected of them. This stage is marked by conflict and disagreement. People may disagree over their perceptions of the team’s mission. Members may jockey for position, and coalitions or subgroups  based on common  interests may form.  One subgroup may disagree with another over the total team’s goals or how to achieve them.  Unless teams can successfully move beyond this stage, they may get bogged down and never achieve high performance. During the storming  stage, the team leader should encourage  participation by each  team member. Members  should propose  ideas,  disagree  with  one another, and work through the uncertainties  and conflicting perceptions about team tasks and goals.

Norming. During the norming stage, conflict is resolved, and team harmony and unity  emerge. Consensus develops concerning who has the power, who are the leaders, and what are the members’ roles. Members come to accept and understand one another. Dif- ferences are resolved,  and members  develop  a sense of team cohesion. This stage typically is of short duration. During the norming  stage, the team leader should emphasize unity within the team and help to clarify team norms and values.

Performing. During the performing stage, the major emphasis is on problem  solv- ing and accomplishing the assigned task. Members are committed  to the team’s mission. They are coordinated with one another and handle disagreements in a mature way. They confront  and resolve problems in the interest of task accomplishment. They interact fre- quently and direct their discussions and influence toward achieving team goals. During this stage, the leader should concentrate on managing high task performance. Both socioemo- tional and task specialists contribute  to the team’s functioning.

Adjourning. The adjourning stage occurs in committees  and teams that have a lim- ited task to perform  and are disbanded afterward. During this stage, the emphasis is on wrapping up and gearing down. Task performance is no longer  a top priority. Members may feel heightened emotionality,  strong cohesiveness, and depression or regret over the team’s disbandment.  They may feel happy about mission accomplishment and sad about the loss of friendship  and associations. At this point, the leader may want to signify the team’s disbanding with a ritual or ceremony, perhaps giving out plaques and awards to signify closure and completeness.

The  five stages of team development typically occur in sequence. In teams that are under time pressure or that will exist for only a short period of time, the stages may occur quite rapidly. The stages may also be accelerated for virtual teams. For example, bringing people together for a couple of days of team building  can help virtual teams move rapidly through the forming and storming  stages. McDevitt Street Bovis, one of the country’s  largest construction management firms, uses an understanding of the stages of team development to put teams on a solid foundation.


Another important aspect of the team process is cohesiveness. Team  cohesiveness is defined  as the extent  to which members are attracted to the team and motivated to remain in it.62  Members of highly cohesive teams are committed  to team activities, attend meet- ings, and are happy  when the team succeeds. Members  of less cohesive  teams  are less concerned about the team’s welfare. High cohesiveness is normally considered an attractive feature of teams.

Determinants of Team Cohesiveness. Characteristics of team structure and context  influence  cohesiveness. First  is team interaction.  The greater the contact among team members and the more time spent together, the more cohesive the team. Through frequent interactions, members get to know one another and become more committed  to the team.63  Second is the concept of shared goals. If team members agree on goals, they will be more cohesive. Agreeing  on purpose and direction binds the team together. Third is personal attraction to the team, meaning that members have similar  attitudes  and values and enjoy being together. Complete the following New Manager Self Test to determine how cohesive your team is.

Consequences of Team Cohesiveness. The outcome of team cohe- siveness can fall into two categories—morale and productivity. As a general rule, morale is higher in cohesive teams because of increased communication  among members, a friendly team climate, maintenance of membership  because of commitment to the team, loyalty, and member participation  in team decisions and activities. High cohesiveness has almost uniformly good effects on the satisfaction and morale of team members.64

With respect to team performance, research findings  are mixed, but cohesiveness may have several effects.65   First, in a cohesive team, members’ productivity  tends to be more uniform. Productivity differences  among  members  are small because the team exerts pres- sure toward conformity. Noncohesive teams do not have this control  over member behavior and therefore tend to have wider variation in member productivity.

With respect to the productivity of the team  as a whole,  research findings  suggest that cohesive teams have the potential  to be productive, but the degree of productivity  depends on the relationship between management and the working team. Thus, team cohesiveness does not necessarily lead to higher team productivity. One study surveyed more than 200 work teams and correlated job performance with their cohesiveness.66   Highly cohesive teams  were more productive when team members felt management support and less productive when they sensed management  hostility and negativism. Management hostility led to team norms and goals of low performance, and the highly  cohesive teams performed poorly, in accordance with their norms and goals.

The relationship  between performance  outcomes  and cohesiveness  is illustrated in Exhibit 14.6. The highest productivity occurs when the team is cohesive and also has a high performance norm, which is a result of its positive relationship with management. Moderate productivity occurs when cohesiveness is low because team members  are less committed to performance norms. The lowest productivity  occurs when cohesiveness  is high and the team’s performance  norm is low. Thus, cohesive teams are able to attain their goals and enforce their norms, which can lead to either very high or very low productivity. A good example of team cohesiveness combined with high performance norms occurred at Motorola, where a highly  cohesive team created a new cell phone that revived the company.

At Motorola, a combination  of team cohesiveness and management  support  that cre- ated high performance norms led to amazing results. The phone wasn’t originally con- ceived to be a blockbuster,  but it proved to be just that. Between the time the RAZR was launched in late 2004 and mid-2006,  the stylish phone sold almost as many units as the red-hot Apple iPod.68


A team norm is a standard  of conduct that is shared by team members and guides their behavior.69  Norms are informal.  They are not written down,  as are rules and procedures. Norms are valuable because they define  boundaries  of acceptable behavior. They make life easier for team members by providing  a frame of reference for what is right and wrong. Consider  norms associated with the grueling three-week-long Tour de France. Each team is out to win the 2,700-mile  bike race, but cooperation among competing teams is neces- sary for survival. When a team leader crashes, informal norms dictate that everyone slows down and waits. And when someone calls for a bathroom  break, no formal rule says other riders have to pull to the side or slow down, but norms suggest they do so. When Dante Coccolo decided instead to go on the attack, putting  a large time gap between him and the group, he learned the power of norms. When it came his own turn for a break, several other riders slowed down—but their purpose was to grab Coccolo’s bike and toss it into a ditch. The chastened rider finished  second to last, and never again rode in the Tour de France.70

Norms identify key values, clarify role expectations, and facilitate  team survival. Norms begin to develop in the first interactions among members of a new team.71  Thus, it is important for leaders, especially those of virtual teams, to try to shape early interactions that will lead to norms that help the team succeed. Leader  Bill Franzblau  sets norms through becoming a role model to team members,  as described  in the Benchmarking box.

Norms that apply to both day-to-day behavior and employee output and performance gradually  evolve, letting members know what is acceptable and directing their actions toward acceptable performance. Four common ways in which norms develop for control- ling and directing  behavior are illustrated  in Exhibit 14.7.72

Critical Events. Often, critical  events in a team’s  history establish an important precedent. One example occurred when an employee at a forest products  plant was seri- ously injured while standing too close to a machine  being operated by a teammate.  This incident led to a norm  that team members regularly monitor one another to make sure all safety rules are observed. Any critical event can lead to the creation of a norm.

Primacy. Primacy means that the first behaviors that occur in a team often set a prece- dent for later team expectations.  For example, at one company,  a team leader began his first meeting  by raising an issue and then “leading”  team members until he got the solution he wanted. The pattern became ingrained  so quickly  into an unproductive team norm that members dubbed meetings the “Guess What I Think” game.73

Carryover Behaviors. Carryover behaviors bring  norms  into the team from out- side. One current example is the strong norm against smoking in many management teams. Some team members sneak around, gargling with mouthwash, and fear expulsion because the team culture believes everyone should kick the habit. Carryover behavior also influences small teams of college students assigned by instructors to do class work. Norms brought into the team from outside suggest that students should participate  equally and help mem- bers get a reasonable grade.

Explicit Statements.  With explicit statements, leaders or team members  can initi- ate norms by articulating  them to the team. Explicit statements symbolize what counts and thus have considerable impact. Making explicit statements can be a highly effective way for leaders to influence or change team norms.

One division of ABB was about  to go bankrupt partly because team  members  had developed norms of politeness that made people hesitant to express disagreement  or bring up negative information. The unit’s leader turned things around by making an explicit statement that everyone was expected to speak their minds about problems. Similarly, Ameritech CEO Bill Weiss established a norm of cooperation and mutual support among his top leadership team by telling them bluntly  every week that if he caught anyone trying to undermine the others, the guilty party would be fired.74

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

2 thoughts on “Team Processes

  1. Sherrill says:

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