by Gwyn Williams and Bruce Milroy

Stage 1: Forming (or childhood)

Forming is the stage when the group first comes together. This is a time of considerable anxiety and feels most like your first day at school, when everything is new and you don’t know anybody or any of the rules of the playground. People are usually very polite and conflict is seldom voiced directly. Since the grouping is new, the individuals will be guarded in their own opinions and generally reserved. The key issues centre around acceptance, trust and personal well-being.

In the forming stage, personal relations are characterised by dependence. Group members rely on safe, patterned behaviour and look to the group leader for guidance and direction. If there is no formal or assigned leader, the group tends to defer to a large extent to those who emerge as leaders.

Group members have a desire for acceptance by the group and a need to know that the group is safe. They set about gathering impressions and data about the similarities and differences among them and forming preferences for cliques. Rules of behaviour seem to be to keep things simple and to avoid controversy. Serious topics and feelings are avoided.

The major task functions also concern orientation. Members attempt to become oriented to the task as well as to one another. Discussion centres around defining the scope of the task, how to approach it, and similar concerns. To grow from this stage to the next, each member must relinquish the comfort of non-threatening topics and risk the possibility of conflict.

Top tip

In the early days of your team being together, invite them all to take a little time to explain to the other people in the team what experience they have had in working in teams, what has really worked well for them in previous teams, and what they would like to avoid in this team.

First things first

If you are either meeting a new team for the first time or taking over as the new leader of an established team, the first step is to take the time to introduce yourself to each of the team members. Tell them a little about yourself and what you’d like to achieve with the team. Ask them for their views on how they like to work, and what they’d like to get out of being a member of this team in the next six to 12 months.

When you introduce yourself as the new team leader, tell them

  • Your background and experience
  • What really excites you
  • What really annoys you
  • What you expect from a good team member.


 Characteristics  Needs  Leadership behaviours
  • Eager, high, often unrealistic expectations
  • Anxiety about roles, acceptance, trust, demands on them
  • Tentative, polite, conforming behaviour, some testing of boundaries
  • Lack of clarity about purpose, norms, roles, goals and structure
  • Dependence upon authority for direction and support
  • Acceptance
  • Trust
  • Personal well-being
  • Common understanding of the team’s purpose
  • Protocols for working
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities – also tasks, how work will get done, by whom, by when and the required skills
  • Clarity on accountability, decision making authority and performance measures
  • Orienting the team to the team leader and each other – an issue of trust
  • Developing a clear and compelling team purpose
  • Creating a team charter or protocols to guide behaviour
  • Clarifying roles/responsibilities
  • Setting goals and objectives
  • Developing team structure and boundaries