Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton discuss the best way to develop an early years team, as a collective unit as well as individual roles. They discuss Bruce Tuckman’s stages of forming, storming, norming and performing, and advise how to gather feedback regarding team members’ development

In Early Years Update eBulletin December 2009 , we looked at the make-up of teams and the different roles people play as team members. As the leader of an early years team you have a vital role to play in coordinating these different roles, and using the skills and abilities of individual team members effectively.

Building up a new team
Developing teamwork takes time. Do not expect a new team, or one which has several new members, to operate smoothly straight away, no matter how committed and enthusiastic the individuals are. The team leader’s role is to nurture the team and manage it through its early stages of development. Bruce Tuckman has developed a model describing the four developmental stages which any new team goes through, which he named: forming; storming; norming; performing.

During the forming stage the team members tend to act as individuals, and will be very dependent on the team leader for guidance and direction. Team members at this stage usually don’t have a great deal of understanding of either their own roles and responsibilities or the roles and responsibilities of others.

The second phase, the storming phase, is a difficult one for all teams. During this time, individuals tend to vie for position and challenge one another. Compromises may be needed to allow the team to move on to the next phase.

Stage three, referred to as norming, describes the phase when a team has reached an agreement and where roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted. The team is now able to demonstrate commitment and a sense of unity so that decisions are reached by agreement within the group. The role of the team leader is to act as a facilitator and enabler rather than as director of the group.

Performing, the final stage in the process, is the most productive phase of teamwork. The team has a good strategic awareness of its aims and objectives, as well a strong shared vision. It is able to function well in the absence of the team leader and any disagreements which occur are resolved quickly and effectively. At this stage in its development, the team is well structured to take on new initiatives and challenges and move quality practice forwards.

How well is the team doing?
Within the role as team leader, it is important to gather feedback from team members about how well they think the team is performing. One way to do this is to ask team members to complete a short questionnaire covering their views as to how well the team operates. One way of doing this is to offer the following statements for consideration, and then invite the team member to assess whether they feel that these things happen always, usually, sometimes or never.

To gain the most useful information it is important that team members answer the questions individually and then come together as a group to share their findings.

As a team we:

  • share the same values
  • understand our roles and responsibilities
  • respect our team leader and one another
  • value one another’s strengths
  • are happy to learn from one another
  • listen to each other
  • are willing to share ideas
  • collaborate to find practical solutions to problems
  • work together to make meetings productive
  • understand the importance of confidentiality

In an effective team:

  • the vision and objectives of the team are clear and well understood by all
  • everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities
  • good written and verbal communication ensures information is shared by all
  • simple ground rules regarding behaviour and confidentiality are established and adhered to
  • aspirations are high and everyone understands that they are expected to fulfil their role
  • team members recognise that they are dependent upon one another and that the easiest route to team and individual success is to support one another
  • everyone takes collective responsibility for achieving the objectives of the team
  • team members trust one another and make an effort to understand one another
  • communication is open and honest and constructive criticism is given, and taken, maturely
  • disagreements and differences of opinion are seen as a starting point for new ideas or ways of working

In an effective team individuals will:

  • find their jobs enjoyable and rewarding
  • cooperate well and be keen to accept responsibility
  • work hard and to a high standard
  • complete projects on time
  • rarely be absent from work.

Links with the EYPS Standards: S33, S34, S35, S36, S39
Links with Ofsted SEF: 5k, 6m, 6n

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton are early years consultants, trainers and authors and edit Early Years Update.