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Master of Science in Nursing Course Insight: Understanding the Stages of Team Formation

Study alongside students earning an MSN degree with this required reading taken from an online course in nursing leadership.

As a nurse leader in today’s ever-changing healthcare environment, you need to know how to build strong teams that work well together and can perform their best as quickly as possible. Understanding the team formation process—and what nurse managers can do at each stage to maximize team performance—is crucial to successful nursing leadership.

Students in Walden University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program examine team formation in the online course Interprofessional Organizational and Systems Leadership. The class explores evidence-based strategies nurse managers can use to create healthy work environments and build collaborative interprofessional teams in today’s healthcare settings. One of the course’s required readings is the article “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing: Understanding the Stages of Team Formation,” which breaks down the team-building model first introduced by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965.

Master of Science in Nursing Course Insight: Understanding the Stages of Team Formation

Below are the stages of team formation as described in the article. Read along with our online master’s in nursing students and discover practical team management and leadership tips you can use in your nursing career:1

Stage 1: Forming

In this stage, most team members are positive and polite. Some are anxious, as they haven't fully understood what work the team will do. Others are simply excited about the task ahead. As leader, you play a dominant role at this stage, because team members’ roles and responsibilities aren't clear.

This stage can last for some time, as people start to work together, and as they make an effort to get to know their new colleagues.

What you can do as a nursing team leader:
  • Direct the team, and establish clear objectives, both for the team as a whole and for individual team members.

Stage 2: Storming

Next, the team moves into the storming phase, where people start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. This is the stage where many teams fail. Storming often starts where there is a conflict between team members’ natural working styles. People may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons but, if differing working styles cause unforeseen problems, they may become frustrated.

Storming can also happen in other situations. For example, team members may challenge your authority, or jockey for position as their roles are clarified. Or, if you haven't defined clearly how the team will work, people may feel overwhelmed by their workload, or they could be uncomfortable with the approach you're using. Some may question the worth of the team’s goal, and they may resist taking on tasks.

Team members who stick with the task at hand may experience stress, particularly as they don't have the support of established processes or strong relationships with their colleagues.

What you can do as a nursing team leader:
  • Establish processes and structures.
  • Build trust and good relationships between team members.
  • Resolve conflicts swiftly if they occur. Provide support, especially to those team members who are less secure.
  • Remain positive and firm in the face of challenges to your leadership, or to the team's goal.
  • Explain the "forming, storming, norming, and performing" idea, so that people understand why problems are occurring, and so that they see that things will get better in the future.
  • Coach team members in assertiveness and conflict resolution skills, where this is necessary.
  • Use psychometric indicators such as Myers-Briggs and the Margerison-McCann Team Management Profile to help people learn about different work styles and strengths.

Stage 3: Norming

Gradually, the team moves into the norming stage. This is when people start to resolve their differences, appreciate colleagues’ strengths, and respect your authority as a leader. Now that your team members know one another better, they may socialize together, and they are able to ask one another for help and provide constructive feedback. People develop a stronger commitment to the team goal, and you start to see good progress towards it.

There is often a prolonged overlap between storming and norming, because, as new tasks come up, the team may lapse back into behavior from the storming stage.

What you can do as a nursing team leader:
  • Step back and help team members take responsibility for progress towards the goal. (This is a good time to arrange a team-building event.)

Stage 4: Performing

The team reaches the performing stage, when hard work leads, without friction, to the achievement of the team's goal. The structures and processes that you have set up support this well.

As leader, you can delegate much of your work, and you can concentrate on developing team members. It feels easy to be part of the team at this stage, and people who join or leave won't disrupt performance.

What you can do as a nursing team leader:
  • Delegate tasks and projects as far as you can. Once the team is achieving well, you should aim to have as light a touch as possible. You will now be able to start focusing on other goals and areas of work.

Stage 5: Adjourning

Many teams will reach this stage eventually. For example, project teams exist for only a fixed period, and even permanent teams may be disbanded through organizational restructuring.

Team members who like routine, or who have developed close working relationships with colleagues, may find this stage difficult, particularly if their future now looks uncertain.

What you can do as a nursing team leader:
  • Take the time to celebrate the team's achievements—you may work with some of your people again, and this will be much easier if people view past experiences positively.

Become a Better Nurse Leader by Earning an MSN Degree Online

If you want to learn more about nursing management and how to build high-performing teams, think about advancing your nursing education with a master’s degree.

Walden’s School of Nursing offers an online Master of Science in Nursing degree program for registered nurses who want to take the next step in their career. By earning an MSN degree, you can gain the advanced clinical and nursing leadership training needed to pursue opportunities as a nurse practitioner, nurse executive, nurse educator, or healthcare informatics specialist—to name a few.

With three tracks—including an RN to MSN track for students who don’t already hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing—Walden’s online MSN program is a great option for nurses with all types of educational backgrounds. And with a flexible online learning format, you can remain in your current job while developing the skills of a nurse leader who can impact patient care at an even higher level.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,