Four Stages of Team Growth

Published: February 8, 2017

Adversity teaches us how to cope. Occasionally, we come up from an underground subway platform to street level and momentarily lose our bearings. Where am I? Which way is north? In that fleeting moment where nothing looks familiar, we are lost. The fear center of our brain gets activated as we fend off panic and search for direction. Of course, no one stays lost forever. Eventually, learning occurs. Consider what might happen if we got lost on purpose. A good crisis provides many lessons. Let’s look at how growth unfolds.

Harvard Medical School’s Mind/Body Institute tracks four stages of growth. These stages progress in harmony with the Team Clock® cycles.

Struggle – Whether frustrated, stressed, or depleted, this stage is marked by not being able to solve a problem or bring relief to an unpleasant emotion. Usually, the harder we struggle, the worse the situation gets. Teams frequently struggle most in the investment phase when conflict is being negotiated.

Letting Go – Eventually, the adversity disables our ability to move forward. The impasse activates our coping skills and triggers a breakout. Teams tend to let go in the trust phase when safety permits risk.

Peak Experience – Learning and growth occur. New insights, increased self-awareness, creativity, and rejuvenation combine to strengthen an inner platform of productivity. Teams usually enjoy such discovery in the innovation phase when they are primed to take advantage of the strength that different viewpoints empower.

New Normal – While the stresses of the environment remain the same, we are able to confront them with renewed perspective and energy. Teams often recalibrate in the distancing phase after letting go of old thinking and embracing new circumstances.

Although it is counterintuitive to invite struggle into our lives, the outcome provides rich rewards. Like the moment of clarity that characterizes an epiphany, previously insurmountable challenges become manageable. Once laborious tasks become effortless. Allow your team to get lost. It’s okay to not know the answer. You may discover a novel solution that wouldn’t have been visible without the crisis.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.