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Episode 173 Premium: The 7 Stages of Team Development. Wait... did you say SEVEN??!!

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Episode 173 Premium: The 7 Stages of Team Development. Wait... did you say SEVEN??!! In 1965 Bruce W. Tuckman devised the five stages of team growth and today, we are going to take a look at all 7 of them... yes you heard me right all 7.

For this we welcome back Pam Stanton. We will first review the 5 traditional stages, explain why she sees the need for 7 instead of 5 and review the major differences. Then we discuss the need for us PMs to be masters of our soft skills for team development, how we sometimes fail in this endeavor and how the 7 stages may help us overcome that.

We are still in the process of giving away 2 copies of her book The Project Whisperer. One copy - as always - is reserved for our premium listeners and one copy is up for grabs. To win the book please go to our Facebook Fan Page, look for the post about the book giveaway and leave a comment.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: This is The Project Management Podcast™. We bring project management to beginners and experts. Find us on the web at‑ or send your emails to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to this Premium Episode #173. I am Cornelius Fichtner. This is The Project Management Podcast™ and as always, it is nice to have you with us.

You are listening to a premium episode. That means, only you, our paying premium subscribers get to hear it. Thank you so much for your financial support of The Project Management Podcast™.

In 1965, Bruce W. Tuckman devised the ”Five stages of Team Growth” and today, we are going to take a look at all 7 of these stages. Yes, you heard me right. All 7 of his 5 stages.

For this, we welcome back Pam Stanton. We will first review the 5 traditional stages, explain why she sees the need for 7 instead of 5 and review the major differences between those. Then we discuss the need for us project managers to be masters of our soft skills in regards to team development, how we sometimes fail in this endeavor and how the 7 stages may help us overcome that.

And now, the story of Snow White and the 7 Stages. Enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Pam Stanton, founder of Heart, Brains & Courage LLC and author of “The Project Whisperer”.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Pam and thanks for coming back to look a bit more closely at your book, “The Project Whisperer” here on the Podcast.

Pam Stanton: Thank you, Cornelius. I’m happy to be back again and happy to talk about this topic.

Cornelius Fichtner: So in our last discussion, you gave us an overview of your book, “The Project Whisperer” and we also looked how you do things.

When I, however, looked at your book originally, you sent me a copy of it, I was surprised to see that you named 7 stages of team development while the PMBOK® Guide and most other books, they only have 5 stages and I would like begin here. So let’s start with the basics. What are the 5 stages that the PMBOK® Guide offers and where do they come from?

Pam Stanton: Well, the 5 stages that were added to the latest iteration of the PMBOK have adapted the Tuckman ladder of team development and that was developed in 1965 by Dr. Bruce Tuckman during his first job at the Naval Medical Research Institute. I really think that was revolutionary at that time in that it introduced the concept of a progression of a team’s performance. So Tuckman originally gave us 4 stages: The forming, storming, norming and performing, which I think the rhyming scheme is just brilliant and perhaps what’s helped embed it in our minds over the last 35 or so, 40 years. And then in 1977, added a fifth stage, adjourning, to acknowledge the particular phase of closing out a group activity.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right and when it comes to “The Project Whisperer,” what are the 7 stages that you propose?

Pam Stanton: Alright! So I’ve got 7 stages. I’ll give you the names and just a very brief, brief overview of each one.

The first stage I call, Shiny, Happy People. And yes, that’s a reference to the REM tune. Because everyone comes in and it all sounds good and they’re not too concerned. They may be not too engaged but you really don’t get too much pushback in the beginning.

Then stage 2, Confusion Sets In. And that’s generally where ambiguity starts to breed fear; the objectives of the project may not be clear. People’s roles may not be clear. There may be conflicting stakeholder agendas and things start to really swirl.

It can swirl to the point where we move in to stage 3 that I call the Valley of Despair and that’s where the team really starts to struggle. At some point, the magnitude and complexity of the project becomes very clear. Those are palpable moment I like to call the oh-crap moment where you see the whole team kind of go “Uh!” when they realized “Wow! We’ve now figured out what we have to do and I’m not so sure I want to do this or even know how we’re going to.”

Stage 4 then Blast Off. You get through the valley of despair. You put together whatever it is you’re going to deliver, deploy, and what not. And there’s usually a moment where the team or some faction of the team is very concerned that not everything is ready because as we know the larger and more complex the project, the more, chances are that some things are not going to go right when it’s deployed.

Okay, well they can get through that and the team gets to a stage that I call Cruising where you reach a rhythm and a momentum of deployment or whatever it is you’re getting out there. But there’s still a long haul ahead and so keeping momentum and keeping everyone engaged is critical there.

And there’s something called the Long Tail and I’ve found on my larger projects, there’s usually some small subsets of exceptions that could keep a project dragging on forever and that dragging-on-forever part is really destructive overall to team morale.

And ultimately to the last stage, which is stage 7, Moving On, where the team disbands and goes on to their next thing. In my book, I talk about how a project manager handles this last stage, handles recognition and how you lead the team at this point really makes a huge difference in how they view you as a leader, how they view this experience, their willingness to come back and work for you again and really how much you contribute to organizational development in your company.

Cornelius Fichtner: What I like very much about how you showed this in your book is first of all, you just have a list of your 7 stages but below that, you then show how this works out graphically in comparison to team morale and you see that at the beginning of the project, team morale is neutral. Then it starts to going down into the valley of despair where of course, everything is negative. Then it keeps going back up again towards the cruising stage and it goes back down again to the neutral when we are moving on. Why in the end did you see the need to have 7 instead of let’s call them traditional 5 stages?

Pam Stanton: Well, there are a couple of reasons. First of all, Tuckman’s ladder of team development was really focused on teams in general. I’ve enjoyed researching this and engaging mentally a little bit of the academic debate about whether or not Tuckman’s model applies to work teams but I’m not even going to go there. I’m going to say it does.

But what I’ve experienced is that in the Project Whisperer framework, I’m really focused on the ‘how’ as much as the ‘what’. Tuckman gave us the ‘what’. This is what happens to a team. But we as project managers want to know: How do I address that? Because at the end of the day, we’re tactical. We deliver, right? And in that tactical view in my pure experience, I’ve seen more delineation in the storming phase which I break essentially into 2 phases. And then also in the performing phase which is where I add another stage. So that’s how I end up with 7 because I think the behavioral dynamics and the project management opportunities are different and specific enough in each of those stages to warrant separate conversations and separate opportunities and approaches for project managers.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right.

Pam Stanton: So it’s really taking Tuckman in saying: “Okay! Now, how do I take this and put it in a context of my world of project management? What does that mean to me?

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of the more humorous 6 stages of a project, right? Let’s go through those quickly.

Pam Stanton: Oh yeah!

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah! It starts with stage 1 is enthusiasm.

Pam Stanton: Right.

Cornelius Fichtner: Stage 2: Dissolutionment. Stage 3: Panic. Stage 4: Search for the guilty. Stage 5: Punishment of the innocent. And stage 6: Reward for the uninvolved.

Pam Stanton: Yes, I had a colleague who is very happy to share those with me a number of years ago when we were living a project, that was following pretty much that progression.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right. So team building has a lot to do with the practical application of soft skills. Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on soft skills as we train our junior project managers and help them come up the ladder?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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