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How a Contact Center Team Develops

In an earlier article on teams, we explored the concept of teams by defining what a team is, looking at different types of teams, exploring the value of teams in call centers today and identifying the criteria necessary for building a high-performing team. In this article, we’ll look at the stages of team development and your role as team leader at each stage.

Like humans, teams go through stages of development. Successful completion of each stage means acquiring new skills, knowledge, and abilities that move a team closer to self-management. The ultimate goal is to become a high-performing team, one that is characterized by trust, open communication, energy, enthusiasm, clear purpose, goal achievement, positive conflict, clear roles and responsibilities, and an understanding of their individual and collective contribution to the call center and the larger organization.

Psychologists who study the behavior of teams suggest that most teams go through these four distinct stages in their development. (It’s important to note that the progression isn’t always linear, and it sometimes can be repeated.)


In the forming stage, teams need to focus on building trust. Agents need to find out about their teammates - who they are, and how they fit into the group.

If the team has moved back to forming due to a major change in the work they do or their work environment, they may need to get to know each other again in terms of how their roles or circumstances have changed.

What you can do to ensure success:

  • Help team members get to know each other and you.
  • Create an environment of mutual respect.
  • Lead by example.
  • Define the mission/purpose of the team.


In the storming stage, the focus is on learning to communicate. Team members are discovering the process for interacting with each other and those outside the team, contact center, and organization.

What you can do to ensure success:

  • Help the team to determine how members will communicate with each other.
  • Commit time and resources for internal and external communication, such as team meetings, intranets, newsletters, etc.
  • Establish ground rules for team communication.
  • Encourage positive methods for idea-sharing and dealing with conflict.
  • Coach both the team and individual team members.


Teams in the norming stage are defining their roles and/or responsibilities: What needs to be accomplished and how will we do it?

What you can do to ensure success:

  • Define the work.
  • Define roles and responsibilities
  • Establish clear goals and expectations for accountability.
  • Provide the tools, resources and processes necessary for success.
  • Establish processes for individual and team recognition.


In the performing stage, collaboration is key. Team members work on ensuring that the team is working in the most productive and effective way possible—both currently and in the future.

What you can do to ensure success:

  • Create opportunities for team members to learn, grow and develop.
  • Create a culture that encourages experimentation and creativity.

In a perfect world, teams would move easily and quickly through each of these 4 stages. It is important to keep in mind that while these stages take teams on a journey to high performance, team development is not a linear process. In fact, it has been found that as new elements are added or subtracted, as work or the world changes, team dynamics may be altered and teams that were once high performing find themselves trying to determine how to work together in a completely different environment.

The reality is that teams need to master key processes to successfully move from one stage to the next. Knowing what these basic processes are and helping to develop and support them is one of the key roles of the leader of the team. 

Common Team Challenges

It’s also critical to be aware of common problems and challenges teams may be facing as they move through each stage. The following are key warning signs that you, as the leader, should watch for, along with recommended action steps to help get your teams back on track as they move through each stage.


  • Little communication or unbalanced communication (some members talk a lot, others not at all).
  • Mistrust or lack of commitment.
  • Lack of clarity and/or confusion about goals.

Leader action steps:

  • Conduct a team-building exercise to allow team members to get to know each othe and you as their team leader (you).
  • Ensure that each team member individually con- tributes to discussions.
  • Communicate the goals, expectations, standards and purpose of the team.
  • Communicate the importance of each individual’s contribution; stress the power of collective effort.


  • Team members begin to challenge the leader.
  • Disagreements with each other.
  • No one takes responsibility.
  • Small cliques begin to form.
  • Commitment declines due to lack of productivity and focus.

Leader action steps 

  • Encourage differing points of view.
  • Coach problem members privately.
  • Agree on ground rules for meetings, brainstorming, conflict resolution, etc.
  • Reaffirm goals.
  • Set timelines.
  • Seek and celebrate small successes.


  • Unexpected setbacks occur and impact morale and momentum.
  • Disagreements occur about the “fairness” of work assignments.
  • The team does a lot of talking but takes little action.

Leader action steps:

  • Keep the focus on the goals.
  • Continue to celebrate successes.
  • Challenge the group to create solutions to obstacles.
  • Encourage discussions about conflicts while insisting on sharing responsibilities.
  • Use team problem-solving and conflict resolution tools.


  • Individual members begin acting on their own.
  • Members resist mundane, routine, “boring” work.
  • Team communication breaks down.

Leader action steps:

  • Ensure that team meetings take place regularly.
  • Review reward and recognition processes.
  • Reinforce collective goals.
  • Review ground rules.
  • Review roles and responsibilities

Maintain the Momentum

Just to restate, these four stages are not linear. Teams may progress to the performing stage only to drop back to storming when a new team member is added or a major process change introduced. The key is to understand what stage your team is in and then work with them to help them move to the next stage.

The goal, to be a high-performing team, is worth the work and the wait.