What Phase is Your Sales Team in? (And why is this important?)

I’ve been building sales teams for over three decades now and it’s fun to watch teams come together, to form. It’s even more enjoyable to see sales teams begin to perform at the highest levels. I have been lucky enough to help create and preside over several high performing—legacy—teams. I can assure you there’s nothing better than being a part of a legacy team, but these high-performing teams don’t happen overnight and there are definite phases of maturity that have to occur before they’re winning consistently.

If you’re a sales leader, you’d be wise to know what stage of growth your team is in so you can foster the right atmosphere, pull the right strings and help get them to the next stage of growth. That’s exactly what this blog article is about.

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Twenty years ago, somebody exposed me on to a leadership model that was developed by Bruce Tuckman. The Tuckman model was originally introduced in 1965 and it became the basis for subsequent team development models. The Tuckman concept was also known as the:

Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model of team development.

Tuckman argued that the phases of growth referenced above are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to accomplish the following things:

  • Consistent Growth
  • Face Challenges
  • Tackle Problems
  • Find Solutions
  • Plan Their Work
  • Deliver Results

I’ve always respected Tuckman’s model and have wanted to write about it for a while. If you look at the various phases outlined (and the characteristics of team members) and then observe your team (or others around you) I think you’ll notice some similarities. These parallels may stimulate you to think and act differently than you might otherwise.

Let’s put some definition to Tuckman’s phases of team development.


In this first stage the team forms, comes together. Maybe you’re promoted and have to start a sales team from scratch (hire all of your own salespeople) or maybe you inherit a few veterans and begin to build around them.

At this beginning phase the behavior of individual team members is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others. They also want to avoid controversy and conflict. Serious issues are avoided and salespeople focus on being busy with routines, such as team organization, who does what, when to meet each other, etc. Individuals are also gathering information and forming impressions about each other and about the scope of the task and how to approach it.

This is a comfortable stage, but the avoidance of conflict means that not much actually gets done. The team meets and agrees on goals and begins to tackle the tasks. Team members tend to behave quite independently. Team members are usually on their best behavior but very focused on themselves. Mature team members may begin to model appropriate behavior even at this early phase.

The forming stage of any team is important because the members of the team get to know one another, exchange some personal information, and make new friends.

This phase offers a good opportunity to observe how team members work individually and how they respond to pressure.


In the storming stage, enough initial trust has been developed between team members that they start to feel comfortable expressing discontent and challenging others’ opinions. This stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict.

Tolerance of each team member and their differences should be emphasized; without tolerance and patience the team will fail. This phase can become destructive to the team and will lower motivation if allowed to get out of control. Some teams will never develop past this stage; however, disagreements within the team can make members stronger, more versatile, and able to work more effectively as a team.

During this phase the team leader should be more accessible and remain directive in their guidance of decision-making and professional behavior. With a strong leader present the team members will be able to resolve their differences and members will be able to participate with one another more comfortably.

The ideal is that they will not feel that they’re being judged and will therefore share their opinions and views.


In this stage of development the team manages to have one goal and they arrive at a mutual plan. Some team members may have to give up their own ideas and agree with others to make the team function. In this stage, all team members take responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team’s goals.

The danger here is that members may be so focused on preventing conflict that they’re reluctant to share controversial ideas.


It is possible for certain highly inspired sales teams to reach the performing stage. These high-performing teams function as a unit. They find ways to get the job done effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for too much external supervision. By this stage, the team is motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without heavy supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channeled through means acceptable to the team.

During this “performing” phase leaders heavily participate, but the team makes most of the necessary decisions.

Even the most high-performing teams will revert to earlier stages in certain circumstances. Many long-standing teams go through these cycles several times as they react to changing circumstances. For example, a change in leadership may cause the team to revert to storming as the new people challenge the existing norms and dynamics of the team.

If you are a leader it may be a good idea for you to take a look at your team and identify where it may be in this cycle. Identification is important because you can then begin to coach and mentor appropriately.

Your objective should be to allow for the natural progression of things to play out. Your end-goal should be to get your team to the PERFORMING phase as quickly as possible. If you understand Tuckman’s model, you’ll be able to accomplish this easier and faster.

If you haven’t had a chance to read my book, The CAP Equation, A Foolproof Formula for Unlimited Success in Sales, please click on the link below. It’s now available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1CdFi2t

The CAP Equation© website offers free resources for commission salespeople and sales leaders. Please click on the link below for free instant access: http://www.theCAPequation.com/access/


Joe Buzzello is a nationally recognized expert on direct selling and sales leadership. He has built legacy sales teams and experienced unprecedented success in individual and business-to-business markets as well as the network marketing industry. Joe has held executive level positions for Fortune 500 companies, but he has never strayed far from the art and science of selling, which he loves. In early 2014, Joe began writing, speaking, and coaching through his proprietary platform, The CAP Equation©. Please visit Joe at: http://www.CAPequation.com

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