Online team building: Skills for tomorrow’s team leaders

Online team building: Skills for tomorrow's team leaders

The content of this blog article is based on a recording of a webinar from the webinar series “Online relationship work in the association” by Haus des Stiftens and Fairlinked, which you can also watch. Otherwise you can read the article. It’s about online team building and digital collaboration. Just learn how it suits you best!

Online team building is indispensable today. We are already experiencing the third year of the pandemic, and many work processes have long since become digital. Not only the infrastructure and technology are topics, but also new possibilities that digital collaboration brings with it. Without personal contact, it is more difficult to create a sense of togetherness in teams. How do you build connections in the digital space? What is the best way to exchange ideas so that you can become active together from afar? It’s about developing team leadership skills.

Quote from Bill Bether

Group leadership depends on three aspects: you as the team leader, the characteristics of the team, and the organizational culture. You bring your style into play: how you interact with others and how you express yourself. How you present yourself in digital and analogue work is different, and you can have different styles of leadership. The characteristics of the people in the team and their characters also play a role here. The organizational culture corresponds to the structures, the stories, the way of working or the connections within the team.

5 Stages of Team Building by Tuckman (1965)

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman developed a model to illustrate team building. He proposed 5 phases that were adapted to digital teams by Jana Piske. It is relevant here to emphasize that this cycle is only a scientific ideal. Reality mostly doesn’t reflect it: phases are skipped and jump back and forth. Everything can change when new team members join or others leave the team, for example. The cycle serves as a guide: as a team leader, you think about where the team is in the cycle and then act accordingly.

The 5 Stages of Team Building by Tuckman

Phase 1: Forming phase

The forming phase is about getting together as a team and breaking the ice together. In this phase, as a team leader, you ask yourself:

  • How safe do I feel in front of new groups?
  • How well can you bring people together?
Missions of the Forming Phase

needs of the team

In this phase, the team members want to get to know each other, find their own roles , but also get access to the information and communication structures of the organization. This is particularly important online: since the team is very motivated and has many expectations, they need to orient themselves well in order to get off to a good start. It is therefore crucial to understand the organizational structure. Personal interaction is more important than tasks: members are more interested in each other and in organizing work than in the implementation of tasks. You have to remember that in the phase.

Opportunities for the team leader

As already mentioned, the group is very motivated in the forming phase. Thus, the positive energy must be converted into tasks. The basis for cooperation, the rules and structures, are enforced. This enforcement is easier in this phase because the team members do not yet know each other. It is also a good moment to initiate changes in the organization. It is also essential that the team leader specifies the communication and collaboration: everyone expects to be guided by him or her. This is where the basis for cooperation is laid.


A high degree of self-motivation meets a lack of knowledge about the organization and communication structures. In this phase you lose a lot of people who are motivated but not yet familiar with the specific work. Your focus as a leader should be on getting the contributors up and running by getting them onboarded quickly. The motivation is converted into action so that it is not lost.

Tasks of the team builder

The team leader acts here as a person who brings the others together. He or she has to organize the getting to know each other. Getting to know each other is especially important for digital teams that don’t meet in person. In order to avoid a possible alienation of the team through home office, points of contact, moments for meeting and contact possibilities are created. During this phase, the team builder also defines the framework for cooperation and ensures that the team can get off to a good start. In this way, the motivation does not disappear and a basis is successfully built.


Methods that can be used in the forming phase are, for example, taking a digital lunch break together, organizing digital activities such as a game night, escape room or even an informal digital evening beer. Check-ins at the beginning of meetings would also be a method. This creates space for connections. You could also use a padlet as a presentation wall to make getting to know each other more organized.

Phase 2: Storming phase

The storming phase corresponds to the conflict phase. It is very unlikely to have chosen the best way of collaborating in the forming phase without knowing the team beforehand. You also have to keep in mind that teams are always heterogeneous, and that can also lead to conflict. Conflicts are difficult to identify digitally.

Storming phase missions

needs of the team

In this phase, the structures of the cooperation and possibly the goal are called into question. The team members want to be understood, heard and taken seriously. They want to find a suitable working culture together. It is important to address the differences directly, otherwise the phase will be unnecessarily prolonged and the conflicts will not be resolved constructively, which would be an opportunity for the team to develop.

Opportunities for the team leader

The team leader can find various impulses for the further development of the organization by establishing a constructive culture of conflict resolution. Here the leader positions himself as caring and appreciative by appropriately addressing the conflicts and resulting in a suitable problem-solving culture for the team. As a team leader, you should ask yourself what role conflicts play in your organization in order to see how you can deal with them.


In the digital space, there is a very high level of conflict tolerance, as it becomes easier to ignore conflicts. Quickly exiting is easy by exiting the video conference or by closing the laptop. This creates the risk that conflicts are identified late and are therefore more difficult to resolve.

Tasks of the mediator

The team leader acts as a mediator in the storming phase. He or she identifies conflicts, creates space for exchange, and directs attention to a common goal. You can read more about conflict management in our blog. The way forward must be shown by the leader. It is important to always check in with the members that they are not simply running away from the conflict instead of solving it constructively and thus promoting further development.


Methods that can be used in the storming phase include asking energizer questions or introducing a mood barometer. You could also conduct personal talks that build trust. This should definitely make it possible for you as a manager to be reached.

Phase 3: Norming phase

In the norming phase, you collect the lessons from the storming phase and use them to define your own team culture. A separate form of cooperation is developed in the phase.

Norming phase missions

needs of the team

The team has fought and negotiated for this at this point, so it respects the team culture and the other members. They attach great importance to the new agreements. Praise and constructive feedback are key to increasing trust in the team. Members want to be seen as important parts of the team.

Opportunities for the team leader

In the norming phase, it is important to strengthen cooperation by establishing routines and transferring more responsibility to the team. The leader acts as an example of how appreciative and constructive feedback drives the organization forward. He or she recognizes the team as a whole but also the individuals. The team becomes more connected.


The idealism in the digital space, where one has found the “organization that perfectly suits the team”, meets the own weaknesses of the members. Although the organization works optimally, it is still people who work. Mistakes and weaknesses still exist.

Tasks of the routine promoter

The team leader must create meaningful routines in the norming phase, strengthen the feedback culture and strengthen SMART team goals. This is how you focus on the big mission and look ahead.


Methods that can be used in the norming phase are, for example, setting up reminders for routines, introducing regular feedback, repeating the agenda or using a Kanban board (like MeisterTask) to measure success. You can find a dedicated blog article on routines for your team here. Another method would be to celebrate when you have completed a certain task or when it is the employee’s birthday. This strengthens the sense of togetherness.

Stage 4: Performing phase

In the performing phase, the team knows each other, all skills, roles and tasks, as well as how best to work together towards the common goal. The team can work well independently and the leader can lean back a little.

Performing phase missions

needs of the team

During this phase, the team wants to work self-determined, independently, quickly and effectively. The members want their expertise and experience to be taken seriously and their results and long-term effects of their work to be visible. It is desired to create a long-term effect.

Opportunities for the team leader

Since the team can already work independently, the leader can lean back. You can therefore focus on other tasks or new teams, or simply work together and continue to shape the dynamic. In this way you can work in a goal-oriented manner and keep the team capable of acting. It is relevant to guarantee knowledge transfer and exchange between teams within the organization.

Trust plays a great role here. Micromanagement, i.e. “controlling” every contributor, is not possible in the digital world. Trust comes before micromanagement!


The high motivation and optimal performance can quickly become a boring work routine. Identifying the moments when motivation is lost is even more difficult in digital than in analogue.

Tasks of the mentor

The team leader acts as a mentor by giving trust, providing incentives for further development and making success visible. It is important to celebrate the successes so that the motivation does not become boring. This also avoids the so-called “zoom fatigue”.


Methods that can be used in the norming phase are, for example, organizing open spaces, offering external training, recording milestones or enabling collegial advice.

Phase 5: Adjourning phase

The last phase is the farewell phase. It is the end of the cooperation, whereby a joint conclusion should take place.

Adjourning phase missions

needs of the team

The team would like to pass on its achievements and achievements to worthy successors. The members want to know when exactly they have to get out and reorient themselves so that the exit is organized. Furthermore, they want to leave with a positive relationship and good memories. It should be possible to stay in good contact or meet again somewhere else.

Opportunities for the team leader

The team leader should make sure to back up the data of the contributors before they leave. The team members become alumni: not all are active afterwards, but those who want to remain active should have this opportunity. Active and inactive members should be separated in the communication channels so that the active ones remain motivated and the alumni can stay in contact in the separate framework.

It is very important that the exit is organized. A controlled exit in the digital space has a surprising ending, whereby it must be clear where the participants can best exit so that they do not suddenly disappear. Creating exit opportunities is very important. Honest feedback and a farewell party would also be desirable!


The project routine, as good as it can be, meets change. Life can change unpredictably, but the project stays the same. Therefore, it has to be adjusted in certain places, for example when members come or go.

Tasks of the moderator

The team leader, who acts as a facilitator, captures the lesson from the other phases, celebrates the farewell by showing that everyone was important. Even in unlimited projects, it makes a lot of sense to allow certain dates during the year (annual evaluation meeting, summer party,…) where team members can consider whether they want to continue to get involved or not. This minimizes the likelihood of a surprise exit.


Methods that can be used in the adjourning phase are, for example, organizing an evaluation round or writing personal parting words to people who are leaving.


Tuckman’s 5 Stages of Team Building is a good guide for digital collaboration. It is important to accept the changing roles of the team leader in the different phases and to always look ahead. This creates a unique form of cooperation that leads to optimal results. What phase is your team in?

Quote from Margaret Mead

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