By Heather Hafner
If you have been on a team – at school or work – you know it is a process. The ease of communication can ebb and flow. And conflict that did not exist in the beginning can appear along the way.
Dr. Bruce Tuckman was one of the first to identify that teams experience distinct stages as they mature. His 1965 model is a template for the four stages that most successful teams experience: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
Why are these important? Because knowing where your team is at can help you understand the how to work through your current challenges and get to the next stage. What is also true of these stages is that you can move forward and backwards through the stages depending on the workplace environment and any changes in employees – new hires, layoffs or firings.
Let’s take a look at the four stages and their key characteristics.
This is the initial stage and includes team formation. As with any new situation, most people are on their best behavior. They are polite and a little reserved and may not share their true feelings or concerns. Trying to figure out how they fit into the situation can cause anxiety.
What leadership can do: Work with this new team to help them understand it purpose and their place role in its success. This would be a good time to start creating cultural norms by setting ground rules and discussing short and long-term goals. Use some quick team building activities, such as Hole Tarp (link) and Group Juggle (link) to help bond the team and start the process of working together.
It’s called Storming for a reason – conflicts abound. The initial “get-to-know-you” stage is over and now team members are starting to test boundaries. Their Taking Flight! (link) behavioral styles are becoming apparent as the niceties fade. Eagles are becoming more direct, Parrots more boisterous, Doves more concerned and Owls are starting to ask for lots of information. As people start to understand their roles, they either settle in or maneuver for more influence. Leadership is tested as team goals can be tested and resented. Some teams move through this stage quickly, some never leave it. However, this stage is necessary as teams can only be successful if they are truthful.
What leadership can do: Help team members work through the conflicts by facilitating productive conflict conversations. Honesty is useful and helps teams grow. But, without a leader, teams can dissolve into petty arguments and silos. Try ReDISCovering Conflict (link), which helps turn conflict into a constructive force to build relationships and solve problems with innovative solutions. Moving your team through this stage is a must is you want to be successful and keep morale high.
You will know your team has made it out of the storm and into the norm when the clouds of discontent and conflict have cleared. Relationships should have improved, disagreements caused by differences in behavioral styles clarified and interactions should be respectful. Your team members should be playing to their strengths and showing commitment to the team’s goals. Be aware that if you add, or lose, a team member it may cycle your team back into the storming stage.
What leaders can do: If you have done a good job, your team members should start to be able to work out their own differences. They will understand style differences and how productive conflict can move the team forward. Try taking a more hands-off approach at this time and coach/facilitate where necessary. But recognize when your team is sliding back toward storming.
The goal line for many teams…not all teams make it. Your team members are taking themselves and each other seriously. They have moved beyond understanding differences to valuing them and leveraging individual strengths. Team members also hold themselves and each other accountable. At this point, leadership can shift among team members and is flexible to the situation at hand.
What leaders can do: It is time to refine. Offer individual coaching (link) and support to team members. Make sure contributions are recognized and help keep the team motivated. Make sure there is time to relax and consider taking your team offsite to celebrate.
As you move through the stages, stay positive and focus on what your team members, and you, can do to create a successful team.