If you manage or lead a team you will be all too aware how it can change from month-to-month, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and even minute-to-minute. A fully functioning and happy team can become one that is non-productive and unhappy very quickly. Often, but not always, caused by unforeseen changes or events. And every time a team member leaves or joins, or different configurations of team members come together, the team can go through these development stages.
As leaders it is vital we understand the dynamics of team development. I have found Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 model by far the most useful one to support my leadership and team development. It’s a popular one in our leadership training too. The four main stages are: forming, storming, norming, and performing. A few years later he added a fifth: adjourning. But it’s storming I want to focus on here.
The storming phase is one every team will go through, and it will experience it regularly. This may be a brief phase, but unmanaged, could last for considerable amounts of time. Unchecked and it will damage your team and your business in little or big ways. It’s often caused by change and uncertainty.
The characteristics are many. The easiest one to spot is that small sub-groups and cliques are formed, the team seems split and not as a whole. There is also unhappiness with or even challenge to the leadership, the former being more difficult to spot from the leader’s perspective than the latter. Look out to see if there are there grumblings in the car park, the corridors, or quiet corners? What is body language telling you? It’s quite normal and healthy for people to have conversations in smaller groups, but what’s not good here is if they are complaining and negative and don’t work to positive solutions. Indeed when you are working with the team, you’ll find that decisions don’t come easily either, as members struggle to confidently share their views and opinions, and there’s a sense people vie for position, role, and status. Silence is another indication as people don’t feel confident enough to speak up, agree or disagree.
Your job at this stage is to ensure the team focuses on its shared and unified goals. This prevents them focusing all of their attention on their relationships and emotional issues. You need to be prepared to change course, or slow down or even speed up plans to support the ironing-out of these creases. Overall, think about how you are coaching individual members to work through their concerns, and with the team as a whole. Using motivational selling style techniques is vital too – at this stage you’ll be needing to put more effort into selling ideas and agreements than in other stages. Do that, and you’ll be moving towards forming, before you know it. But that’s a different matter altogether.