How difficult is it?

25 October 2014

When a team first comes together, you cannot expect it to perform well. Forming a team takes time and teams often go through recognisable stages as they change from being collections of strangers to becoming united groups with common goals.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in his 1965 article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Having worked in many-a-team over the years, I can certainly concur with his analysis…. And of course, behavioural styles and character strengths of the team will also have an impact….

Forming is the stage when most team members are positive and polite. Some might be anxious, as they have not fully understood what work the team (or the individuals) will do. Others are simply excited about the task ahead. This stage can last for some time, as people start to work together and also as they get to know their new colleagues.

The next stage is storming where people start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. This is the stage where many teams fail. This often starts where there is a conflict between team members’ natural working styles. People may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons but if differing working styles cause unforeseen problems, individuals can become frustrated.

Storming can also occur when members of the team challenge the role or authority of other members of the team. If there are not clear definitions of how the team will work, some may feel overwhelmed by the expected workload or uncomfortable with the working style of others. Strong relationships and solution-focussed colleagues are needed to proceed to the norming phase and not let the team fail as a result.

The norming phase is when people start to resolve their differences, appreciate colleagues’ strengths and respect each other’s role within the team. When team members know one-another better, they might socialise together and feel able to ask each other for help and provide constructive feedback. People develop a stronger commitment to the team and its objectives and good progress towards the collective goal is often a direct result.

There is often a prolonged overlap between storming and norming because, as new tasks come up, the team may lapse back into behaviour from the storming stage.

Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Performing ….. when hard work leads, without friction, to the achievement of the team’s goal. The structures and processes that have been set up support this well and the individuals understand their role within the team. It feels easy to be part of the team at this stage and people who join or leave do not disrupt performance.

So, what stage of team development do you think your team is at, from the descriptions above? What could do to improve the team’s performance? Or do you prefer to work independently….?

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