In a perfect world, our work teams would collaborate effortlessly and achieve their objectives without office politics, personality clashes, or disagreements about processes.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world and often have to muddle through team conflicts that may be debilitating to the entire project. But even a team with fundamental disagreements can achieve great things. In fact, those very disagreements can lead to innovation and creativity.
How can team leaders build a cohesive and productive team? By recognizing the typical stages a team encounters and having a plan in place to deal with various obstacles that inhibit productivity.
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman articulated the typical phases of team development in his 1965 article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Tuckman found that high-performing teams usually pass through four stages which he named forming, storming, norming, and performing. Let’s take a look at the four stages and how you can help guide your team to success in each one:
In this stage, the team comes together and begins learning about one another and the team’s objectives. This is generally an amicable stage, although some team members may be anxious about the expectations of the project or working with their fellow teammates. Some teams warm up to each other quicker than others, so this stage can vary greatly in length.
Leadership is crucial at this stage. A strong leader can help identify team members’ strengths and assign them to roles that are best-suited to their abilities. As a leader, you can also help others see the value each team member contributes and begin to build an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Trouble starts brewing! This stage is characterized by interpersonal conflict, dissent, or disagreement about processes or objectives. Certain personality types may clash, causing team members to feel uncomfortable or even threatened. Leadership may also be challenged or questioned. Some teams skip this stage completely, while others may keep returning to this stage as new conflicts arise.
Look at the storming phase as an area of opportunity. This is a time when creative solutions are born and team members can explore the merit of different approaches or concepts. Conflict opens up opportunities to explore potential innovations and tap into others’ perspectives, which can unearth a treasure trove of new ideas.
If your team is truly struggling to move past the storming stage, consider employing the help of a credible assessment test, such as Insights Discovery, to bridge communication gaps and develop an understanding of basic personality differences.
After the storm, is the norm. Team members acknowledge differences, but start to move beyond them. In this stage, the team begins to act as a tenuously cohesive group. They grow accustomed to each other’s quirks, motives, and ways of thinking. They also begin to refocus on the larger goal and rally around a common objective.
This is a great opportunity to step back and observe. If you notice any leftover tensions from the storming phase, now is the time to address them. In this stage, it’s also a good idea to encourage team-building exercises or outings to continue to strengthen team bonds.
In the fourth stage, the team is focused and intent on achieving common objectives. They have evolved into a cohesive unit—one in which interpersonal differences are acknowledged and worked through. This stage is marked by a high level of competency among team members and they should be able to work autonomously, as well as collaborate effortlessly.
The leader nearly melts into the background at this stage. Trust that your team has what it takes to produce excellent results and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Focus on helping your team grow and develop their talents, and leave the work to them! Don’t forget to provide positive recognition for tasks well done.
By appreciating and planning for the four typical team-building stages, you set your team up for success. Use team conflict as creative fuel, rather than a stumbling block and capitalize on the diverse set of talents and ideas your team members offer. From forming to performing, each stage is a valuable part of the team-building process.
Need help with the storming phase? As a certified conflict mediator, I can offer you guidance. Please, get in touch.