If you have ever been part of an amazing team, you know how it feels to experience the synergy, trust and commitment from an entire group of people focused on a common goal. You can also count yourself lucky, as this dynamic occurs far less frequently than desired.
Building a high performing team is not an easy undertaking and it does not happen by accident. It requires intentional development and strategic actions at every step of the process. Teams develop and coalesce through very predictable and distinct stages. Understanding what stage(s) your team is in and how to leverage the advantages of the stage (and avoid the pitfalls) positions your team for increased trust, accountability and results.
“No one can whistle a symphony; it takes a whole orchestra to play it.”
~ H.E. Luccock
Teams return to forming anytime there is a new group of people coming together or when any team members change. Even one person coming or going from a team requires the leader and its members to re-form. At this stage, depending on how many people are “new”, there is often a sense of politeness as people get to know each other and many are cautious as they determine who they can trust. People’s roles and responsibilities are not often clear, nor is the goal the team is trying to achieve. This leaves employee cautious and tentative in many respects as they “learn the ropes”.
What the team needs from the leader when Forming:
- The leader must often be more directive and increase communication to keep everyone on the same page.
- Get clear about the vision, both of the team and individual work.
- At this stage, it is important to develop and build trust among team members to ensure a solid foundation for the stages to come.
- Provide proactive and frequent feedback to each employee and to the team as whole to ensure team members understand expectations and have the information to perform effectively.
- We recommend using the Hogan Personality Assessment as your team is forming to, not only develop trust and understanding, but to give team members a sense of how each of them operate and function in their work style. This will set them up for a more successful “storming” stage, where conflict begins to arises.
As teams begin (or stay stuck in) the storming stage, disagreements, conflict and disappointment escalate. Ideas, and people, are confronted and the natural energy level of the group can decline as members become frustrated with one another in ways they have not experienced to date. Breakdowns in process and communication become evident and differences in work styles become present. These disparities can be problematic if attention is not given to properly assisting team members in navigating this challenging phase. Storming is critical to ensure the best ideas and work products are brought forward, but leaders must carefully manage this stage to ensure trust is not eroded. Healthy behaviors (i.e., respectfully challenging one another, resisting opinions) in this stage can rapidly deteriorate into unproductive ones (i.e., meeting after the meeting, forming of ingroups and outgroups).
What the team needs from the leader when Storming:
- Make strong relationships a priority for the team
- Establish team norms for behavior to ensure that conflict is handled in a healthy way
- Model respectful interactions and hold team members accountable to the behavioral norms that are agreed upon and acceptable
- Separate the people from the problem so team members are less likely to take conflict personally
- Minimize personal agendas by keeping the team’s goals front and center
- Engage in frequent communication to avoid problems or irritations from festering
When a team arrives at the norming stage, a unique and new sense of cohesion emerges. There is an elevated level of respect and camaraderie. Goals are more clear and everyone’s individual role in achieving those are better understood. This stage can feel like the turning point for a leader who has worked hard prior to this to keep everyone connected and moving together, but it also requires a steady hand to keep everything moving as desired.
What the team needs from the leader when Norming:
- Listen deeply and constructively both to your team members and to your own intuition.
- Watch for passive resistance. Just when you think you are making headway, one team member can derail and take the entire group with them. Keep a sharp eye on areas of struggle and ensure everyone continues to feel supported.
- Course correct if needed. Be sure to not assume you can go full steam ahead. Be sure to make adjustments in your team as needed.
Alas, what every leader strives for… a high performance team. At this stage, the leader can often delegate more projects/tasks as the group is exhibiting strong teamwork. They know and respect one another and are able to function and leverage each other’s strengths. They can disagree and recognize that opposition gets them to a better place.
At this stage, leaders are a high risk of moving to laissez faire or absentee leaders. With a team progressing so well, it can be tempting to go on autopilot. Yet, staying on top is perhaps the most difficult place for a team to remain. Consider how few sports teams win the championship year after year.
What the team needs from the leader when Performing:
- Stay engaged and on top of it. Be cautious to not take your eye off the ball.
- Manage accountability to outcomes and performance measures to ensure the team is getting results.
- Maintain active employee engagement and commitment. This can be done through recognition and feedback, expanding and supporting employee learning/growth, or allowing for greater levels of responsibility.
- Encourage innovation through positive team discussions and creative brainstorming.
Our team assessment can help you identify areas of strength as well as blind spots.
Whether you have a new team or an existing team, as you continue to develop, you will see yourself and your team members going through the stages described above. You might go through them systematically or perhaps you will jump from one to another. Often teams can be in multiple stages at the same time (forming and performing for example). Similarly, you can have certain team members at various stages which becomes an even greater challenge.
Being a strong leader requires active and intentional navigating of each of these stages. It does no good to lead, if no one is following. The key for all leaders is to understand what stage they are in and actively and intentionally manage that stage to ensure a growing, productive and healthy team.
Innovative Connections offers a team assessment to help your team determine its Stage of Development.