By Carolyn Landesman
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” Ken Blanchard
Have you ever wondered why some teams work and others don’t?
A team is a group of people in your organization who not only share common objectives, they work together to achieve them. In other words, they achieve results through their combined and cooperative efforts. However, not all teams work well together.
Unless you are a team of one, growing and developing a successful business needs to rely on a team of people. Those people may be internal or external to your organization.
Nobody works independently in todays business environment. Even if you work by yourself or with one other person, you also have other stakeholders who have a vested interest in your success. These are your customers, suppliers, financiers or any other stakeholders including family. If you are about to form a team, or already lead a team, understanding how a team works together will greatly enhance your leadership and management skills.
Stages of team development
Teams develop according to two dimensions, task functions and interpersonal relationships. As they develop and start to work together as per these two dimensions, they are faced with different challenges. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the phrase; “forming, storming, norming and performing” in 1965 and is still relevant today. Since he first introduced the model, a fifth stage has been added “adjourning” which describes what happens when a team ceases to exist.
This is the “getting to know you” stage of a team’s formation. At the forming stage, team members tend to be on their best behavior. They are polite to one another and in some cases, feel anxious. They are all trying to figure out what the team is all about and who will be the leader and who would make the best leader. Individual team members want to know if they will be accepted.
At this stage, the team is dependent on one another and a leader for overall direction and motivation. The leader wants to build trust, demonstrate integrity and gain an understanding of which team members will perform the best in what role.
This stage doesn’t tend to last too long before going onto the next stage of storming.
In the storming stage, reality sets in. Team members will question you and your decisions which requires a higher level of leadership skills. The team is counter dependent where leadership is challenged. Powerful emotions creep in as the team members sort out their alliances.
Essentially the honeymoon period is over. Team members seek to challenge authority. They want to feel respected as they try to put forward their ideas, views and individual needs. As their roles are already defined, they may not be happy with what they have been assigned to do for a variety of reasons. They may not have the skills or knowledge or they feel there is a better way of tackling the task/s at hand. Team members may feel that the task/s or project is a waste of time and won’t work. As team members are jockeying for position, there may be interpersonal conflicts.
This is the critical stage for you as a leader because, if the team can’t get past this stage, the tasks assigned or the project will fail. Being organized and focused allows you to clarify roles and give instructions in a clear and concise manner. Adopting an attitude of, we are in this together, helps along with being flexible and making adjustments along the way. Be sure to listen to concerns and complaints. Be sure to address these before they become roadblocks to success.
As the dust settles, the team moves into the norming stage. The team has accepted you as their leader and the authority you hold. This stage is typified by independence where you see increased confidence in individual performance. The team has a growing need for cooperation whereby they are more prepared to work together, listen to each other’s views and accept individual differences. There is a greater need for urgency to identify underlying issues, share information and evaluate possible solutions.
You will begin to see other leaders emerge within the team itself. They have begun to know each other on a higher level and may even begin to socialize together. They understand their roles better and feel more comfortable about their role in the team. They become more accepting of criticism that is constructive and listen to opposing viewpoints. They now begin to ask one another for help and operate more cohesively as a group..
From time to time you may see an overlap of the storming and norming stage as the team may revert to storming when faced with challenges. As this stage matures, this will become less frequent.
The team is now functioning at its best characterized by interdependence. Team members are happy to work together and are more flexible by pooling skills, knowledge and ideas for the greater good of the team. A team culture sets in as they work together under agreed structures and processes. As a leader you can delegate tasks and projects with the confidence it will be done well.
This is the easiest stage for you as a leader and you can begin to concentrate on individual development of team members which aids the growth and development of your business.
It’s important as a team leader that individuals are free to explore new ideas without recrimination to prevent Groupthink occurring.
This can also be known as a mourning stage as team members mourn the loss of a valuable team member. Most teams are temporary. People leave as they retire, take on new roles or take on new jobs elsewhere. Nothing stays the same. As team members come to terms with change or a team being disbanded or reconfigured, your role as a leader is to help each individual accept the change and move on.
As team members leave, new ones must now be assimilated into the team without disrupting its effectiveness. If the team has formed a strong bond, it may be hard for them to accept a new member.
Leading team development
As you become more experienced in leading teams, you will be able to recognize what stage your team is in. Ongoing coaching and mentoring will also help the team move from stage to stage. Be willing to revisit your decision along with any processes and procedures you have put in place as dynamics and business conditions can change. Ensure goals and expectations are realistic, and use these to gauge success.
Leading the Forming stage
- Form a team purpose
- Provide clear direction
- Establish clear goals and objectives
- Begin to define roles
- Begin to establish trust
- Display integrity
- Encourage positive interaction
- Establish team structures
- Establish reporting relationships
- Address any challenge to your authority
- Establish process and procedures
- Identify and address any conflict
- Make changes as required
- Take corrective action if required
Leading the Norming stage
- Recognize positive contributions of team members
- Arrange team building activities
- Encourage sharing of ideas
- Encourage individual leadership
- Fine tune procedures if required
Leading the Performing stage
- Delegate responsibility to team members
- Focus on individual development
- Acknowledge and recognize continuing high achievement
Leading the Adjourning stage
- Celebrate individual team successes
- Transition team members into new roles
- Debrief what went well and where they could improve
In extreme cases, over a period of time, the team may display characteristics of Groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon where the desire for harmony or conformity within the team, results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Groupthink comes about when a team conforms to a point where irrational or dysfunctional decision making takes precedent over rational decision making.
Team members look to minimize conflict and come to a decision without any critical analysis. Team members avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions and as a result creativity and innovative thinking becomes stymied.
Symptoms of group think include:
- Rationalization: When team members convince themselves that the decision being made is the best one in spite of evidence to the contrary.
- Morality: A tendency to be blind to the morality or ethics of making a particular decision.
- Unquestioned belief: Unquestioned belief in the moral of the group leading to members ignoring the consequences of their actions.
- Stereotyping: Having stereotype views of leaders, competitors or other groups seeing them as being weak, biased, evil or stupid.
- Self-Censorship: Not discussing their feelings or doubts outside the group to stay in line with what the group thinks.
- Illusion of invulnerability: An over optimistic view and a willingness to take extraordinary risks.
- Pressure: Members exert subtle pressure on any doubters to conform or keep quiet.
- Mind guards: Self-appointed members who shield the group from adverse information that might break complacency.
When a group or team comes together and they form a very close bond, Groupthink may begin to emerge. This cohesiveness may become more important than individual freedom of expression. If a group lacks impartial leadership, the team or group can band together to form a single view of the world. A group can become insulated from challenges or possible risk if individualism is not encouraged.
Groupthink can undermine the value of your team’s work. It can stifle teamwork because it satisfies the stronger and more vocal members and leaves the balance of the team disillusioned. Teams can achieve more as a collective than any individual however when groupthink sets in, the opposite is true.
To prevent groupthink when putting together teams, consider the following:
- Brainstorming helps ideas flow without criticism.
- Allow team members to put forward their ideas in writing before sharing with the rest of team with no penalty for disagreement.
- Encourage team members to raise objections and concerns.
- Refraining from stating their preferences at the onset of the group’s activities.
- Allow team members to get feedback on the group’s decisions.
- Seek opinions and feedback from others outside the team.
- Assign one or more members to play the role of the devil’s advocate.
- Conduct a risk analysis on ideas before a decision is made.
Finally, call a meeting after a decision is made, or consensus is reached, in which all team members are expected to review the decision before final approval is given.
On a final note
By identifying which stage your team is at, it enables you to put in place strategies to lead your team more effectively.
In a nutshell
Teams develop according to two dimensions, task functions and interpersonal relationships. As they develop and start to work together as per these two dimensions, they are faced with different challenges.
The five stages of team development are:
- Forming (getting to know you)
- Storming (team members seek to challenge authority)
- Norming (team members accept authority)
- Performing (the team are interdependent on each other)
- Adjourning (team members leave and others join)
Recognizing what stage your team is in will allow you to coach and mentor them accordingly.
In extreme cases, Groupthink can emerge where the desire for harmony or conformity within the team results in irrational decision making rendering the team dysfunctional.
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