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Manager's Portfolio: Weathering the Storm

Riding out the rough stages of team development will eventually lead to smooth sailing

By Lynne D. Becker




When it comes time to determine whether your office has achieved its annual goals, you probably ask yourself several questions: Have I followed my budget? Have my staff members increased their job skills? Has my leadership been consistent and effective? But for a quick evaluation at any time of year, you can almost always predict your eventual success or failure on the basis of one question: Are my staff teams functioning effectively?

Creating and maintaining productive teams is a challenge for any manager. You most likely have several teams working on different projects at any given time, with varying degrees of success. If you're puzzled by why some teams are so much more productive than others, you might not realize that teams tend to go through four challenging — but predictable — stages of both growth and regression.

B.W. Tuckman identifies these stages as forming, norming, storming, and performing in a 1965 Psychological Bulletin article, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups." Though written almost 35 years ago, Tuckman's theory still holds true. Knowing what these stages are, understanding how individuals will behave during each of them, and accepting this behavior as a healthy part of team development will help your teams prosper.

Stage 1: Form

During this period, group members test their boundaries and dependence on one another as they orient themselves and strive to feel included. They discover what behaviors are acceptable to the group and make the transition from individual to member status.

In the forming stage, members might complain about the organizational environment or express suspicion and anxiety about the new situation. To minimize such complaints, make sure that all members participate in establishing team objectives, operating procedures, and behavioral ground rules.

For a team to work effectively, its members must also find a sense of personal satisfaction in the team's work. In other words, each member must be able to achieve some "reward" in return for the "cost" of his or her involvement in the group.

Stage 2: Storm

As work begins, members will ask themselves, "How can I have some control over what happens in this group?" Intra-team conflicts can erupt as group members compete and try to exert influence. During this stage you can expect tension, disunity, discomfort, and even open hostility.

Remember that this self-orienting behavior is normal and frequent while a team prepares itself to move in the right direction. Conflicts arise when differences among members persist to the point of keeping people apart. The team leader must help members resolve their differences, rather than impose a solution upon them.

Stage 3: Norm

In this stage, the team begins to communicate more and develop a sense of cohesiveness.

Crucial to achieving this stage is a sense of trust and openness. When team members react emotionally to a point of discussion, the team leader should encourage them to express their feelings freely. And members can agree to put aside interpersonal issues and to not pull any "surprises" on one another.

Each individual brings strengths to the group. There will be those who are inclined to be more confrontational — they'll force the team to look at all sides of an issue by initiating debates and will clarify thinking by critiquing ideas. Others will seek to minimize trouble by using humor to reduce tension or encouraging the group to rise above petty personal issues.

A good team leader will accept and nurture these various personalities, realizing that a complementary mix of work styles among team members can eventually lead to increased productivity.

Stage 4: Perform

If, in the previous three stages, team members have openly shared and resolved rumors, concerns, and expectations about the team, they should have achieved an atmosphere of trust that frees the team to proceed to Stage 4: performance. Here, the team members are comfortable with their roles in the group and merge them with the functions they must perform to get the work done.

Parting advice

Team development can stall. Some teams never fully function. And because the form, storm, and norm stages produce minimal output, it's tempting to try to rush through these to get to the performance stage. But just as individuals go through predictable stages of growth, depending on their age, experience, and maturity, teams must have time to work through these predictable stages.

Whether you're about to establish a new team in your office or simply invigorate one you already have, keeping these four stages in mind will set you on your way to a productive team performance.

About the Author undefined Lynne D. Becker
Lynne Becker is assistant vice president for development services at the University of Washington, a public institution of 35,000 students in Seattle. This article was adapted from her chapter in the new CASE book, Advancement Services: Research and Technology Support for Fund Raising. For ordering information, call CASE Books at (800) 554-8536 or (301) 604-2068 or go to ">www.case.org/books.

 

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