No other soft skill has so many cliches emblazoned on motivational posters and hanging on office walls, as teamwork does. For example:
“Teamwork makes the dream work”,
“There’s no ‘I’ in Team”, and
“Together Everybody Achieves More”.
Yuck! Stop It! When you hear phrases like these, it sounds like all you need to do is trip and fall into an idealistic group of people and they will instantly become a winning team. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Creating winning teams involves a lot of work, drama, and conflict before they can perform at the top of their game.
That’s what Bruce Tuckman realized back in 1965 when he developed his forming - storming - norming - performing model of group development. This model still holds true to this day and is very comforting to new project managers who may have succumbed to the hype of motivational memes on posters, only to find their teams are not immediately performing.
Below is the path Tuckman says every newly assembled team will follow:
- Forming - When a new team comes together early on in a project, everyone is pumped and excited about tackling something new. They are happy to meet each other, are open to sharing and listening to new ideas, and just know that this project they are working on is going to be the next “big thing!” This time is also marked by the project leader having the most influence, and the team testing what the leader (aka Project Manager) will or will not put up with.
- Storming - This is where the honeymoon phase of the new project team ends abruptly. Several lingering questions may need to be answered to get the project going. Or, there may be gaps or overlaps in what one person or group is doing. People may blame ‘others’ for missed dates or deliverables on the project early on. The ‘others’ that are being blamed may not even know they were responsible for that work. There’s a lack of agreement on decisions that may need to be made by the group, and people are jockeying for control on certain aspects of the project.
- Norming - Things begin to settle down a bit at this point. The team has had some successes along the way, knows what it feels like to work effectively together, and understands the boundaries and limits set by the project manager and even each other. For example, norms will develop on what the team will or will not accept from those who try to dominate meetings with their opinions and thoughts. Similar unwritten rules will surface for all aspects of a project. The team will discuss and develop its own processes and working style.
- Performing - The team knows why they exist and each person knows what they are responsible for and how it impacts the other team members. Plus, there is a general concern for others on the team as people move from thinking only about themselves to thinking about others. Disagreements are handled in a mature and positive way, and minimal direction and support from the project manager is needed.
It’s scary how predictable the four stages of putting a team together are. It’s also very comforting to realize that you are doing nothing wrong as a project manager when the Storming phase of team creation darkens your skies. What is wrong is to stop at the Storming phase and not push everyone through to Norming and Performing.
Want to fast-track everyone to the Performing phase of team development? Create a common purpose or a goal that everyone understands and accepts early on. If people know why this project is important and why it needs to be done, they will move that much quicker to becoming a high-performing team.
Once your team has reached this level of performance, you can finally pull out the motivational posters about Teams!