Great teams don’t happen by accident. They form gradually over time, with the clever guidance of a great leader. As a leader, you can influence your team’s performance from the moment it first comes together. Think peak performance.
When you understand what stage of development your team is at, you will know exactly what to offer in terms of guidance or independence.
One of the best models to work with is Tuckman’s model of group development.
Stage 1 – Forming
When a team is created and the members meet each other for the first time, they’re bound to be on their best behaviour. They are guarded and listen to what each person has to say. They listen to you because you’re the one with the information. At this stage they know little or nothing about their team or individual roles and goals. Like children at a birthday party, they are polite and well behaved until they start to feel comfortable.
Your role here is to have all the answers. You are the person who knows what the team needs to achieve and how, so communicating that to each member is vital. Until the team finds a way to work together, you will need to set clear guidelines and expectations.
Stage 2 – Storming
You can expect some head butting during this stage, as team members try to establish themselves in their preferred roles. Just imagine those party children let loose in the costume cupboard. They pull out the costumes and try them on for fit until they find one that feels right. There will be some squabbling over who wants which costume, but in the end, everyone is dressed. Your team members are learning to work together and accommodate each other’s natural learning and working styles. There will be a few disagreements here and there, but that’s all part of the evolution process.
Your role here is one of balance. Give your team room to size each other up but help them find compromise where necessary, for the preservation of team relationships. Help them maintain a constructive focus by reminding them of your team goals. Keep them looking forward.
Stage 3 – Norming
In this stage, things settle down and accepted group ground rules have developed. Your team members have started to understand and appreciate the strengths they each bring to the team. As they get to know each other better, they learn what to expect and who to rely on for help, advice or expertise in specific areas. At the party, the kids will now know who is shy and who isn’t, who wants the first piece of cake, and how they can all get their hands on a second piece!
Your role is less hands on, now. The team is maturing so you become more of a facilitator than a director of the action. The group can manage itself to some extent so it’s important that you now show the behaviour you want to see from the team members. They are ready to model themselves on you so choose your actions carefully.
Stage 4 – Performing
Working together has become a smooth routine where each team member knows what to do and why they are doing it. The team is a cohesive unit which has a common goal and a united approach to reaching it. Each member is supportive of the others and flexible enough in their expectations to easily accept small changes to the work process. Back at the party, the activities are in full swing. Everyone is involved in some way and every child wins a prize.
Your role here is to let the team do its thing. Allow the team to make its own decisions (within reason) so members have ownership of their work. Ensure that each team member has the self-development they need. Give positive and constructive feedback. Keep them happy and motivated. Well done, you’ve built a peak performing team which functions well as a self-supporting unit. It’s your job to maintain it.
It’s not always clear which stage your team is at, and that’s okay. Look for evidence of behaviours indicative of each of the above 4 stages. In order to build a high performing team, leaders needs to constantly seek opportunities to keep the team moving through the stage toward Stage 4 – Performing. They key point that comes out of the model is that as your team grows and matures, it has different leadership needs. Your challenge is to be responsive and offer the leadership they need, when they need it. Once your team reaches Stage 4 – Performing, use appreciation, acknowledgement, reward and new challenges to maintain that status long term. As Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”