Teamwork cannot be switched on and off. I therefore propose to reverse the words and put in work first to get the team you want.
Groups, however, don’t form spontaneously and do not immediately decide to become a team. They transition from being strangers to becoming collaborators and colleagues.
Bruce Tuckman is the man behind the model of team development and its five stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning.
Given the complexity of us human beings, this framework progresses in a fluid rather than clear-cut and rigid manner. While each stage is building on the one that preceded it, it also sometimes reverts back to a previous stage before moving forward.
Characteristics of the Forming phase:
- New team with members who don’t know each other (well)
- No clear understanding of purpose or vision of the team
- No working agreements yet
- Overall: Feeling of excitement & lots of questions
Role of the leader:
- Identify strengths and qualities of each to understand how to best leverage these assets
- Provide clarity on structure, goals, direction, and roles
- Helping the team to gel
3 ideas for the Forming phase
Idea #1: Create a Manual of Me
A Manual of Me is a great living document that will help you explore and explain how you work and what others should ideally know about you in a working environment.
What you include will be up to you. Questions such as working hours, location, preferred communication channels or the support you seek & give are good to start with.
Of course, it can also include questions about your interests outside of work or even unusual questions such as your first paid job or name of the first pet.
The site manualof.me is a great resource to create your own manual. Have team members individually fill it in, then share, explain & ask ‘go deeper’ questions.
Idea #2: Explore Strengths
Understanding the strengths of each team member is not only a valuable insight to work with for the leader but also for the individual as well as for the team. Definitely a win-win-win.
Recently I have worked with both the Gallup StrengthsFinder as well as the Big Five (OCEAN) model, and both insights are invaluable when it comes to understanding ourselves and the others better. What may drive them, and where may we add to each other’s strengths?
Strengths work is great at the beginning of a team development, and I have also done it in other phases of team maturity. I am a big believer in building on strengths because we are so much more eager to make use of what we do well.
Idea #3: Team agreements
Team agreements are a set of guidelines on how a team collaborates and communicates. If created by the whole team, it will hold them accountable and be a clear reference point for the group.
This set of guidelines can be revisited and updated as new members join and/or as the team learns from their collaboration practices.
I strongly recommend co-create the team agreement with the whole team. Have them individually brainstorm first what is important to them. Share. Cluster & Consolidate. Discuss & Review. Sign.
Some examples what you can include:
“Headphones on in the office = ‘do not disturb.’”
“We seek to understand first, then offer feedback.”
“We work 9 am – 5 pm local time (unless we communicate otherwise to the group) and don’t expect each other to respond to chat or email outside those hours.”
Remember: The above exercises as well as Tuckman’s model is not something linear or static, in my belief. Teams may need to repeat or expand on the Forming phase when new team members join or others leave. Same accounts for the exercises above. Do not take it for granted to do the manual, strengths, or team agreements once and then have them gain dust. They need to be revisited and refined according to the changes and needs happening in the team. Because the good thing in all of this is that we are complex human beings. This is what creates the joy and fun in collaborating – and of course, also the challenges.
Collaborating as a team also means that each team member will need to find their place, raise demands, offer support, and express viewpoints. This may not go without conflict. Bruce Tuckman calls this phase the Storming phase within team development.
Similar to the other phases: Just because a team has gone through stormy weathers does not mean they will never meet any difficulties ever again in the future. Tensions, unease, and conflict are recurring, and the key question is, how we handle this as a team and how you as a leader can help the team navigate through this “storm”.
Characteristics of the Storming phase:
- Often associated with conflict, differences of opinion, and challenging norms
- Misalignment on goals and working practices can come up; the diversity of personalities has become evident and needs reflection.
- Opportunity to surface issues, create solutions and learn from different ways of doing things.
- Feelings of frustration or anger with the team’s progress or process
Role of the leader:
- Refocus on the teams’ goals
- Understand that conflicts are good and healthy things for the team, but they need to work on them.
- Encourage and foster a climate of dialogue and how to communicate with feedback and assertiveness
- (Re)Define processes and structures
What have been your experiences with teams in a storming phase? What was helpful – for you as a leader, as well as for the team to cope with tension and/or uncertainty?
3 ideas for the Storming phase
Idea #1: COIN feedback
COIN is a great feedback model and a good abbreviation for how to provide feedback to another person. If a team shares the insights on how to give good feedback and sees the value in setting up a transparent feedback culture, the storming phase will be much easier to handle.
COIN stands for Context, Observation, Impact, Next step.
Context: When & where did it happen? Provide the context to make the feedback specific to a situation and therefore relatable to the feedback receiver.
Observation: What actions or behaviors did you observe? Stick to facts and anything that was “observable”, avoid judgements.
Impact: What impacts did the behavior/actions have on you? These can be tangible impacts (e.g. losing a contract) or intangible impacts (e.g. feeling of frustration)
Next Steps: How can we best move forward? Be solution-driven and forward looking in how best to mutually align on what will follow now.
Idea #2: WINFY
What I Need From You (WINFY) – You can mend misunderstandings or dissolve prejudices developed over time by demystifying what group members need in order to achieve common goals. Since participants articulate core needs to others and each person involved in the exchange is given the chance to respond, you boost clarity, integrity, and transparency while promoting cohesion and coordination across silos.
See further insights here.
Idea No. 3: Diversity Index
The Diversity index will help you better understand the differences within a team. Understanding leads to appreciating and valueing because once we know what power we can tap into with each individual and their unique background, we can thrive as a team.
Understanding diversity within the team will help us adopting new ideas and insights, becoming more thoughtful, taking better decisions as well as having more fun.
Read more about the Diversity Index exercise here as well as get access to the free template by management 3.0.
When teams begin to settle into their own working pattern, appreciating each other’s strengths, they become more effective as a group. Bruce Tuckman calls this the third stage of the team development process: Norming.
After the Storming phase, the Norming stage gives way to understanding and cohesion. Of course, teams still may need guidance and consideration, however different points of view are expressed as a valued & diverse set of opinions and not as a cause for anger or frustration.
Characteristics of the Norming phase:
- Reassurance and cohesion
- Teams start to resolve differences, appreciate one another’s strengths, and respect authority of the leader.
- Feeling comfortable asking for help and offering constructive feedback.
- Sense of stronger commitment to the team’s goals
Role of the leader:
- Focus on being a leader and not a manager including facilitatinon and coaching.
- Embed lessons learnt/retros, appreciation and celebrations.
What have you done to support the team in its Norming phase? How can you be a good partner to the team, encouraging them to further express their needs while nourishing their strive to achieve common goals?
3 ideas for the Norming phaseIdea #1: Project Poster
The Project Poster is split into 3 parts:
- Problem space: Why does solving this problem matter to customers and/or the business?
- Validate assumptions: What do you know and what do you need to find out?
- Get ready to execute. How can you visualize the solution?
Find out more here.
Idea #2: CozyJuicyReal
CozyJuicyReal is a great way to bring a team together. During a CozyJuicyReal session (90-120 minutes), team members laugh, share and get to know the real humans behind the screens or in the room. It helps teams build empathy in a way that impacts working relationships forever.
I have been a CozyJuicyReal facilitator for more than a year now. It is truly a fun and engaging way to connect, to learn and to build stronger relationships.
End of this year, CozyJuicyReal will come out as a hard copy version – yeah!
Idea No. 3: Peer2Peer Coaching
One of the best ways to tap into each other’s strengths and experience is Peer2Peer Coaching. You need a minimum of 3, max 5 colleagues, and for each challenge someone brings in about 20 minutes time.
Step 1: One person brings in a challenge and briefly explains what is key for the others to understand
Step 2: The others may ask a few clarifying questions which help them understand the challenge better.
Step 3: The challenger turns camera off or turns around in their chair to allow the remaining colleagues to share ideas & insights freely without any facial or verbal “interference” by the challenger.
Step 4: After this nourishing phase, the challenger “comes back” to the group and briefly appreciates the others for their input.
Performing & Adjourning
Seeing your team perform, rely on each other and achieve goals and objectives is a pretty amazing feeling. In Bruce Tuckman’s team development model this is phase 4: Performing. Members feel attached to the team as something “greater than the sum of its parts” and feel satisfaction in the team’s effectiveness.
A few years after developing the model, Tuckman added a fifth phase: Adjourning. Many (project-based) teams will arrive at the Adjourning stage naturally as a project comes to an end, or when a group is disbanded.
Characteristics of the Performing phase:
- Increased team coordination & alignment
- Great degree of team autonomy
- Excellent level of effectiveness
- Feeling of attachment and connectedness
Role of the leader:
- Delegate more tasks and responsiblities to the team.
- Continuously learn from achievements
- Share insights and experience with other leaders & teams.
Characteristics of the Adjourning phase:
- Double feeling of sense of achievement and sadness
- Potential cause for concern or uncertainty about next steps and future.
- Productivity may drop
Role of the leader:
- Collect learnings
- Celebrate the team’s achievements & successes
- Reinforce pride & satisfaction
What have you done to help teams thrive in their Performing & Adjourning phases?
3 ideas for Performing & Adjourning
Idea #1: Retrospectives
Retrospectives are no longer the new kids in town, however not many teams make use of running a retro. Looking back to look ahead can happen during or after a project, or as a regular team review exercise. These things are to be considered:
- Don’t make it personal, don’t take it personally
- Listen with an open mind
- Everyone’s experience is valid
- Set the time period you’re discussing (the past 2 weeks, last quarter, entire project, etc.)
- Focus on improvement, rather than placing blame
There is a ton of information out there on how best to run a retro and which model you can use. The sky is the limit.
Idea #2: I used to think…but now I think…
This is a good reflection exercise than can lead to experiencing or learning something new, or perhaps to a change in attitude about something. Have team members answer the above quietly. Then share in pairs or small groups.
Idea #3: Kudo Walls
Kudo Walls are a wonderful form of adding an area for each team member where the team should add notes of appreciation, fun memories over the a defined period of time, images or gifs, associated songs etc.
Especially in a remote and international context, online kudo walls (you can run them on Mural or Miro) are a great tool to harness the power of appreciation.
What other ideas do you have to support teams in their Performing & Adjourning phases?
For you to reflect
- What was the most difficult part when you last formed a team?
- What felt easy?
- What were some of the questions that kept recurring?
- How can you embrace tension and uncertainties and deal with them in a very productive and constructive way for the team?
- What needs clarification, and what needs a pause to reflect and readjust?
- How can you align your goals and values while embracing diversity?
- How can you regularly bring the team together?
- How can you help the team to speak to each other about each other?
- As a leader, what can you do to take a step back
- What ways can you find to regularly celebrate the team, their members and their successes?
- How can you foster a learning mindset?
- As a leader, how can you rather facilitate and coach than tell and request?
(Photo by Anthony on Pexels)