In one word: Yes!
Is this a problem? Absolutely!
We are observing that teams are under the whip to ‘perform’ and deliver in this volatile world of unprecedented change , turbulence and uncertainty.
The pace of work seems to have ramped up in the ‘post pandemic’ world.
There is a greater need for quicker turn-arounds on projects , innovative solutions, solving problems, and addressing customer service demands …and all a lot faster !
Having worked in Corporate Teams, both in South Africa , and hybrid across countries, and led an Exco Team and 5 Regional Teams for a NPO (of volunteers) … I have been fascinated, intrigued and motivated to facilitate programmes that focus on igniting optimal Team performance.
Post the pandemic many of the Teams that we work with, have ‘seemingly’ managed really well. We are, however starting to see the ‘cracks’ in both team performance as well as an increase in people suffering burnout. This is above and beyond the challenges (and opportunities ) of ‘hybrid working’ / WFM (Working from Home).
In these turbulent times, teams are sailing in ‘stormy seas’ – attempting to navigate the continual waves of change. Team cohesion, and exemplary leadership is vital for survival and ‘thrival’.
Side-line note : Thrival is an adjective describing a person who has transitioned out of survival mode and into an optimal state of health, vitality joy and wellbeing.
In fact, we all want to be in this optimal state and thriving. The stormy seas are not the enemy, they can help us sharpen our skills.
An African Proverb comes to mind:
‘Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors’.
These are the necessary stages in Team development for skillful team performance.
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first proposed these four stages in his 1965 paper, ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’: Forming-Storming-Norming and Performing.
Source: Ginger Lapid -Bogda.
As per the diagram above : The Storming Phase is a necessary phase before ‘Norming’ and ‘Performing’. Dealing with differences and promoting constructive conflict is essential. Let’s remember that conflict results from the tension between team members. This results from both real or perceived differences .
The above path is what teams need to follow on their way to high performance. Tuckman said that these phases are all necessary for a team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results.
Side-line note : Tuckman later added a fifth stage, ‘adjourning’ (also known as ‘mourning’) to mark the end of a team’s journey.
We are however observing that Teams are skipping the necessary ‘Storming Stage’. Is this happening in your team?
As mentioned earlier, we are seeing Teams ‘avoid’ courageous conversations. Heated debate may happen ‘offline’ between two or three members, but Team conflict is often viewed as stressful, disruptive and ‘derailing’!
I love Brene Brown’s phrase : ‘courage over comfort’. It takes courage to speak up and disagree with a team member’s approach and / or the ‘task at hand’. The team should be reminded that discussing ‘divergent views’ can also be incredibly stimulating, and this should be done in a team setting with all team members present.
The Leader needs to set aside time for this Storming Stage.
A stitch in time saves nine!
Having robust conversations about issues at this stage (before the Norming Stage) is hugely beneficial, because it surfaces issues that otherwise might not be considered, and down the line these issues may be far more difficult to address.
As a Leader, or a facilitator of teams, it is also useful to differentiate between task conflict and relationship conflict at this Storming Stage.
Relationship conflict issues: these are disagreements about working style, ‘sense of urgency’, values, interpersonal style, input from other teams . All the ‘people stuff’.
Whereas Task conflict issues : these are disagreements about the distribution of resources, procedures, policies, processes, judgments and interpretation of facts.
The Storming Stage may need to be revisited… more than once.
This is necessary if a new team member joins, or if there is a new Team Leader. As a result, a new ‘Form-Storm-Norm-Perform’ cycle will be established. The stages may not take long, there may just be ‘tweaks’ … but they are crucial for team performance.
The team could be performing well, but one new / different ‘ingredient’ will change the ‘team’s recipe’! A vanilla cake becomes a chocolate cake with one new ingredient: cocoa. Team dynamics are important and change dramatically when new people join / leave the team.
You can’t just switch on team cohesion. Interdependencies need to be established, in order for the team to ‘gel’ and to work to the team’s full potential. What’s more, team members go through stages as they move from strangers to co-workers, and then perhaps even to becoming friends.
What are the main reasons that teams are skipping the ‘Storming stage’?
- We are observing that in both ‘in-person’ meetings as well as online meetings …teams are skipping past the Storming phase.
One Team Leader said to us that her new team went straight from ‘Forming-to-Performing’. This looked excellent …’on the surface’, and as new team members joined … this ‘loop’ continued.
She started noticing fatigue/ people getting sick more frequently and some team members experiencing burnout. At this point, we were called in to facilitate a few team sessions to ascertain the team issues and inter-personal problem/s within the team.
In the Team Leader’s words: “There is destructive, underhand and manipulative conflict in our team. Add to this, excessive customer expectations, and the result is that team members seem to be irritable, snappy and at times rude to one another. My team services ‘internal customers’ within our bank. Plus everything seems to be accelerating … projects need to be done faster ; research done on the double; we need to outwit the competitors and get ‘points’ on the scoreboard…all pronto!”
We facilitated two Team sessions using Tuckman’s Model (see the two Pdfs with more details and Qs). As a result, the Team Leader is now spending time on ‘design thinking’ and getting team members around a table, to ‘storm’ and interact meaningfully on an ongoing basis. To use her words: ‘even if this takes more time initially, because conflict in our team is no longer seen as bad and counterproductive!’
Adam Grant (organizational psychologist and bestselling author) speaks about conflict as one of the ways that a team of people can be creative and make good decisions.
I love Adam Grant’s words:
“The absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy. If you’re in a group where people never disagree, the only way that could really happen is if people don’t care enough to speak their minds”.
- The many limitations of online meetings.
Exacerbated by only seeing each other in a ‘thumbnail square’ on a screen. This is far more problematic than we realize:* We’re only seeing people from the neck up, (that’s if they have their camera on) and it is impossible to read body language. As a result it is often difficult to know when it is the right time to have a debate, or to have a ‘tricky conversation’.
* The various icons (clapping hands or a thumbs-up) are a really poor substitute for body language.
* Emotions drive people. People are energetic beings.
One-dimensional screen conversations are missing the quick cross- pollination of ideas, as well as the ‘energy’ and dynamism that comes from sitting around a table.
* The loudest voice on screen speaks…a real problem for diversity, inclusion and building trust.
* In large online meetings, people tend to use the chat room for backchannel connections. There are likely be many side-line conversation happening…which is distracting and not conducive to good team conversations!
* There are a ‘long list’ of other factors, many of which are probably popping to mind for you as you read this article.
A few basic steps for you to implement :
Taking into account the psychology of Forming -Storming -Norming -Performing!
- Identify the stage that your team is at? (Remember that teams can move ‘up and down’ the stages, and that this is absolutely fine).
- What do you need to do, in order to move onto the next stage?
These Qs could help:
As a Team Leader…
*Are you aware of the different styles of leadership you will need to ‘display’ at each of the Tuckman Stages?
* Are you able to adjust to the new challenges at each stage?
* Can you make the necessary tough decisions?
* Do you understand the personality differences in your team, and can you harness this diversity in style, temperament and behaviour?
As a Team Member…
*Are you self-aware? How do you ‘play to your personality strengths?’
*What are the different approaches (attitude and behaviour) needed from you at each Stage ?
* Is your behaviour helping or hindering the team’s progress and development?
*What can you ‘stop doing’ or ‘do more of’, in order to add to your own behavioural repertoire … thereby assisting your team in it’s growth and development?
As a Team Leader or Team facilitator…Schedule regular reviews of where your team is at, so that the team members (and yourself as the Leader / Facilitator) can adjust your behaviour and approach accordingly.
Teamwork, life and relationships come with many ups and downs. The difficult times are what make us compassionate, resilient, and dynamic team members.Teams are looking to navigating ‘change’, in order to find innovative solutions and / or opportunities and of course to handle uncertainty and problems. When you understand Tuckman’s model, you’ll know how to help your team get into flow, and be high performing – faster.