Being a leader or even part of a team can be very rewarding, frustrating and also confusing at times. Humans being humans don’t always do what you’re expecting them to do. Generally a specific pattern forms, we will cover the 4 stages and hopefully at the end of the blog you’ll understand why things are happening the way they are.
The four stages of teams generally follow a particular pattern, they may skip a stage and can even slip back. The stages are as follows
It’s catchy and relatively easy to remember once you’ve said it a few times, this is not a new concept as these stages were set out by Tuckman back in 1977. Even after 40 years they are still pretty relevant today and worth a bit of your time to understand.
I have worked with many teams over the years and also been part of more than I care to remember and still see the same patterns emerging.
I like using examples that people can relate to and have access to without necessarily being in the work place. My example choice may seem a little strange at first but in my mind this works for Tuckman’s theory. So I propose to relate each stage to the reality TV show Big Brother.
The stage where a new team is being brought together, as an example a new business is starting or a new department is being established. In this stage the group will be getting to know each other and generally up beat at the prospect of the future working or collaborating together. Getting familiar with their surrounding and co-workers. People are normally accommodating and polite but not necessarily showing their true colours or feelings, just yet.
Launch night of Big Brother is great to demonstrate this, people are excited to be in the house meeting and greeting each other. You can see them trying to make a good first impression and keeping their guards up. Whilst simultaneously trying to work everyone else out. They know why they are there (sort of), know their role but maybe not 100%. The culture of the organization may not yet be established the “how we do things here”.
The clue is in the name, after the initial excitement has begun to drift away, people start to lose the initial excitement they had in the beginning. They potentially realize their roles are not a simple as first thought and might struggle to meet the demands of customers. People’s day-to-day role or the processes are not habitual or automatic to them, there can be confusion on who should be doing what, when or even when colleagues decide to deviate from what they should be doing.
Even team members take it upon themselves to try and outline what should be happening. The result is conflict and frustration and frequent storms erupt or bubble away. This stage is counter productive to any group, team or business and the key is to get through this stage as soon as possible. Using clear leadership, training and establishing the culture. It is worth noting this can be a time when some team members will decide this is not for them and seek to leave the organization, potentially keeping the team in storming stage for longer than necessary.
Back to big brother, after the champagne bottles have been recycled and the buzz of the launch night is just a distant memory then the contestants slip into the storming stage. Who is doing the cooking or cleaning the rooms, keeping them awake at night partying can get on peoples nerves. The culture has not been set apart from the house rules, which all must follow or appropriate action will be taken. The time spent together also plays its part in the lack of leadership and clear direction can result in continued bickering. People are out of their comfort zone and feel threatened or unprepared for what is happening around them.
Normalizing takes place, as people better understand their roles, their surroundings, the result is things become more automatic. People understand their part in the organization the culture has embedded and generally things have settled down. The team performance may still be below the expected levels however improvements even in small increments will be noted and progressive.
Leaders either appointed or team appointed will have gained respect which makes it easier to motivate and guide them through to the final stages of performing
In Big Brother, the leadership battle will have emerged in the storming stage and people will naturally nominate themselves as the group leader. We see in the examples of Big Brother it is the other contestants that will subconsciously form a collective consensus who is their preferred leader. More often than not more than one group is formed with its own group leader.
Every business and leader wants his or her team to perform to its best, after all the better the performance the greater the chance the business will become profitable, grow and have longevity. The team at this stage has got to a place where not only are their roles natural and automatic team members have enough understanding to cover each others specific jobs. Maybe not to the same level but good enough to maintain a good performance in the short term. The culture is embedded and everyone know “how we do things here” they may not particularly agree but they generally conform and do what is required.
You guessed it a Big Brother comparison, we see this in the tasks the groups perform or the day to day activities. People generally slot into specific roles e.g. who does most of the cooking, the leaders and people that generally complete the cleaning or shopping lists. When completing tasks that benefit the whole group people put their differences to one side and contribute to getting the reward.
Now you think you’ve reached the performing stage everything is finished you can sit back and watch the team perform consistently with little or no input. In theory this should be possible but remember people are not machines and changes can affect how they react. This is clear when contestants are voted out or new contestants are put in. There is a fundamental change to team dynamic and the team can move back to the storming stage. We know what happens there but hopefully the group and the culture established will quickly bring the team performance back.
What we’ve established
If you’re a leader of a team and your wondering why things are happening or why people are reacting in a strange way. Have a review of what stage the group could be in and what has changed to cause the affect you noticed. If you’re aware of the stages then at least you know that things can be improved given the correct leadership, processes and culture.
Discuss these changes with the group so they themselves can understand how they are feeling and its pretty normal. Communication is key in most situations this prevents people creating alternative cultures and or ways of working.
I hope you’ve found my comparison and explanation interesting, pleased would you leave comments and share the blog on your social media.
Till next time