Teams who work together are often put together for and dismantled after a project, which means that you will be colleagues only for a short amount of time. The challenge becomes to fast-track collaboration and teamwork for maximum performance for the time of the project, until each individual goes their own way.
In this series, we will discuss three tools that will help your team know what each person brings to the group, how to communicate effectively and how to avoid conflict. By recognising the value of fellow team members, collaboration and acceptance of diversity will drive optimum performance. Diversity is not only intended as cultural, ethnical, and so on, but also in terms of personality, intelligence type and motivational values.
The challenges businesses face when it comes to building a solid and productive team are: overcoming a lack of trust between members, resolving conflict and tensions, keeping information from others and effective communication, engagement levels, honesty and transparency issues, working in silos and lack of alignment. These challenges are different from the past, and solutions for a great team effort are often old answers to old problems, especially in these fast changing times where teams are working remotely, on different projects, at a fast speed with tight deadlines and technology in the mix. However, analysing teams from a new perspective doesn’t mean that you should completely reject traditional theories. Instead, traditional theories should be scrutinised in a new way, updating notions to reflect the current context. Here, we will offer a fresh perspective on how you can create a team based on trust, honesty, engagement and open communication by looking at how we can use Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development in a new way. If you want to learn more about Tuckman’s theory, read this. If you are already familiar with the stages of team development, the next paragraphs will give you the chance to think about them in a different way, one that is still relevant in this agile business environment.
People tend to be excited, as it’s a new start, and very polite, as they are just getting to know one another. Often, however, they tend to be overly nice when they meet and the team is only exposed to the positive attributes and strengths of members. What many don’t realise is that it is just as important to know the negative attributes and weaknesses as well, in order to prevent conflict and increase awareness and acceptance of each individual. In fact, what if you could know someone’s personality or how they interact just moments after you meet them? Wouldn’t it be useful to see the person behind the mask they are holding up to you, still a stranger? And how would you feel about knowing what that person values the most – is it relationships, is it success, or is it development? Forming the team is not about getting to know each other’s skills, discussing timelines and goals. Of course, this part is important and must be part of the process, but what is more important is to establish authentic relationships with your colleagues. It involves getting to know your team faster, more deeply and from them, without making wrong assumptions or being influenced by biases. This will set the ground for the next stage, where clashes may occur.
This phase can be tense and colleagues become impatient with one another. Some try to avoid discussions, but this will only lead to problems further down the line. However, if honest conversations happened in the forming stage, your colleagues will now be in a position to discuss their weaknesses and tensions in light on what they know about the other person’s values, personality and situation. In Tuckman’s theory, storming is understanding the conflict and learning about colleagues by having a discussion. The argument we suggest is different: you must enter this stage prepared, already knowing the type of situations that will lead to tension between individuals and you will know how to reconcile them in a constructive way. Not only the conflict will be resolved faster, but also more effectively, as it was predicted to some extent, which means the damage could be controlled. Through the tension, you don’t learn about people’s weaknesses (you are already aware of those), you learn how to manage opposition of values and personality, resulting in openness about the contrast, as well as enhanced emotional intelligence in those involved. When the tensions have been dealt with, the team can work collaboratively, communicating openly without the fear of conflict (as you know how to resolve it), and trust is established. The team now moves to a further stage.
The third stage is when the team accepts and embraces the weaknesses of others, while appreciating and optimising their strengths. Everyone is working in flow and collaboration, dealing with tensions as they occur. Productivity is good, but it hasn’t yet reached its peak. What is the missing ingredient for optimal performance? Harmony and collaboration make the team a unity, however, not necessarily a performing one. Colleagues are comfortable with each other and communicate effectively, you are working well as part of a team, but are you working well as a team? Often, people are working in silos and they don’t even realise, because they are performing as an individual. Performing as a team is different from achieving individual results. The difference is the goal. Individuals complete tasks, tick off boxes and achieve their desired result: getting through their to-do list and communicating the outcome their team. On the other hand, a team works as a unity to achieve a higher goal. Understanding this distinction allows you to recognise the gaps between working well in a team and working well as a team – the latter being the performing stage.
The fourth stage differs from the norming stage in that the team works collaboratively and also towards the same goal, rather than in silo to complete a task for the bigger goal. As you may have intuited, the missing ingredient in the third stage is alignment. A team can work as a unity only when their direction is the same, when they strive to reach the same ultimate goal. Members of the team may have different assignments and tasks to complete, but if their mind is set to the achievement of the team’s goal rather than their own, the team will witness a shift in their results.
What allows the team to work in alignment is due to two factors:
1) alignment of individual capabilities and interests with their job
2) alignment of individual purpose with team’s purpose
The first is achieved by matching what motivates your colleagues and what they value, the way their brain performs at its best and their personality with a suitable role within the team. For example, if you are motivated by development and you value making a difference, your brain works well when you interact with other people and you are good at supporting others, making sure everyone is onboard, then your role should reflect these aspects. You could be assigned to manage the learning of your colleagues, or act as a point of contact for support and encouragement, for instance.
The second is achieved by analysing how individual motivators relate to the team’s purpose. It is important that you know the top three things that motivate each of your team members and also what demotivates them. You can leverage what they care about and what energises them to boost their engagement and productivity, while avoiding conflicting with what drains their energy and demotivates them. Have a map showing this information and consider how does this connect with the team’s purpose, think about how relevant the objective of the team is to each individual in light of their motivation. Can you have a conversation with your team on what they think the team purpose is, what they think it should be and how they feel about it? Another discussion could be about how individuals think their own purpose and motivation fits with the team’s. Clarity about the alignment of individuals with the team is essential for speeding up performance and engagement, although many leaders don’t realise how valuable these conversations are.
Motivation changes with time and circumstances, therefore it is a good habit to review motivations levels for individuals and whether these are affected by team purpose or lack thereof.
The fifth and last stage was added later in the model, in 1977. This is when the team disbands after the project, which is something that is happening more and more, as the work environment becomes more agile. This time gives you the opportunity to learn on the experience and reflect. What worked and what didn’t? Did you find that working with a particular type of person improved your performance? Did you recognise individuals who were harder to work with but nevertheless were an asset for the team? Who surprised you in some way? What did you learn about yourself? These questions can help you leave the team with purpose and focus for your next project and what team you need to best support you.
Reviewing the five stages with the following aspects in mind will give you a new perspective on a traditional theory:
- Your own and others’ strengths
- Your own and others’ weaknesses
- What drives you and others
- How you and others prefer to communicate
- How you and others tend to behave
Blend what you know about the stages with current and forward-thinking tools to help you fast-track your team.
Motivational Maps help with: recognising individual, team and organisational values; avoiding and resolving conflicts; learning language to communicate effectively; improve motivation and engagement.
Insights Discovery allows you to: be aware of personality types, know how people prefer to communicate, predict certain behaviours, appreciate and welcome diversity, understand how members fit in the team, talk in a positive and open language.
Neuro-agility gives you insight into: how you think and learn, how it may differ from others’, how to align your natural brain wiring with your role, why some people find easier certain to complete certain tasks and others don’t, how to use this advantage in the team. These tools, unlike team building activities, go straight into the depth of people and how they best work together and collaboratively, giving strategies for effective communication for each team member specifically.
Do you believe that we can look at Tuckman’s Stages of team development from a new and updated prospective to make them relevant in today’s fast changing world? Let us know in the comments below.