A few weeks ago, I talked about the foundation of successful team development, which is trust and respect. Creating that atmosphere of trust and respect is essential to effective teamwork. The ideal organizational culture helps teams mesh from the moment they’re formed.
Of course, that ideal — creating a cohesive team from a new group of employees put together in a new environment — rarely happens in the real world. In today’s workplaces, teams are formed or re-formed based on the overarching needs of the organization. Some teams have the same members for months or even years with little change in personnel.
Can existing teams be recharged and have their trust and respect in each other rebuilt? Of course! And it can be done by following what I call the Four Stages of Team Matriculation.
These stages are:
This week, let’s talk about the very first stage of team matriculation: Forming.
Just like it sounds, Forming happens when a team first comes together. At this stage, everyone is getting to know each other and feeling each other out. They’re not sure of the rules. They don’t understand the purpose or direction of the team.
Team leaders may overhear team members asking, “Why are we doing this?” or, “What’s the purpose of this task or team?” In a new team, a common question is “Who’s responsible for this?” particularly when it comes to certain tasks or when it’s time to hand off part of a specific task to another party.
Sometimes, existing teams start asking these questions. This can happen after an organizational shift, or when a significant number of team members are reassigned to other teams or divisions. The team has less cohesion, roles and responsibilities may be in flux as they adjust to fill in gaps left by missing members. If new members have been assigned to the team, they are definitely looking for the answers to these questions and trying to figure out where they fit in.
When a leader determines that a team, even an existing team, is in the Forming stage, it’s important to make sure all team members are aware of the purpose of the team and to quickly establish ground rules. Depending on the situation and the organizational culture, the team and the team leader may work together to define and establish the rules. They should be very simple, they should not violate any organizational rules, and they should be congruent with the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
Baseball provides an interesting example of ground rules established for a team within the rules of a larger organization. Wrigley Field in Chicago has something that no other Major League Baseball field has: ivy growing on the outfield wall. If a hit ball gets caught in the tangle of ivy, the outfielder must put both hands up in the air to signal that the ball is caught in the ivy. The umpire signals a ground-rule double, and the play is dead.
When the ground rules are established, disagreements and misunderstandings about who does what, or how to handle certain situations, are minimized.
It’s also important to go over those ground rules periodically. In Little League baseball, the umpires go over the rules before the start of every game. Teams could put this into practice and review their ground rules at the start of each project, or periodically for long-term projects.
As a team member, ask yourself what stage you think your team is in, and whether stepping back to the Forming stage may help. Leaders should assess their team and determine whether this may be helpful to re-energizing the team, too.
In my next post, I’ll take you through stage 2 of the Team Matriculation process: Storming.
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