In the last post, we took a closer look at Forming, the first stage of what I call the Four Stages of Team Matriculation. Whether a work team is completely brand-new, or has recently had a shift in personnel, or has simply lost focus and cohesiveness, Forming is the first step in team development.
If Forming is the honeymoon phase of team matriculation, Storming is that less-than-ideal period after the honeymoon where team members learn more about each other, test each other’s boundaries, and test the ground rules established by the team leader (or even the team members themselves).
You’ll start hearing things like, “John is doing that. I think John should do this and Sally should do that.” And of course, someone will trot out that old standby, “In my last company/team, we…”
What you’ll see is sub-groups forming, and petty conflicts can often occur. These sub-groups can be just about anything you can think of: new employees versus longer-term employees, management versus union, smokers versus vapers, anything. One constant of any sub-group is that members may squabble over the most inconsequential, petty things.
Following the established ground rules can help to shorten the amount of time that these minor conflicts go on. In the Storming phase, team leaders also need to do something that seems counterintuitive: they need to be less authoritative, and more participative.
This phase presents the perfect opportunity to steer the team toward HEALTHY conflict—meaning, conflict around ideas, not personal attacks.
For example, when a team leader hears, “This process isn’t working—it’s tiring and time-consuming,” that employee may be expressing frustration or pushing against a boundary, yet also opening the way to discuss ideas about how to resolve the inefficiency of the process.
At this point in the team building process, neither the small squabbles nor the conflict around ideas will likely be resolved—and that’s okay! Storming is exactly what it sounds like: a period of stormy weather. It won’t last. In fact, if you’ve established simple but effective ground rules for the team and make sure that all team members know their purpose and the goals they’re working toward, this period of Storming won’t last long. And the team will move forward into the third stage of matriculation: Norming.
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