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How to get team dynamics right the first time

Posted: 02 February 2017

Understanding forming, storming, norming and performing concept can be the step towards high performance.

Working in a great team is so much fun, isn’t it? You have increased efficiency, better productivity, a happy culture and generally tend to do far better than expected. Having a close-knit, collaborative and trusted team even helps us perform at our peak levels. But why is this so hard to achieve? Think back to the times you were involved in a collaborative, collective and happy team (work, social, academia or sports) – what made it great? I have been asking this question for years and every time I got the same response; that it was the people involved. So what brings out the best in everyone? Is it certain skills? Is it personality of individuals? Is it talent? Or can we just put it down to pure luck? Why is it that even when you have some or most of the above that you feel your team can do better?

I have been lucky to work in some fantastic teams where everyone has come together and pulled in the same direction. Not just once but consistently month after month hitting what’s required and even going beyond the line of duty. Equally, I have worked in several poor performing teams in which individuals have struggled to gel, resulting in poor performance and resignations.

I spent a lot of time thinking, reading autobiographies of successful individuals who have run flagship organisations and groups, speaking to experienced people running high performing and successful teams, and, although, every piece of advice helped, the same success could never be repeated. I even spent a considerable amount of time on social media content, adopting practices of winning teams. I soon realised what works for a successful team may not bring success in others. I thought to myself, just hire the “right” people and all will be fine.

That was until I started working for ReThink Recruitment and studying for an MBA, which was when I came across a piece of research which talked about how each team is unique; what works for one team may not work for another, even if you carbon print all the habits. The article briefly talked about the concept of ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’ which intrigued me. I did some further research and it was a light-bulb moment. I thought to myself how can such a simple concept be so powerful. Not only does it make perfect sense, it’s easily applicable in real-life.

So here it is:

The idea of forming, storming, norming and performing was first brought forward by Psychologist Bruce Tuckman back in 1965 when he wrote an article titled “Developmental sequence in small groups” which discusses how following this path can lead most teams to high performance.

So what does this concept mean?

Forming: This is the initial stage where the group is formed and individuals get to know each other to understand who is who. At this stage, the people need to establish the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses in the group to get to know each other better. This can be a very exciting time when the group is formed but can equally be intimidating or uncertain if people have differences.

Storming: The next stage in which the group decides what they have to do and how to go about doing it. This stage can cause a number of problems as team members start to challenge and question who is going to undertake which role. This can result in arguments and people can bring up issues of personal agendas. This stage can cause many teams to fail.

Norming: At this stage the team members are starting to settle into their individual roles and work together to complete the task. This is the part when the group starts taking a structure and standards emerge. Any conflicts are starting to settle and members of the group are taking the same direction to effectively complete the task.

Performing: The group have finally put all the disagreements behind them and are now focused solely on completing the task with each member confident in their individual roles. This stage of the group development is usually where the group is performing most effectively and the optimal level of performance is being achieved.

When individuals form a group with a task in mind, they collaborate the skills across the group of all individuals and bring them together as one. It is important to remember each individual will have unique and specialist skills that can be utilised. Some are more mathematical, some are natural leaders, some are good coordinators, and so on. Utilising these skills to the best degree possible will ensure any task, whether large or small, will effectively be solved as quickly as possible.

We must ensure communication among the group is clear, reflecting on the theory on the four dimensions of group dynamics. You have to regularly monitor the bond keeping the team together and remind the group of why they are together in the first place i.e. the end result. There needs to be mutual respect among the group and everyone needs to be treated fairly. Keeping the environment happy and making sure the culture is always adhered to is key.

Many problems can arise from group work that may have a negative effect or impact on group performance. People in groups may not get on, may not best understand each other, have vast differences of opinion, and there may be cultural and language differences that can result in communication barriers.

Building your team

To minimise and avoid periods of poor performance, I highly recommend adopting this concept. Try and reduce the time between ‘forming’, ‘storming’ and ‘norming’ group development stages to minimise the risk of problems of poor performance. If every member of the team is properly introduced and inducted, we concentrate on individuals’ strengths and what role/s everyone can take. Recognise the areas of development at the start, then the ‘storming’ stage can be shortened.

My question for you is: do you take ‘culture fit’ into account when hiring or going through the interview process as a candidate?