Monday, June 21, 2010

Forming Storming Norming Performing

Every team or group goes through various stages in their life cycle. I was mentioning how Tuckman described four typical stages in the life of a team as forming, storming, norming and performing. This was while we were playing volleyball and it struck me how well this cycle applies to the group dynamics of both a volleyball team and a leadership team.

Forming - the 'polite' stage where the team first forms and everyone is trying to figure out who everyone is and how they can contribute to the team. It's a time of optimism and hope, even though the team isn't very effective or producing much just yet.

Storming - the honeymoon is over, personalities emerge, sometimes team players vie for control, and disagreements crop up. Having a good coach or leader becomes important. People may resist tasks, have sharp swings in attitude, argue, get defensive, and question those who put this team together.

Norming - people start to 'get' one another, see strengths and build on them, and start to work well together and see bright spots of effectiveness. When issues crop up, they might deal with some well, or may bounce back to storming for a while. Natural or unofficial leaders emerge, who may not be the same once visible or appointed in the earlier stages. The team needs less direction. People start to accept one another (even with weaknesses), become more friendly, express criticism constructively, and have established team ground rules (whether explicit or implicit).

Performing - the team starts to achieve high levels of performance. They can take on new challenges and accomplish them successfully, and seldom revert to 'storming'. Other people want to be on the team, which can absorb one or two new members with little trouble. It can take a long time to reach this stage, and some teams never make it! Teammates know how each other will think and act, they listen to one another, and they self-solve problems together. Their cohesion level is strong, and they hate to disappoint the others. Camaraderie while working together is the norm, even if they aren't best buddies outside the team setting.

What's the tie-in between a volleyball team and leadership team?
Within the storming phase the main sources of friction are actually the same!
  • When a ball is served between two players, they will either let it fall to the ground untouched or both will go for it and crash into each other. Stepping on toes due to confusion as to 'whose ball it is' is a major issue with leadership teams, resulting in the ball getting dropped or a clash as people claim 'that's my ball!'
  • When someone makes a mistake, you'll often get one guy on the team starting to lecture that person on how to 'do it right'. They'll do this before they even know the person, whether they want correction, or whether it was a simple mistake. Unsolicited advice, which comes across as telling someone what to do, is a big source of friction and defensiveness on leadership teams - especially when trust levels have not been built.
  • The player in the middle of the back row may think that position gets played a certain way (e.g. middle-back defender) while a teammate may have always seen that position played a completely different way (e.g. middle-up). It's the same "position" but it means vastly different things to different teams. If this isn't recognized, both players look like they are completely incompetent to the other player, when it's really just a lack of shared definition about their role. This is a huge issue on teams in business or non-profits as well. Lack of clarity on the role, and unvoiced expectations, are a major source of frustration and lead to poor performance of the team.
I also noticed that the same resolutions occur both on the volleyball court and in the organization, when teams progress to norming and performing...
  • People encourage one another and expect the best. You'll often hear "great play!", "you can do it", "let's go team!"
  • Mistakes aren't criticized, jumped on, or seen as incompetence. The player freely admits "My bad" and the team moves on.
  • Position expectations are clarified - "You cover short, I've got deep." It's clear what everyone is supposed to do, who's got what, and even when they don't, people have each others backs.
  • People can freely make observations/criticisms that would be taken badly at a lower stage. "I know you're a great jump server, but it's off tonight and we can't be throwing away points. Use your floater."
  • Strong execution, scoring some great points on a great team play, is exhilarating and itself promotes unity of the team, leading to a positive cycle.
Facing friction or frustrations on your team? It's not unusual - it's typical of every team at some point! Hang in there, look for the strengths of your teammates, cheer them on, and keep the goal of the team in mind. It's worth it. 

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