Team Building

“Team building” has become a cringe-worthy phrase in many professional settings. It can conjure up images of well-intentioned, but “fluffy,” facilitators coming in to do a workshop they’ve done a thousand times in an effort to foster open communication and build trust. Usually people picture trust falls or human pyramids, or some version of being led through a series of awkward activities or asked to take an assessment and talk about their reactions. Often, they may recall feeling disengaged and thinking to themselves, “This is nice and everything, but I have REAL work to do.”

Therein lies two fundamental problems:
1. Building a team is not an event – it’s a process, and
2. Developing a team is REAL work – especially for those who lead and manage teams. It is just as important as any other project, and possibly higher up on the priority list if having a high-functioning team is a prerequisite for producing a quality product or service.

1. Building a team is a process. One of the most commonly-referenced models for guiding team development is Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model. Forming is about building trust, establishing expectations, and agreeing on common goals. Storming is the phase of development where team members begin to express differences of ideas and opinions and push back on leadership. Norming is about resolution – members agree on roles and processes for making decisions and solving problems. Once a team has successfully navigated through these phases, it moves into the Performing stage of team development. Only when teams have established trust and clear expectations, determined how to communicate effectively, and decided how to manage conflicts and make decisions effectively, are they able to be the most productive. Each of these phases builds on the previous one and if a team can’t navigate through a phase effectively, or it tries to skip steps, Tuckman argues that performance will be impacted negatively. While all team members have responsibility in this process, it is the leader’s job – her or his REAL work – to monitor and manage the process of building the team to ensure it happens intentionally, not accidentally.

2. Developing a team is REAL work. Leaders who neglect to manage team dynamics intentionally often end up with a far less productive unit. Team members will dive into the content of their work (what they are working on together), often paying little attention to their process (how they get work done). One of the leader’s tasks is to monitor and guide the team’s process to prevent obstacles and dysfunctional behaviors from arising. Some of the main leader tasks in each stage of Tuckman’s model of development are:

a) Forming: Set a clear purpose, establish goals, build trust, and clarify roles.
b) Storming: Ask for and expect certain performance or results, foster open communication, request and be open to feedback, manage conflicts proactively, and focus on follow-through.
c) Norming: Celebrate successes and appreciate efforts, encourage creativity and innovation, and ensure maintenance of resources to complete tasks.
d) Performing: Share the leadership role, delegate, continue to raise the bar, and maintain open and consistent communication.

That sounds like REAL work, doesn’t it? Stay tuned because next week we’ll consider how all teams are not created equal, so leading and developing is not a “one size fits all” approach!

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