Building a Team

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Pete Wilson gives some practical advice on how & when to use this ‘legendary’ group development model.

There are two sides to running a business the ‘run’ side (or business as usual) and the ‘change’ side. The trick that many organisations have to pull off is not letting one bleed into the other. It’s fair to say that the ‘change’ element of running a business is speeding up, such that the ‘run’ side doesn’t stay stable for very long. Most medium to large businesses have multiple change projects in flight to effect the change required for the business to simply keep up with moving markets and with the competition. Delivering change requires that teams come together, deliver and dissolve, only re-emerge, re-shaped for a different task alter. For all leaders in this environment building a team quickly and effectively is a vital capability.

Unlike the folk that work in the ‘run’ side of the business, those that work to bring about change don’t have the luxury of time to form and build a team, they have to be fully functioning in a very short period of time, and for some that can be an uncomfortable experience. Project teams are temporary constructs and as such project managers and team leaders have a real challenge to get everyone functioning properly in order to deliver.   The challenge becomes even more difficult where there are mixed delivery teams of consultants, BAU staff and suppliers. These sub groups often have their own unspoken, perhaps subconscious objectives which may differ from the overall group objective.  Most of my consulting career and indeed before that as a technologist, has been spent effecting change. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone longer than a couple years, and 80% of the teams that I’ve either led or been a member of have been together for a matter of months. The challenge that I see and have constantly tried to solve, is how do we raise the team and get them working as a cohesive group as quickly as quickly as possible.

There’s much sage advice in this space but for me I always frame my thinking in terms of Bruce W. Tuckman’s group development model in which he draws out the stages of group development: (1) Form, (2) Storm, (3) Norm, (4) Perform and (5) Adjourn.

Stages of Group Formation

For me there are 6 key practical points to make when thinking about the model. In my experience:

  1. It works as a model against which to take action in driving the team forward.
  2. Early on the team is high maintenance and will rely heavily on guidance from the leader.
  3. If you understand the team’s needs in each stage, you can guide them through it. There’s a fair degree of stress in the early stages and unless you anticipate the difficulties early on, you’ll struggle to move forward.
  4. Get to the Storming stage as quickly as possible. I take a lesson from the military in this regard, ensure there are broad roles in the team and give them a urgent issue to resolve, this might be connected to a ‘quick win’ – i.e. an early deliverable.
  5. The Storming stage is probably unavoidable, so try and get to it as soon as possible, but don’t assume you’re through it too early.
  6. Norming relies on clear roles and responsibilities, so getting the team to develop and agree role descriptions and a Responsible, Accountable, Consult & Informed (RACI) chart.
  7. Theoretically when the team is Performing they are less reliant on leadership as they understand what it is delivering, and the context of delivery. It’s at this stage that team get confidence in their performance and seek to over deliver and that’s when scope creep occurs.
  8. Don’t gloss over the Adjourning stage – you might have delivered well, but people need the recognition if they are to do it all again.

Here’s what I focus on as a leader during the various stages:

Forming Stage

Stage Characteristics – Uncertainty.

From a leaders perspective the team is high maintenance. No common view on aims and objectives other than as directed. Roles and responsibilities are unclear.

Leader must be directive.

Be prepared to spend lots of face time with the team. Clarity is required around purpose, aims and how the team relates to stakeholders.  Typical behaviour of members around testing tolerances. Whilst it’s difficult to maintain progress at this stage, driving the project team in the development of project initiation and scoping documentation is a useful vehicle.

Storming Stage

Stage Characteristics – Conflict.

Difficulty in making decisions as team members seek to establish themselves in relation to the rest of the group and the leader. Purpose becoming clearer, but challenges to the leader evidenced. Sub-groups form and possible power struggles eschew.

Leader must act as a coach.

Focus on the team being logical and not emotional. Maintain focus on goals and avoid distractions around relationships. Compromises may be required to enable progress.

Norming Stage

Stage Characteristics – Agreement and consensus.

Team settled down, takes direction from the leader who should become more facilitative. Team accepts roles and responsibilities. Team consensus, individuals and sub teams have autonomy within their remit.

Leaders facilitates & enables.

Team unites and starts to speak and act as one. More fun is evident and may partake in social activities. Processes and working styles are discussed. Leader is accepted and respected. Other leadership roles can be delegated.

Performing Stage

Stage Characteristics – Confidence.

Team is more strategically informed and where they fit the bigger picture. Shared vision amongst the team has emerged and it becomes more autonomous from the leader.  Team members are confident in delivery and may focus on over-achieving goals.

Leader can delegate & oversee.

Some disagreements are apparent but largely resolved positively without recourse to the leader. Team is delivery focused and individuals are aware of their impact on the rest of the team. Team members look after each other. Team ‘pulls’ on delegation and tasks from the leader. Leaders may need to offer occasional assistance to the team with personal and interpersonal development.

Adjourning Stage

Stage Characteristics – Break up.

Ideally when mission has been accomplished and its purpose fulfilled the team breaks up and moves on. Everyone can move on to new things. There is typically a sense of insecurity at this stage, particularly where the team has really performed over an extended period.

Leader must be supportive.

Organisational recognition of individual’s vulnerability at this stage would be a positive thing. In a project environment this would all be about encouraging team members around the next project challenge.


Pete Wilson gives some practical advice on how & when to use this ‘legendary’ group development model.


Post by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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