We ran two team events last week (virtually of course) and although very different in style Tuckman featured in both. For those of you unfamiliar with the name you might know it better as the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ model. Dr Bruce Tuckman published his theory way back in 1965, which for us definitely proves its worth – any model still holding its own after 55 years has to be a bit special. The premise is that every team goes through four stages of development;
- Forming; when a team first comes together
- Storming; the stage where teams begin defining and challenging roles, responsibilities, dynamics etc.
- Norming; the period where a comfortable and effective status quo is found
- Performing; the point where a team is really flying, they have a strong identity, they can work and think as a collective and are united in their purpose and their shared success
The ‘storming’ stage often gets a bad rap – people can mis-read it as being solely about conflict and competition. It’s where boundaries are tested, and individual personalities emerge. But, it can also be a time of great energy and advancement and it’s absolutely necessary if teams are to realise their potential. There’s no skipping over any of the steps, no matter how tempting.
The two teams we were working with are both well acquainted with Tuckman, naturally the focus pre-COVID had been about getting to the ‘performing’ phase; what processes needed to be in place, what behaviours were important etc. What came out of our virtual events was the very real sense for these senior leaders of having ‘taken a step backwards’ – in Tuckman terms at least. It’s an iterative model so moving backwards and forwards is part of the process, it’s not linear. But nevertheless these were genuine feelings shared by the two groups. The leaders we were working with were of course able to see ‘storming’ as an opportunity to regroup and rebuild and critical for planning ahead in these challenging times. But it was important to take the time to explore what was happening and to help reconcile a seemingly backward trajectory with sustainable progress.
The factors that are evident in high performing teams such as; collective problem solving, confidence of shared purpose and direction, high levels of motivation, team spirit etc. have been stretched to the limit by more recent siloed ways of working. It’s harder to participate and contribute at times, teams are having to learn new ways of working together and it doesn’t suit everyone, team needs are often secondary to individual needs. As one team member put it, ‘It’s so intense on a personal level, it’s harder to look out for each other.’ Especially when you’re ‘cycling through different emotions throughout the day.’
As leaders and teams begin to move away from WFH and back into a shared space, the end result most likely a blend of the two – the way we work and interact will need to continue to evolve. We will almost certainly need to be more agile in our thinking, pace may continue to trump precision in our decision making, priorities/OKRs/KPIs will change. And most of this will require us as teams to revisit the ‘storming’ zone (if we’re not there already). But within that we’re encouraging teams to;
- continue to show empathy and care for each other
- work to stay HOT (honesty, openness and trust)
- focus on the ‘we’ not the ‘I’
- see ‘storming’ as positive, as a way to come back stronger
As one of our clients once described it, ‘I don’t particularly like the feeling before a storm, that sense of pressure building. But once a storm has passed there is a freshness to everything, a cleanliness and clarity that wasn’t there before.’ And who wouldn’t want more of that right now?