Teams move through recognizable stages: Forming, Norming, Storming, and Performing. Volumes of research have been done on these stages and how to manage them. Let’s take a look at some of the basics.
Each stage has its own characteristics and dynamics. Leading them through these stages quickly can determine whether your team will succeed or fall apart.
- Forming: Participants have high energy and are excited to get started, but they have little direction or knowledge in the challenges they face. A leader at this stage will mostly need to use the directive style of leadership.
- Storming: As it develops, your team will move into the Storming stage. Members will vie for position and try to define their role in relation to the rest of the team. At the storming stage, there is still a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. But as the team grows in knowledge and ability, people will begin to overstep each other’s boundaries or leave large gaps in performance. Boundaries and responsibilities are still being defined in this stage as team members start to ask, “Why?” You will need to use more supportive tactics when working with a team in this stage. Many teams never leave this stage and ultimately fail without effective leadership.
- Norming: Once the fighting is over, you will see your team begin to “figure it out” or start Norming. They get along better, fewer balls are dropped, and respect for each other’s abilities increases. Their own knowledge and skills are growing, requiring less oversight from you. The downside is that a lot of the team’s energy has been sapped from the storming stage. Some of the conflicts have made team members skeptical. Your team members now need to feel they can self-direct their activities. They still need parameters from you and facilitation to help them work through new problems and help them avoid slipping back into the storming phase. Those skills are the essence of the consultative style of leadership.
- Performing: Few teams ever make it to the Performing stage. Most rest comfortably at Norming and flow between the bottom three stages frequently. Teams in the Performing stage have regained the energy they had in the Forming stage, but they can now couple that with a high level of expertise and knowledge. You will see your team start to care more about results and care less about material or emotional incentives. It will also care less about processes and can comfortably suggest better ways to get the work done. This is the moment that every leader wants—give people the tools and get out of their way! When a Performing team reaches this pinnacle, your job as leader is to facilitate resources and focus your leadership on keeping your team members performing.
While most teams never reach the Performing stage, those that do don’t stay there long. They will slip into Norming when energy is lost or frustration with circumstances steps in. They can even drop all the way back to Storming if there is a change in the team’s dynamic, or if a new challenge the members are not prepared to face springs up. If you ever have the chance to lead a Performing team, your job is not done. Keeping the team there can prove difficult.
|Needs||Need strong systems and clear direction||Asking “Why?”||Self-directed with clear parameters||Results biggest motivator|
|Leadership Needed||Micromanager, autocratic, set high expectations||Teacher, Set boundaries, Increasing expectations||Coach, Inspire, “Lead”||Facilitator, Resource, As-Needed clarification, Inspire|
|Clear and Stark Penalties/
|Natural Consequences, Some Leader-Enforced consequences||Few Penalties or Rewards outside of Natural Consequence|
|Manager Vs. Leader||Manager||↑Manager
There are three things to keep in mind constantly while leading your team through the stages:
- How a team progresses from one stage to another depends entirely on you as a leader. While certain styles are best used in specific stages, you must continually look for ways to present small introductions to the next level. Some of the responsibility lies with the team members themselves. You will see natural leaders arise within the group who can either be your allies or your nemesis.
- Team selection is just as important as leadership in a team’s success. For team selection ideas, read Chapter 9: The Miracle Team.
- Teams do not move through the stages in a nice, neat line. They will often jump around and surprise you. Your success depends on recognizing the stage and knowing which style is best for the moment.
David Bryant Mitchell is the author of the upcoming book Building Your Booming Business. He is also business coach and consultant that works with business owners and managers to create momentum in their business with strategies and tactics that they can implement today. These strategies are based on the five foundations of business: Marketing, Leadership, Operations, Finance and Systems.