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Leaders Guide Team Development

February 1, 1994
People feel strong emotions during any major organizational change, and the move to teams is no exception. Anticipation, anger, acceptance and renewed self-confidence-in that order-affect both the individual and the team. By understanding the following four phases of team development, leaders can help their teams cope with change.

Forming: Team members want to know, "What's expected of me? How do I fit in? What are the rules?" Anxiety follows the initial excitement. But no one feels secure enough yet to be real, so leaders don't see much open conflict. At this time, leaders help the team develop operating guidelines or ground rules that regulate how leaders and team members interact.

Storming: Enthusiasm gives way to frustration and anger. Team members struggle to work together. Leaders see mindless resistance, wrangling, hostile subgroups, jealousies and general disgust with the whole transition. Ground rules may splinter like trees in a cyclone. This phase is critical because what emerges from it is something different from the sum of the parts: the team itself.

Norming: Gradually, the team gains its balance and enters the tranquil norming phase. People find standard ways to do routine things, they drop the power plays and grandstanding, and everyone makes a conscious effort to stay mellow. The main danger now is that team members hold back their good ideas for fear of further conflict. Leaders help the team blow through their reticence-usually by increasing their responsibility and authority.

Performing: The team now goes about its business with smooth self-confidence. People have learned to disagree constructively, take measured risks, make adjustments and trade-offs, and apply their full energy to a variety of challenges. Given the high level of mutual trust, leaders step back and let the team demonstrate its capabilities.

It's important to note that reaching the performing phase doesn't mean smooth sailing forevermore. A team can experience a stormy period at any time. The team can even return to the forming phase if it adds or loses members. As teams begin to recycle through earlier phases, leaders again need to take an active role in helping the team find its balance and settle down to business.

SOURCE: Excerpted from the book, Leading Teams: Mastering the New Role, by John H. Zenger, Ed Musselwhite, Kathleen Hurson and Craig Perrin. c 1994 by Zenger Miller, Inc.

Personnel Journal, February, 1994, Vol.73, No. 2, p. 44.