By now, many HR professionals and team leads are familiar enough with team dynamics to start teams out on the right foot. Teams are kicked into gear with a team formation exercise or chartering session that lets all members know what they’re expected to accomplish together and how much empowerment they have for getting there. Despite this important groundwork, teams usually hit rough spots as individuals clash and pressure to perform builds. With some teams, members will stop attending meetings altogether or attack personalities instead of positions – even the quiet ones! The team leaders complain that their members are trying to take over and that they (the leaders) are trying to do the best that they can. What can be done to help teams get over these growing pains and back on track?
Team theorists call this second stage of team development the ‘storming’ phase – I call it ‘puberty’. It’s like we’re dealing with some unruly teenagers who are trying to make their statement in the world with ‘attitude.’ At the same time the team leaders have to manage this behavior and be prepared to deal with conflict and frustration.
I believe at this point it’s important that the teams stop what they’re doing and regroup. Take a half-day for members and the lead to vent and get all the issues out on the table, followed by structured problem solving and action planning exercises. This process of identifying and solving issues is the third phase of team development, referred to as ‘norming.’ It’s a quick, transitional step that helps teams get back on track and enter into Stage four, ‘performing.’
Here’s the meeting process that I would recommend:
First, get all your teams in one room for this meeting as there may be issues that are similar at the team, leadership, managerial, departmental and/or organizational levels. Having everyone present enhances the energy level identifies overall trends and validates concerns as part of a normal developmental process. Have each team sit together during the event and have their team leaders act as the facilitators. To start off the meeting event, review definitions of a high-performance team. This sets a context for the upcoming discussion. Ask for additional input from the participants.
In my experience, there are always some positives that seem to get pushed aside when the negatives become so pervasive. So to ensure both the positives and negatives of teaming come out I suggest doing a ‘Forcefield Analysis’ – a Star Trek name for a very simple, practical tool. This tool fleshes out the good and the bad (and sometimes the ‘ugly’!). Divide a flip chart in half. As the header of one column, scribe ‘What currently is helping us achieve high-performance as a team?’ In the other column, scribe ‘What currently is not helping us achieve high-performance as a team?’ Have the team leaders help their team prioritize the most urgent and high-impact issues that the team has some control over versus low impact, externally controlled issues (i.e. ‘ineffective meetings’ versus ‘departmental budgets’).
Once the issues have been prioritized, have each team pick what they perceive to be their #1 issue (usually the ‘easiest’ to solve and has the greatest impact on helping the team become more high-performing). Start brainstorming solutions. Make sure the team leaders encourage creativity and monitor any members’ attempts to ‘yeah but’ or invalidate another member’s idea. Sometimes members may feel insecure in putting forth their issues because they don’t want to feel singled out. When anonymity is required, have members write their ideas down, one per post-it note. Throw the papers in a pile and redistribute them randomly for presentation and scribing purposes.
From the array of solutions have members then determine the easy from the not-so-easy solutions to implement. Once the easy solutions have been identified, start to action plan. My favorite format for action planning includes:
What the solution/activity is?
How we’re going to go about doing it?
What resources are required to successfully complete the action?
When will it be complete?
What will the results look like?
Who’s going to monitor this plan to ensure it gets done?
Make sure that the team leaders challenge the ‘doability’ of the prescribed actions. Nothing enhances poor morale like having a team go through an action planning session to end up with tasks that prove impossible to complete.
If time permits, have the teams go on to their second highest priority issue. If no time is left, these issues then become the immediate focus of upcoming meetings. At the very least, once the plans are made have the teams present their issue/action plan to the other teams for feedback and validation (i.e. ‘this is what we liked about your solutions(s)‘ and ‘this is what we think you could improve on’). This process helps the teams feel part of the bigger ‘departmental’ picture. It provides better objective input to solutions that may be unrealistic or require additional information that only other teams may be able to provide.
As the manager, make sure that the teams feel your support for these non-task activities. Too often management has teams facilitate the ‘norming’ event, but is then unwilling to help the teams with the necessary resources to help them get back on their feet (i.e. time, coaching, team leader training, etc.). What you’ve noticed already are the consequences of not maintaining the team process which, when avoided, significantly impact all task related activities.
You may even want to have your senior manager attend the action planning stage for purposes of positive support and confirmation of the team process. This is where ‘challenging up’ becomes necessary and demonstrates your commitment to the team initiative.
My experience is that this ‘norming’ process should occur quite frequently as teams, especially in this day and age, will regress back to ‘storming’ as a result of any organizational changes (i.e. new team leader, new team member, new mandate, etc.) So be prepared to do the above activity a number of times. Good luck!