Is TEAM Just Another Four Letter Word To You?

The Team.

If there is another HR sanctioned 4 letter word in a company’svernacular that can trigger either delight or angst (and combinationsof everything in-between), let me know.  I haven’t come across one yet.

My impetus for this post came partly from reading a similarly themed posthere on ITWorldCanada, and my desire to take a different approach andperspective to this topic.  It has been my experience that particularlyin the corporate landscape, the term team, meant tobe an enabler of good – increased engagement, increased effectiveness,accelerated learnings, high performance — so often becomes a barrier toGetting Things Done!

In fact,  being “volun-told” to be on a new teamcan in many cases conjure some not so good feelings – those moreassociated with themes of – increased workload, lack of execution,frustration and de-motivation.

Now don’t get me wrong – working teams of various sizes, withdifferent engagement models and governance structures are absolutelyessential artifacts.  Bringing together individuals with complimentaryskills, who are committed to a common purpose and who hold themselvesmutually accountable to an aligned definition of success is the essenceof what defines the human species – {isn’t that prolific?} But there’sa reason why the family unit is so powerful – why it is generallyaccepted that having a spouse, partner or soul-mate is much easier thangoing at it “alone”.  The same applies in a professional setting – infact, if we get really “metaphorical” here – the structure of acorporation itself could be considered to be a “team” in the macrosense…

So why are teams so often so…well, dysfunctional?! There can be manyreasons – ranging from decisions around wrong size, wrong members towrong leadership.  More often than not, at least in my experience, bothin IT and outside of IT, the difference between an effective team andone that is not effective often has to do with a single fundamentalproblem.  Lack of Clarity around roles and responsibilities, including sense of purpose.

Questions like:
– What is expected of me as an individual?
– What is expected of me as a member of “this team”?
– What is the purpose or mandate that brought together “this team”?
– What does success look like? For Me? For The Team? For Others On The Team?

Sound simple? Why is this so hard? Well the reasons are varied, butthe questions themselves are not a sign of dysfunction as much aswhether or not these questions eventually get answered.  In fact, going back to the mid 60’s, one Bruce Tuckmanis credited with creating the model of group development that hasbecome the cornerstone of management theory around how teams behave andgrow to be effective, high performing teams.  When you study thetheory, if a team can be aware of and successfully progress throughthese stages, they will unlock the raw performance potential containedwithin it.  That is not to say that this along is a guarantee ofsuccess – you may not have the right team members, the neededleadership or the right vision – just to name a view.  It is thoughthowever then to be a “necessary, yet not sufficient condition for highperformance”.  Below is a depiction of each of the stages.

Stages of Team Building

Forming: Inthis stage, the team is has initially been brought together.  This canoccur both in the case of what I will refer to as an “artificial” team,that has been brought together for a specific purpose and scope, andwill exist together only for a finite/predefined period of time – orfor a natural team, such as in a department, working team or othersimilar collection of individuals.  It is key in this stage for theteam to have clear leadership and direction, in particular with regardsto roles, expectations and objectives – both at an individual and teamlevel.  A non-negotiable activity (in my opinion) that needs to be donein this stage is the creation of a Team Charter. Thecompletion of this team charter by the team, with guidance from theteam leader and/or champion, coupled with the resultant clarity amongstthe team for the “questions” (from above) is a key success criteria forthis stage.   You will also find during this stage that team membersmay be quiet or introverted – particularly if members on the team havenot worked together in or outside of a team setting.  Coming up withteam ground rules, and use of Team-building exercises are also key tohelp team members adjust to working “as a team”  – this work is oftenhelpful in minimizing the duration of the next stage – the Stormingstage.

Storming: This stage can often be uncomfortable formany on the team, but it is a necessary phase for team growth and onewhere team leadership is critical.  It can be normal for teams to moveout of this phase and then fall back into it during the course of theteam’s “lifetime” – when teams remain forever rooted in the Stormingphase however, is what can often lead to a team’s failure or breakingapart.  Leadership models are challenged and vetted, and eventually anaccepted governance and execution model is landed on – this transitionsthe team into the next phase.

Norming: In this stage team members start makingthe personal and inter-personal adjustments necessary to align with theagreed upon rules, procedures, structure andgovernance/authoritative models that have been established in theprevious Storming phase.  Teams can slip back into Storming, andforward again to Norming as items requiring additional “calibration”(read: resolving of differences) are dealt with.  Arranging a socialactivity for the team is something I always like to recommend – for alow-key but fun team building activity, somewhere like The Twisted Forkin downtown Oakville where your team gets to “drink together”, “cooktogether” and “eat together” – for obvious reasons, one of my favourite“team stages” – Grin!

Performing: As the team lead, you can almostaside and let your team GO.  This is where the rubber hits the road,and you are there to provide “course corrections” as needed, and ensurethe teams broader goals and objectives are being met through theactivity being performed.  There are times in this phase whereresources may need to step off (if competing activities require such anaction – hopefully this does not happen) – or activity levels dictatethe need for the onboarding of additional resources.  In such cases, itis critical to “walk back through” the stages as needed, normally in areduced scope/manner – often with the few resources impacted – toensure that such changes do not cause the team to “regress” to aprevious stage.

There is a last stage, which I normally don’t discuss – referred to as Adjourning, but many refer to it as the Mourningstage (only because it “rhymes” better with the other 2-syllable phasenames!).  I don’t consider this a “phase” but more about celebratingsuccesses! To be honest, my preference is to celebrate successthroughout the Performing stage, at key milestones, in some meaningful- I find “food” is often a crowd pleaser, but YMMV.  When it comes tothe formal end to the project, recognition of the teams successes andefforts is critical – and will set the stage for the next “challenge”that awaits, and likely requires the formation of YAT (YET ANOTHER TEAM).

If you’ve successfully managed the team through these stages,chances are when you come calling with the “T Word”, you may get peoplelooking to join “your party”.  In some cases, you may need to shout it from the rooftops in order to get your project the appropriate exposure.  This falls into the broader area and topic of Change Management, and a series of posts which I have yet to complete, but will pick back up in the weeks ahead.

So tell us about your “team” experiences? What has worked? Whatcould have been done better.  Can you tell us a story about a “greatteam” you were on? And perhaps one that was not so stellar. As a leaderor a member – inquiring minds want to know! Tell us your story…we’relistening! Thank you for your time..


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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