Developing a Team that Doesn't Implode


At some point, we’ve all been “the new guy” or “the new girl.” Equally as likely, you’ve been on the other side, dealing with new leadership or members joining your team. This can be an awkward and uncomfortable situation.

New ideas and procedures, new perspectives and personalities – fitting into a new environment can be a difficult process. Change is unsettling, but oftentimes, change is necessary to obtain long-term success and team development is a vital part of the process.

Research shows us that there are various stages of team development. Being able to work through these stages, and getting everyone on the same page, will help your team reach new heights.

Forming, Storming, Norming & Performing

Bruce Tuckman, an educational psychologist, created the model of group development in 1965, which identified four stages that teams go through: forming, storming, norming and performing. In the forming stage, teams come together for the first time and begin to familiarize themselves with each other. Individuals assess one another by asking themselves, “How will my strengths and weaknesses fit into this team?” or “How will I (him, her, they) fit in with this team?”

Introverted individuals will engage more timidly, while extroverted individuals may take a more proactive role. This is also when expectations for the group begin to develop. Teams typically perform well in this stage due to initial excitement and eagerness to prove their worth to the group.

The next stage of development is the storming stage. During this stage, personalities emerge, resistance to peers or leaders can be sensed, cliques begin to form and lack of clarity on what one’s role is within the team can arise. These challenges can lead individuals to feel annoyed, to question each other and to experience overall frustration, which can have a negative impact on overall team performance. There are times when teams fail to move past this stage: when individuals cannot set aside their egos, cannot come to a mutual understanding and are constantly dealing with conflict without being able to effectively come to a resolution.

However, those teams that make it out of the storming stage move on to the norming stage. During norming, individuals put the team goals ahead of their personal agendas, are more open to differing perspectives and can better work through conflict. Also during norming, individuals have settled into their roles due to a better understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture. Expectations are revised due to learned experiences, or there is clearer understanding of what those expectations look like and how to achieve them. Now is when you see an uptick in overall team performance. You have worked through your differences, you have figured each other out and now you start to develop a rhythm. It is important to note that even though you reached the norming stage, you can still fall back into the storming stage when new challenges arise or new conflicts present themselves. However, teams are more equipped to handle these conflicts due to previous experience, which is helpful in getting back to the norming stage.

Finally, there is the performing stage: the team is well organized, committed and a finely tuned machine. Expectations are clear, the structure is stable and problems are dealt with constructively. Nothing matters more than accomplishing the team’s mission and everyone is in line with that motto.

When I was the New Guy

During my first year as head coach of the Junior Varsity basketball team at my high school, I experienced these stages with my coaching staff, in particular, my assistant coach. It was my first year being a head coach after spending four years as an assistant. My assistant coach; however, had spent the previous four years as the head coach of the freshman team. We knew each other, we got along, but this was the first time we had truly worked together, and it was an interesting dynamic to say the least. He knew from his coaching experience what worked, what did not work, but what he struggled with was not being the voice of reason. It was not his show anymore, it was mine. With that being said, we struggled to get on the same page early on in the season. The expectations were set, there was pushback on some of those expectations, there were times where his actions tended toward the head coach role, so early on we faced a lot of conflict between each other.

However, we both understood that we had the same goal in mind: we wanted to win. We came to the understanding that I was the head coach and had the final say, but that I valued his opinion because he had more experience than I did. Once we had this conversation, trust was built and an open line of communication was established. While our overall team record did not improve, we were more effective in getting our message across to the rest of the team. Practices were more efficient, executing our game plan was more efficient, and it ought to be mentioned, we were having more fun coaching. We worked through the stages of team development using effective communication strategies.

What Can You Do?

Being able to communicate effectively with your team helps you work through the various stages of team development. First, remember to keep an open mind. There are a lot of different perspectives out there, and there are many potential solutions to solve a problem. Understanding that your way of doing things may not be the only way can lead you to new, more effective ideas. This is not to say that you have to agree with different perspectives, but allowing yourself to learn and understand other points of view can be a highly effective strategy.

Second, having the ability to compromise can be beneficial. Compromise can come in various forms: maybe it is as simple as, “You take the lead on this project, then I will take the lead on the next project,” or it can be asking for a reasonable change, such as, “If you agree to come in on Saturday, then I can stay late the next two days.” It is important to make sure that what you are asking is something you would be willing to do as well.

Finally, controlling your emotions can help the communication process. Whether you are sending or receiving a message, keep your emotions in check. For example, if someone says something that you disagree with, rather than your emotions leading you to push back in an aggressive manner, take a step back and try to understand where that individual is coming from. I am not saying that you should not challenge other people’s ideas but do so in a more effective manner by taking emotions out of the equation. Same goes for the other side of the conversation. If you send a message and your emotions are too high, your message may get lost because individuals focus on the tone you use rather than on what your message actually is. It is alright, even advisable, to pause and take a deep breath, take a step back and put yourself in the right state to communicate your message.

Being able to communicate effectively you can help at each stage. Effective communication can help you establish those expectations during the forming stage: what those behaviors, procedures, and tactics look like to help us remain accountable for those expectations. Effective communication can help you in the storming stage to understand each other and come to a common agreement. Effective communication can help you in the norming and performing stages so that you can ensure that conflict is resolved in a timely manner in that you keep moving in the right direction.

Final thoughts

Teams will always go through their ups and downs. You are going to have disagreements, you are going to have setbacks, and it is going to take time to develop group chemistry. However, the ones who are able to communicate effectively and work through the various challenges that new teams face are the ones who are going to experience long-term success and maximize their production.