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Trainer’s Diary: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing


Byron KaliesDiscussion, disagreements and trust - Byron Kalies talks team tactics.

You walk into a new office and within a few minutes you get some idea of the team. If you walk into a room and there's deathly silence for five minutes be afraid, be very afraid. Creative team rooms should sound like infant school classrooms - lively and buzzing (within reason of course) and focused. If you've worked in a team for three months and someone still needs to ask if they can borrow a pen from the pile on your desk -you're in trouble. There should be discussion, disagreements, people should feel some passion about their work.

This, of course, is one of the stages of Bruce Tuckman's "forming, storming, norming, performing" model. This is a fantastic tool for looking at group dynamics. It doesn't need to take weeks or months to go through each stage - people go through these stages on training events - especially residential courses. The trick for us is to get people effectively through the stages to the performing stage.

Stage 1 - forming: the very polite, "more tea vicar", "after you", "no, after you" stage is inevitable at the start of a training event. Give people space to get through this. Long, structured introductions may seem to be wasting time to some but unless people start feeling comfortable problems are almost inevitable at some stage.

Stage2 - storming: The next stage is the storming where the team are more confident and there are disputes over status, roles, etc. This needn't be loud and violent, it could be dark and quiet, or sarcastic, but it needs to happen for the team to evolve. The team has to be able to bounce ideas off each other and disagree with each other. Recognise this and let teams work through it. So many trainers are so frightened of any conflict that many groups don't perform as effectively as they can. They stay in the polite stage the entire course and never get into any discussion for fear of upsetting the trainer or other course members.

Let it go - if someone pulls a gun I guess it's starting to go a little far. But 'trust the process'. This model works so let people move through it.

Stage 3 - Norming: After this stage people settle into the norming stage. This is when the team has worked out their roles and can relax ready for the performing stage where there's a real buzz. It's important at this stage to let people have space and time. This is when the quieter people tend to have their say. They feel comfortable enough to speak up. It's incredibly rewarding to see this.

A great illustration of this came from an intensive management development program I ran a few years ago. All week we'd been looking at a variety of ways to build a team and had everyone profiled; Bill - introvert, analytical, plant, Scorpio rising, creative, hurry up driver; Jane - implementer, extrovert, Aquarius moon, hurry up driver, if I could identify with an animal it would be a leopard; etc. Then the final exercise involved splitting into two teams and competing against each other in a management exercise. Three members defined as analysts had a field day - they matched and matched - a creative-introvert for each team, a co-ordinator in each group, and so on and so on. Finally the teams were announced. "Any problems?" one of them announced smugly. A shy voice spoke out: "Uh yes," she said. "I want to be in the same team as my friend". So the teams were restructured - boys versus girls - and a great success.

Stage 4: Performing: This is a stage that not all groups will get to. Characterised by a state of interdependence and flexibility, morale and loyalty are high. At stage four, all the energy of the group can be directed towards the task(s) in hand.

* Ref: Tuckman, B.W. (1965). Developmental sequences in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.


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