Understanding the dynamics of a team and leadership roles
If you are new to leading or managing a team, you may be wondering how you can understand the team dynamics and what is your role in making a high performing team. Every team has to go through 5 stages during its development:
The five stages of team development (or group development) was first identified by Bruce Tuckman back in 1963. In this article we will look at these stages in-depth and what are the roles of the team and team leaders during these stages of team development. Keep in mind that the key objective is to evaluate and understand the dynamics of the team, what to expect at each of these stages and the role of the team leader during each of these stages.
Forming is the first stage when the team members come together for the first time. It is also referred to as ‘The Honeymoon Period’. The team members don’t have a proper understanding of their roles and responsibilities and tend to work independently.
- Polite to each other. Everyone would be trying to find answers and will have no clue where they fit in the group.
- Unclear team goals and objectives. Since the team relatively new, they would not have any clear understanding of the team’s goals and objectives. There will be a lot of chaos due to this.
- Confused, suspicious and nervous. People may not have formed any bonds with each other and any strong relations would be non-existent. Due to this people will not know where to get information and may also feel nervous approaching people who they do not know yet.
- Looking up to the leadership to define their roles.
- Not comfortable to communicate. Members of the team may not know what may be OK or what would agitate others in the team. This will cause the team members to avoid unpleasant circumstances which also include avoiding communicating with each other especially on topics that they feel that it may have conflicting opinions.
- Focus on independent goals. The primary focus of each member would be to place themselves in the most appropriate place in the team.
- Eager to learn. The members will be eager to learn anything and everything related to the job. Be it the technology, process or even about other correlated teams.
The leader should apply an Autocratic or Directing style of leadership at this stage. In this style, the leader would hold complete authority and responsibilities. The primary role and responsibilities of a leader managing team at this stage would be:
- Clearly define the ultimate goal and expectations of the customer/business.
- Understand the team’s personal goals and expectations.
- Figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the team members.
- Help out the members to acquire knowledge, access to resources.
- Identify opportunities and facilitate meetings to break the ice and enable seamless communication.
The next stage is called Storming. The team members will have a better understanding of the work and would try to deliver their best in their ways. All the personal opinions and competition could end up in conflicting ideas and teams challenging each other stretching the boundaries. Everyone would be thrown out of the comfort zone and trying to find an equilibrium.
- Conflicting ideas and natural working styles. The polite behavior abates which could cause conflicts and may also have heated arguments.
- Confidence and contribution increases. Team members by now would know more about the job prospect and start showing confidence and contributions.
- Similarities and differences are revealed. People would start observing similarities and differences between each other.
- Vying for the position. People could start competing with each other for various positions.
- Unstructured and Broken communications. The cross-team dependencies are not fully formed and communications between other teams and/or management may be broken or unstructured.
- Group and Alliance Forming. Like-minded people would start forming groups and alliances. To clarify a group of groups is called an alliance.
The leader should apply a Coaching style of leadership at this stage. In this style of leadership, the leader would supervise and coach the team for achieving both personal and team goals. The primary role and responsibilities of a leader managing team at this stage would be:
- Identify and resolve conflicts. Facilitate one-on-one meetings and incognito forum/surveys where any conflicts could be identified and addressed. While resolving any conflicts, the decision should be made in favor of the overall team growth and objectives. Make sure that each team member is informed about the reasoning behind the decision to avoid further conflicts.
- Build team cohesiveness. Establish team goals, clearly communicate them and celebrate milestones. Create opportunities to practice teamwork and focus on building trust between the team members.
- Expect your leadership to be challenged. The conflicts may not be just between the team members but the leader’s decisions may also be challenged and questioned by the team members. Always be open to them and to answer such questions. Promote and consider taking in constructive feedback from the team.
- Encourage leadership and task ownership. Encourage the team to own up tasks and take leadership in achieving goals. This will help you drive towards a better functioning team.
- Utilize individual strengths of team members. You might be aware of each member’s strengths and weaknesses by this stage. Utilize this knowledge to maximize the value the team could deliver by focusing the individual’s tasks which are aligned with their strengths.
The storm will be cleared by the Norming phase and there would be a better understanding between team members. The team would start to think as a single unit and accepts each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Members would by now know each other better both professionally and personally.
- Better understanding and collaboration among each other. The team members would have accepted each other’s role and position in the team and there would be a better understating between each other. People would also start helping out others who lack expertise for a specific task.
- Better communication. The better understanding between the team members would now also trigger more productive and constructive communication between each other.
- Moves towards team goals over individual biases. The team would now be able to make better decisions together and focuses on overall team growth over individual biases.
- Support for the leader. The overall goal and responsibilities would be clear to everyone in the team by now. This will help the leader in deciding and communicating with the team members.
- Churning out of Ideas. Team members would start collaborating in coming up with great ideas and a lot of constructive discussions would start to happen.
By now the team members would have been geared up and should have started churning out results. The leader should apply a Supportive or Facilitative Style of leadership at this stage. In this style of leadership, the leader would regularly drive the team towards becoming independent in getting things done. The primary role and responsibilities of a leader managing team at this stage would be:
- Start focusing on the process. Now that the team has started showing harmony in the work, you can now start focusing on the process and setup tools that would facilitate communication, idea sharing, executing tasks, etc.
- Recognize individual and group efforts. You can now relax on the direct leadership and allow the team to find the natural harmony.
- Create open forums and continuous feedback loops. Keep driving the team and open forums and constant feedback loops like staff meetings and 1-on-1’s would help in identifying any deviations from the ultimate goal and also avoid the team to fall back into Storming Phase.
- Encourage leadership and growth. Identifying leadership and functional talent and driving them in the right direction is the key to evolve the team into the next phase of being independent and high performing.
All the hard work and commitments start churning out results on the Performing phase. The structure and processes that are in place would aid the team to perform with almost no dependency on the leadership to make basic decisions and executions.
- Team members display more efficient and independent behavior. The clear understanding of the objectives and a crystal clear and effective process in place, the team can efficiently perform and take independent decisions.
- Trust in the people and process. There is a great degree of trust in people and the process since both the relations and the process should have gone through several iterations to become mature by now.
- A great sense of responsibility and ownership. The team will start taking ownership of the tasks and processes. There would be few new leaders that would have evolved by now and would be taking the ownership of driving the team.
- A sense of the bigger picture. Usually, there would be more than one team that would be striving to achieve some ultimate goal. The team would have reached a comfort zone from where they can have a better understanding of the bigger picture / the ultimate goals/direction of the business as a whole.
- Better cross-functional communication and coordination. The team would by now be aware of who’s who of other teams and would have built cross-functional communications bridges for effective communication and coordination in achieving each other’s unified goals. There will be efforts to align the cross-functional teams goals with the business or strategic goals.
The leader can now start applying a Delegating style of leadership. By now, the team would have started taking ownership of the tasks and processes. The leader can start delegating and focus on the overall strategy of the business. The primary role and responsibilities of a leader managing team at this stage would be:
- Delegate some of your responsibilities to the team. The team is not capable of taking decisions and needs very little guidance to perform their tasks. The leader can now start delegating some of his responsibilities to the team. The leader should make sure that it is made clear to the team that in case they are blocked on any decision, they can seek the leader’s intervention at any time.
- Continuous improvements in relations and processes. There would be several setbacks, achievements, shifts due to both external and internal changes. The leader should periodically sync up with the team and keep improving the dynamics of the team.
- Keep switching between stretching and relaxing. People are not machines that can keep performing with the same velocity every time. The leader should consider giving a relax period once in a while. The team members can utilize this time to reconcile with their personal life, work on some low priority automation or quality improvement related work that would aid in their next sprint of tasks.
- Celebrate milestones and successes. The team leader should make sure that the milestones achieved by the team are celebrated, to give them a reason for putting in all the effort.
- Keep the eye on business or strategic opportunities. Look out for new opportunities and strategic investments to keep developing the team and the business as a whole.
- Keep optimizing the team structure. It is sometimes possible that the team would have grown to a large size over time. The larger the number of people in the team, the more difficult it is in communication and coordination. This would hurt the overall dynamics of the team. It would be better to restructure the team at times to manageable and logical groups that can focus on specific areas of the tasks they do. In case the team size has scaled-down, then you should consider merging some of the groups that you may have already created.
Teams and projects will eventually go through a stage where it makes no sense to have the team. E.g: the project is completed and the team can be reassigned to other tasks, or a project has reached the sunset period and would become obsolete soon, or the project is making huge losses and it’s disbanding the team is the only way to revive the business.
- Team’s Behavior could vary depending on various factors and situations. Some may be happy for all the team’s achievements, others may be depressed due to the strong bonds built over time, yet some others may be excited for a brighter future ahead.
- A state of uncertainty would be in the air. People with specific skills may find themselves in a tough situation if they have been working in an obsolete skill or a skill that maybe with limited requirements. They may be worried about the uncertainty that lies ahead of them.
- The team could start showing signs of disinterest. When the team becomes aware of this stage, they may lose the interest to put in efforts like they used to do.
The leader has the most difficult time because the process would become stressful, particularly when the dissolution is unplanned. The primary role and responsibilities of a leader managing team at this stage would be:
- Sensitive to handling these endings respectfully and with empathy. The team members would be worried and the leader should try to spend a significant amount of time to help them tide through the transition phase.
- Take time to celebrate all individual and team achievements. This will help in building their confidence and an opportunity to reflect on areas of strengths and improvements.
- Ensure the team captures the best practices and learning. Make sure all the positives that lead to the project’s success are recorded for future reference. If the project failed, retrospect on what could have gone wrong and what measures could have been taken to make it better. This learning would always help in future projects.