Getting Teams Unstuck

B. W. Tuckman discovered that teams go through development stages beginning with the forming stage and ending with the adjourning stage. Just after a new team is formed it usually migrates into the “storming” stage where conflict develops over how it is going to reach its team goal, how its members are going to work together efficiently, and how it is going to make team decisions, to name a few. In my eight-year study of over 300 teams I have found that over half of these teams were stuck in the storming stage. What advice would you give to a team leader who wants a successful team but it remains stuck in the storming stage?


5 thoughts on “Getting Teams Unstuck”

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    After writing about this phenomenon for many years, and being a old hand facilitator for lots of “toxic teams”, I have some really simple insights to share. The phenomenon of “stuck in storming” often means that the “rules”/ roles interface of the project has not been clarified at the very beginning, and I am referring to actual “compentence” issues, of who does what best once the work has been identified, and will people let others do it. If team members know the purpose of the team, and the skill sets or strengths on it, they can move to the high performing stage by quickly training together on the political/ cooperation issues (traps, risks, red herrings) . Then the trick is to stop meeting and
    delegate tasks to one another without the HORRIBLE experience of trying to get everyone to consensus through endless, time wasting, mind boggling, redundant discussions which add confusion and keep you stuck. Teaming is about working not talking.

  2. I would suggest that it’s about leadership and the team lead feeling empowered to make the decisions that need to be made, which really comes back to Loyal’s comments about defining roles and responsibilities…nothing a good RACI (responsible, accountable, communicate/consult before, and inform after) chart won’t help resolve!

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    Teams stuck in storming usually don’t have a strong commitment to a goal that requires them to work together to be successful. They aren’t a team, in fact, they are a group. By definition a team shares a common goal that requires their collaboration to succeed. When groups of people work together without sharing a common vision of something extraordinary that inspires them to set aside, overlook, or at least tolerate their individual differences, the spiral into petty conflict, jockeying for power and position, and generally passing the time through various destruction behaviors. It is our job as project leaders to assure that our “teams” truly do share at least a common hallucination about a meaningful goal worthy of their collective talents and worth putting up with each other’s quirks. Even better, they may start to appreciate that other people are different from themselves . . . afterall, a baseball team with 9 pitches can’t win a game. – Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management (coming in Japanese in July 2009)

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    “Stuck” usually happens when decisions are not being made. The louder the disagreements, the more likely you are in the ‘storming’ stage. In these cases, two things are probably going on at the same time: 1) not enough data, or too much hearsay data from people who don’t really know, and 2) too many people feel they have a vote and the roles are unclear about who really does. So, get good data, clarify roles, and identify decision-makers vs idea providers to get those important decisions made. Also, if your team is virtual, this may be a good excuse to get everyone together in the same physical place for some good old-fashioned team-building.

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    I would say try to get to the root cause of the problem, then consider actions to address both the “people” and “task” sides of the equation. I always say “There’s nothing like a deadline” when it comes to getting things done. Deadlines also help to solidify team dynamics – for better or for worse. A good leader will often take the time to look back over how deadlines were accomplished, then work with the team to understand and remove the roadblocks preventing them from moving on.

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