Celebrate the storm
There is no short-cut to team performance.
There is something so beautifully predictive about groups of human beings. Bruce Tuckman identified the process and the dynamics individuals go through when becoming a team in 1965. He called it “Form, storm, norm, perform”.
Teams form. Individuals are polite, not yet frustrated by the constraints of the project and the strengths and weaknesses of the team members.
Then as pressure grows, the group moves towards and into a storm. Conflict can arise for lots of different reasons. It can be a clash of working methods, people being overwhelmed by unclear tasks, office politics… All in all, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is. The storm is a mandatory episode to becoming a high performing team. Period. There is nothing which can replace it, and nothing which can soothe the discomfort which comes during the event (however there are ways to facilitate it to ensure it is done in a respectful and compassionate way).
Then, once the air has cleared, the group can norm (or reform as we call it), meaning that they can agree on rules and processes. This all sounds very official, but it can simply be “agreeing on how things work”. Then only then, will they be able to perform at the highest level of their combined abilities.
Many teams, sadly, stay in the first stage. Without the storm, the team will always operate at a mediocre level of output. And there is no short-cut to performance, no slip road around the storm.
A storm is a milestone to celebrate. And to accelerate.
Based on the fact that storming is unavoidable, you can do things to make it happen as soon as possible and then move into the really meaningful and interesting chapters of the road to success.
As I am writing this, I am preparing to accompany one of our teams through their storm. I know that they are feeling a little bit as if they were getting ready to have their wisdom teeth removed at the dentist. Their gums hurt and the only way to get better is to go through a not particularly enjoyable intervention. They know they have to do it, so they may as well face it and get it over and done with. It is probably going to hurt a little to hear some perceptions and truths, but the feeling of having cleared the air and having had the courage to do so makes it all so worth it. And the hope which comes in the aftermath is incomparable.
I get excited about storming. When I get informed that our clients are going through their storm, it makes me happy, even though I of course feel compassion for the discomfort they may be experiencing. It means that they are now ready to be in meaningful relationships which is the condition a) to perform and b) to be happy. My greatness sadness would be for groups of individuals to remain in a mundane state, watching their potential disappear into the distance.
There is still a very negative perception of storming. It is felt that a storm is attributable to bad management or dysfunctionality. But it is not. It is a completely natural, logical, almost mechanical process which occurs when humans get together to achieve a common goal. Yes, it can hurt. Egos get bruised, things are said which would rather not have been heard.
Growing hurts, but it will always hurt less than being prevented from growing.
Just a little note of caution though — don’t try this at home. It can be an emotional process which can touch individuals to their core, so if you don’t know how to go about it, or if you aren’t sure your team members can handle it, make sure you get professionals involved. It takes skill to successfully navigate the storm so that individuals and teams can benefit from it.
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