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Team Building

Team Building

Team BuildingTeams are a good thing. No one doubts that. So, how can we doubt the benefit of team building?

Team building has become a multi-million Pound/Dollar/Euro… industry. Search for it online, and you’ll find dozens of service providers offering everything from cake decoration to high risk expeditions. But:

  • what is it?
  • why should you use it? and
  • what should you know about doing it well?

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Team Building

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Team building is one of those things that many managers – and professional trainers – get badly wrong. I think that part of the reason for this is that there is no simple underlying model that helps people to understand what it is, what they need to to achieve and therefore how to select and combine team-building activities effectively.

So here is a model to fill that void, in the sure and safe knowledge that there will always be a vast number of team building activities that you can access on the web, simply by searching on:

‘team building activities/exercises/games.’

A Model for Team Building

Creating a model needs a strong definition as a starting point and I will start with my own definition of a team.

‘A team is a small number of people who collaborate to achieve a shared goal.’

You will see that I have highlighted five of the words in the definition, which help us understand what team building is and is not. By looking at each of these words in turn, we can get some valuable insights.

Small

A team is a small group of people. This is not the place to get into the definition of ‘small’ and how different sizes of team operate. For our purposes, it tells us that there has to be some selection that stops the team from becoming too big and ceasing to function properly as a team. The selection takes place before the team comes together, or sometimes is a culling process to remove unwanted members from the team to improve its performance.

While this may well be a trigger for needing team building, it is not, itself, a team building process. All of the other four highlighted words lead to team building interventions.

Team Building Model

Goal

A team needs a goal to work towards and some team building activities are focused on creating one, interpreting what is already there, or articulating the goal in compelling and powerful manner. These sort of team building activities are about more than just rallying around a banner – they give team members a sense of purpose, because a good goal answers their need for meaning in their work, by answering the question:

‘why are we here, doing what we are being tasked to do?’

People

Meaningless team cliché number one: ‘There is no I in team’. A team that is not made up of individuals, each with their own passions, experiences, skills and perspectives has no power to it. So some team building activities are designed to emphasise these differences and make team members aware of the resources that their fellows bring.

The sort of activities that we find are discovery, exploration, sharing and respect activities, which answer the question:

‘who am I working with and what can they contribute?’

Shared

Working together, towards a shared goal requires an infrastructure, norms of behaviour, procedures, organisation and motivating culture. Consequently we sometimes need team building activities that will help create these from scratch, modify what we have, if it is not working, or embed what is working to make it more efficient.

These sort of activities answer the question:

‘how will we work together in an effective manner?’

Collaboration

By far the most activities that you will find are focused around our fourth priority; collaboration. These activities work on team necessities like communication, trust, relationship building, problem solving, negotiation, decision-making and conflict resolution. many exercises that you will find deal with these and, helping to build the capability to get on well with one another. Trainers and facilitators love these sorts of exercise and know them well, so avoid the trap of getting drawn into doing one of these when the collaboration dimension is not your top team building priority.

Three top tips

  1. Make sure, before you start planning any team-building activities or events, you know what your reasons are and what objectives you have in setting out. Set yourself a success criterion that answers the question: ‘how will you know if the event or activity has worked?’ Use this as the basis for selecting, designing and planning your event. Ideally build yourself a business case to demonstrate that your plans are worth the costs.
  2. Ensure that your activities have a real link to what your team does and needs to do. Team members will quickly become de-motivated if they fail to spot a good answer to the question: ‘why are we being asked to do this?’
  3. Make sure that whatever you plan is fully inclusive and that every member of your team will be able to participate with minimum barriers – physical and mental. Any barriers there are will create tensions an divisions in your team, undermining your objectives.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook
  2. The Teamworking Pocketbook
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Bruce Tuckman's Group Development Model

There are a number of Pocketblogs about Bruce Tuckman’s highly successful model of group and team development.

Here is a quick reference to them all.
Click the headings to go to the blog.

Forming, Storming, Norming: The Tuckman Model of Group and Team Development

… a general introduction to the model – part of the Pocket Correspondence Course series of blogs.

Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

… introduces the model and looks at the storming phase and uses the concept of ‘swift trust’ to understand why some teams skip over this phase.

Tuckman Plus

… looks at an additional phase: the ‘yawning’ stage.

Tuckman Plus, Part 2: Transforming

… looks at another additional phase: the ‘transforming’ stage.

Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

… isn’t strictly about Tuckman – it introduces the ‘Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model’.

There’s more to Bruce Tuckman…

But if it is Tuckman and his ideas that interest you, then you might expect him to feature in our Management Thinkers series. And you’d be right. He’s here:

Bruce Tuckman: Group Development

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Forming, Storming, Norming: The Tuckman Model of Group and Team Development

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


‘How do new groups of people develop into
effective teams?’

Bruce Tuckman developed the best known and most widely used answer to this question in the early 1960s. Working for the US Navy, he reviewed a wide range of group dynamics research, to identify a sequence of discrete stages that described the findings of most of the studies.

Tuckman himself ascribes the success of his model over other, later models, to the catchy labels he created for the stages.

Tuckman Group Development Model

1. Forming

When a group first comes together, people are keen to get on with the task at hand, but have little idea what is expected of them. In building relationships, they start with the superficial dialogue familiar to anyone who has arrived in a room full of unfamiliar people. As a team leader, focus on giving people work they can get on with and, at the same time, get to know their colleagues. Tuckman referred to this as the forming stage.

2. Storming

People are social creatures, and we need to assert ourselves, find our allies, and make a niche for ourselves. In the next stage, storming, the group turns inward, focusing on relationship building. Conflicts arise as, like hens in the farmyard, we each seek our place in the pecking order. The group may also start to challenge your leadership so, while you keep them focused on work, you need to assert your leadership and provide support to individual team members.

3. Norming

Following the intensely social storming phase, we withdraw into task-focused activities. We hunker down and get on with the work. The group is now more cohesive, focusing on creating procedures, fulfilling defined roles and making progress. This is the norming stage, and it is often very productive. Because people know what their role is now, focus your leadership on creating links between team members and establishing routines and team habits..

4. Performing

As the quality and depth of relationships build, the group reaches its final stage, performing. Group members support each other in their tasks and show greater behavioural flexibility. The group now feels like a team, with individuals stepping into leadership roles as their capabilities and interests dictate. Your leadership can be very subtle, focused on maintaining the productive environment in which the team can thrive, providing them with the information and resources they need, and protecting the team from disruptive interruptions and distractions.

5. Adjourning

Two decades later, in 1977, Tuckman collaborated with Mary Ann Jensen in reviewing further research studies. As well as endorsing his earlier model, their analysis suggested a fifth stage ‘for which the perfect rhyme could not be found’ in Tuckman’s own words.

They called this stage adjourning, although many authors (including me) prefer the term ‘mourning’. As the group separates, there is a palpable sense of loss. The joy of working successfully with valued colleagues is important to us and we mourn its loss. Like in the case of  ‘real’ mourning, you should make time for your team to reflect on the transition and celebrate the past.

Additional Phases

Trainers and writers have introduced additional phases to the model, which each have their value. Two of these, the ‘yawning’ stage and the ‘transforming’ stage have been covered in earlier Pocketblogs:

Critique

Tuckman’s model was not based on primary research and has been criticised for its linear nature and its discrete stages. Despite this, it accords well with people’s experience and has been applied in a number of related formulations.

As a manager, use the model to understand the evolution of your team, and in interpreting what happens among the groups with which you work.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teamworking Pocketbook
  2. The Management Models Pocketbook
    looks at Tuckman in Chapter 3

Other Pocketblogs you may like

Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

… introduces the model and looks at the storming phase and uses the concept of ‘swift trust’ to understand why some teams skip over this phase.

Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

… isn’t strictly about Tuckman – it introduces the ‘Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model’.

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Tuckman Plus

The conclusions in Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’ are among the best known management models.  In it, Tuckman proposed that groups go through four stages of development: forming, storming, norming and performing.

Later, he and Mary Ann Jensen wrote a follow-up article, ‘Stages of small group development revisited’, in which they proposed a fifth stage, adjourning.  We summarised these stages earlier this year, and looked at why teams don’t always go through the storming phase.

The Tuckman Group Development Lifecycle model: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning

Critical Review

Tuckman and Jensen’s critical review in 1977 was just the first re-analysis of Tuckman’s original 1965 paper.  As recently as 201, there was a wide review article: ‘40 years of storming: a historical review of Tuckman’s model of small group development’ by Denise Bonebright, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.  In it, Ms Bonebright concludes that there are new theories that are ‘exponentially broader and deeper than Tuckman’s original model. They provide detailed discussion of many aspects of group dynamics from forming through adjourning.’

These theories examine a range of other factors, and yet they do not

‘provide the same breadth of application. HRD scholars and practitioners can learn something from a model that has proved valuable for almost 45 years. The utility of providing a simple, accessible starting point for conversations about key issues of group dynamics has not diminished.’

Can we extend Tuckman’s Model?

There are two principal extensions to Tuckman’s model that give valuable insights, yet do not add unnecessarily to its complexity.  We will look at the more sophisticated early in the new year, and tackle the simpler, commoner one here.

Yawning

Are you getting tired at the end of a long year?  Is your team getting stale and bored?

Tuckman Group Formation - Yawning Phase

A lot of management trainers add an extra phase beyond performing: ‘yawning’.  This recognises that a team, once formed and into performing stage, can become stale.  It is a teaching aid as much as an extension of the  model, to highlight the importance for a team leader to keep the team fresh and challenged – in both the task and relationships dimensions – if you are to maintain high performance.

It is also a reminder that, if your team slips from its high performance levels, this may be what is happening.

Tuckman Model of Group Formation - extended to include Yawning phase

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might Like

The Management Models Pocketbook, bt Mike Clayton

The Tuckman model and its variants are described in The Management Models Pocketbook.

You might also like:

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Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

One of the most familiar management models is Bruce Tuckman’s model of Group Development – sometimes known in the US as the ‘Orming Model’.

A Summary of Tuckman in under 100 words

Tuckmans Model of group Development

Forming

The team comes together in anticipation, enthusiasm, and uncertainty about their roles and their colleagues.

Storming

As they get to know their colleagues and leader, disputes arise over direction, leadership and status.

Norming

The team settles into productive work and establishes ways of working together.

Performing

Team members are comfortable with one another and understand their roles, so the team gets loads done.

Adjourning

The project comes to an end and team members go their separate ways.

For more detail on Tuckman, see the Management Models Pocketbook, or read some of our other blogs on the subject.

The Problem

One of the commonest questions I get asked is this:

‘Mike, I’m not complaining, but why didn’t my team storm?  We all got on with it and moved quickly from Forming to Norming and even Performing.’

My usual first answer is that ‘teams will storm’.  When the pressure for a new team to achieve quick results is lifted, the internal pressures will emerge and, albeit out of sequence, the team will storm.

Teams will storm

This is the Nature of Models

A model can predict or explain, but the nature of a model is to simplify.  This means that, by definition, it must be wrong sometimes!  The better a model, the less frequently it is wrong.

But neither this observation, nor my assertion that ‘teams will storm’ explains why they sometimes don’t storm at the ‘right’ time, nor more so, why some teams do not storm at all – yes, my assertion could be wrong too.

Swift Trust

My answer is hidden in an earlier Management Pocketblog, and in Ian Fleming’s Virtual Teams Pocketbook: ‘Swift Trust’.

The concept was first articulated by Debra Meyerson, Karl Weick and Roderick Kramer and is the subject of a chapter in the cross disciplinary review book, Trust in Organizations, edited by Kramer and Tom Tyler (1996).  Sometimes teams come together rapidly and need to work together effectively without the time it normally takes to build trust.

In some circumstances, trust can be built quickly and this, I suggest, is what delays and even stops the Storming phase.  In my earlier Pocketblog, I offered these six conditions:

  1. Presuming each team member has earned their place
  2. Trusting other people’s expertise and knowledge
  3. Creating shared goals and a shared recognition/reward scheme
  4. Defining a clear role for each person to play
  5. Focusing on tasks and actions
  6. Taking responsibility and acting responsively

Swift Trust emerges when people are willing to suspend their doubts and concerns about colleagues and just get on with a shared task.  They focus on their goals, their roles and the time constraint they are under.

Leadership Role in Creating Swift Trust

Leaders can help foster Swift Trust in seven ways:

  1. Building a great first impression in the earliest days – this will have a big influence on the team
  2. Building relationships from the outset and learning about team members
  3. Swiftly and constructively dealing with concerns and issues as they arise
  4. Creating a feeling that they are present even when they are elsewhere
  5. Encouraging frequent team communication
  6. Using private methods rather than public forums to deal with under-performance
  7. Recognising and celebrating achievements frequently

So here’s the deal

Your team doesn’t have to storm, but if you want to avoid it, you have to build trust: swiftly.

Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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