Team dynamics – tips for riding out the storming phase

Whenever people get together to form a project-team, client-team, volunteer team etc., there are four stages the team will go through, and must go through, as part of normal team dynamics. You may have heard of them: forming, storming, norming, performing as Bruce Tuckman first explained it to us.  There are good descriptions of this phases of the team development model on other sites. Briefly the four stages are:

  1. Forming: a team gets together to pursue a goal. Generally the entire team has not worked together before in this capacity and is super excited to do so. Yay team!
  2. Storming: now that the team starts working together, conflicts and frustrations arise as the team and leader jostle for position and personalities and different behaviours rear their heads. People are getting used to (and annoyed by) each other.
  3. Norming: if you can weather the storming phase, it usually will all settle down. People get used to each other, learn how to work together and the team gets to work on the activities at hand and start to make results happen.
  4. Performing: ah nirvana. The team has gelled and is firing on all cylinders producing great work and running like a well-oiled machine. Members, having spent enough time with each other, now better understand their team members personalities, behaviours, strengths weaknesses, coffee preference (kidding!) and are delivering great work in-line with the project goals.

I have to admit, and this may sound funny for the number of project teams I’ve been on whether as a team member or leading, I am always frustrated by the storming stage. Not only that, but for someone who knows this theory, until recently I was always blindsided by the storming stage. I truly thought that perhaps the more “professionals” (what does that mean?) I had on my team, there would be no reason to go through the storming phase. We could just get right to the norming, and heck-why don’t we just jump right to performing since we’re all so motivated anyway?

When the storming phase would hit, I’d find myself very frustrated with the project and the other team members. I’d feel like I perhaps had the wrong team, was on the wrong team, the project wasn’t worth doing or was too far out of our grasp to get done. I’d find little enjoyment around the project during this stage.

Maybe you can relate. Some typical things I would think about during that stage were – why am I on this team? This isn’t being run very well. XYZ is so frustrating. Why don’t these people do better work?  I don’t fit in here. Why does this feel like high school? Why does someone always have to stir the pot? What did I sign up for? I think i’d like to resign. Who needs this nonsense? Aren’t we all adults here?

Then little by little things would get better and the project would get rolling – I’d find myself enjoying the work, the team and our accomplishments more and more. I could see progress.

It is only recently I’ve been able to wake up to the fact that the storming stage really bothers me AND that I have to accept it is part of team dynamics. It is a stage that just can’t be avoided.  With that, I offer you tips to get through your next storm:

Tips to get through the storming phase as team member:

  1. Accept that this is part of the process. This is a normal, natural phase all teams go through
  2. Know that your other team members are feeling it too. They may well be just as frustrated as you are.
  3. Feel certain that the calm after the storm is just on the other side. Hang on, hang in and the wait will be worth while. Keep working and performing in your area. There was a reason you were selected for the team, don’t let the bumpy storm throw your motivation and good work off course.

Tips to get through the storming phase as the team leader:

  1. See the tips above for team members, they can be helpful for the team leader
  2. Ensure your team is aware of the forming, storming, norming, performing phases. Talk to the whole team about this and prepare them for each stage
  3. Know the team will be looking to you for extra support and guidance through the storming phase, so be mentally prepared for the extra emotional energy this phase may require of you.

I continue to work on the storming phase not catching me without my umbrella so-to-speak. Any tips for surviving the project team storming phase from your experience?

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