Successful Team Management (Part I)

Many years ago, I was asked to be chairman of a team which was tasked with developing a proposal which would be controversial. The results were something less than ideal. I learned through sad experience in this setting the importance of understanding team process and the stages of team development.

Much of the work which management consultants do involves working in teams, or supporting teams used by our clients. A basic understanding of team development and how successful teams succeed is critical to success as a management consultant. This article addresses the processes of successful teams and also discusses helping teams set proper purpose and direction.

In the mid-1960s research done by Bruce Tuckman of the Naval Medical Research Institute explored group dynamics and explained how teams develop and mature. Tuckman's research led him to conclude that groups develop through four stages. He identified in the stages as forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Forming is the stage in which the group first comes together and begins to become a team. The behavior of team members, prompted by a their feelings of excitement, anxiety, and dependence, raise issues which must be resolved if the team is to become productive. This is a stage of turmoil , and therefore teams at this stage usually do not make much progress on their task.

In storming, the second stage of team development, team members begin to realize the amount of work that will be required and often start to panic. They begin to see the disparity between the their initial hopes and the reality of the work ahead. Successful conflict resolution techniques are needed in this stage to help the team resolve its differences.

Stage 3, identified as norming, helps members get used to working together. They start helping each other rather than competing. Most of the conflict begun in stage two has been resolved. During this stage, the task of the team leader is to help the team adjust to its newfound identity and develop members' self-confidence.

The final stage is the performing stage, in which team members have developed a comfort level with each other and with their assignment. At this stage, they are an effective working unit, and the team begins to perform competently. In this stage, the main task of the leader is to help members develop group maintenance skills.

By understanding these four stages of team development, a consultant may assess how the team is functioning and what needs to happen in order for the team to be successful.

Purpose and direction

When team goals and are not clear, teams often get bogged down as individuals pull in different directions. Members may be unclear as to the team's mission, or they can be uncertain about the urgency attached to reaching a specific goal. Conversely, teams become so caught up in "getting along" that nothing is accomplished.

Odette Pollar, the founder of Time Management Systems, recommends four steps in helping groups solidify purpose and direction.

Step 1 is to summarize the progress of the group to date in a non-threatening, non-evaluative manner. In this way, group members will see the consultant's perception of their current status and be able to evaluate its accuracy.

In the second step, the consultant should ask for an assessment of the current situation. Pollar recommends the question, "We seem to be unable to reach clear decisions. What part has our team building process or our structure or played in this?"

The consultant should then determine the group's perceptions and review them with the group.

In step four, the consultant should suggest changes in group structure or process to improve the situation. These suggestions, as well as team's specific goals, should be written down. They should be distributed to members and posted throughout the following meetings to help focus the group.

No work done by consultant is more important than helping groups reach their potential. As management consultants sharpen their skills in this area, they will better serve their clients and their profession.