According to the Psychologist Bruce Tuckman, a team goes through 4 phases in its life: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Each is necessary for individuals to connect, face challenges, deliver results and build resilience. I have helped many groups, stuck at various stages of their development. And I can tell you the real challenge is not creation, or alignment, or performance.
It’s educating them to evolve from one phase to the next.
Today, I’m going to share the stories of these teams. And tell you what personalities you need to educate a high-performing team.
Connectors to create deep bonds
Back in 2015, 4 letters were scaring the Banking Industry to death (at least in the UK): BCBS.
The most feared acronym in the financial world.
Every institution was late in implementing these mandatory, complex rules. All feared a heavy regulatory penalty.
When I met the Risk team, they desperately needed help. Team members – all senior experts in their field – were misaligned. Communication was not well-structured. They had little collective chemistry, and delivery had been suffering for a while. What was worse, was in order to achieve its objective, that same team had to grow internationally from 15 to 40 people, in about 4 months. I was really worried.
Three months later, 40 enthusiastic colleagues were rowing in the same direction. Working practices and operating rhythms were in sync. The project was a success, and all still work closely together today.
Instead of making up for lost delivery time, we made building connections our top priority.
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If your stellar team’s still a baby, focus on bonding
Part of a successful on-boarding process is to create relationships. So for my Risk team, we used the book of work to strengthen the dynamics between people. To educate a high-performing team the right way, it’s important to bring in gratitude at work, highlight each individual contribution and bring complementary skills to light. Then, celebrate team successes. That’s how you create a strong foundation of trust.
To nurture this positive momentum, I leveraged the “connectors”. Connectors are people who have a natural tendency to harmonise relationships. They’re “people persons”, who naturally create an inclusive space for all.
While a ‘forming’ team is establishing its working patterns, creating a sense of belonging is important. Connectors are helpful in relaying information and conveying the team’s delivery culture.
But what about the leader’s role? In order to educate a high-performing team, we must first understand the emotions they experience. Teams in formation go through excitement, fear and curiosity at the same time. Like a child, they need guidance. Effective internal communication and clarifying the structure, roles and responsibilities are vital to set healthy boundaries.
This will prepare the group for the next phase; once everyone is confident enough to go head-on into the storm.
Analysts to bring everyone back to Earth
At first glance, the team in charge of Fixed Income Products Design did not seem to be in any trouble.
When too much energy is just…too much
They’d been fully staffed for 7 weeks. Ideas were flowing. Everyone was engaged and active.
Unfortunately, their energy was not funnelled towards productivity. And the worst happened to them.
They developed conflictual relationships.
The initial boundaries created in the forming phase were not respected. Each meeting was a battle raging around ideas, or who had the right level of information. Everyone had an opinion. As the focus shifted away from delivery, productivity was low.
So what did the Fixed Income Products team need most?
Solid facts to anchor their conversations.
If emotions take over, bring everyone back to reality
Storming is the most challenging phase and the step where most teams fail. Why? The conversation revolves around opinions, the leader can’t manage conflict, or both.
When you educate a high-performing team, the emotional context has to be taken into consideration. When the group faces its first delivery crisis, bring the conversation back to facts. They contribute to the solution, and rarely fuel arguments. So for my Fixed Income team, I decided to empower the “Analysts”.
With so many ideas going on, a good analyst will naturally pick up the right level of information, sort important from essential, and use collaboration to detect blind spots in decision making . From a relationship perspective, analysts are less likely to engage in reactive behaviour. They ground people down.
Teams in storming require heavy involvement from their leader. A high-performing team left alone in storming will end up disconnected, conflictual, and unproductive. Worse than that, fixing a dysfunctional team will require a deep (and pricey) transformation.
In these situations, contentious topics, such as decision-making, need to be crystal clear. Professional and personal boundaries will be pushed to their limits. In order to educate a high-performing team, a leader will need to adapt her leadership style, and balance the energy levels within the group.
Educating a high-performing team until it reaches maturity can be a bumpy road. To ensure you maintain cohesion and create a team ecosystem to inspire, leverage the people who will naturally complement your leadership efforts. Empower them at the right phase, and ensure that they can act as an example of the culture you’re building for the team.
In the second part of this series, we will explore “adult” teams and their main challenge: how to sustain performance and positive atmosphere on the long run.
Who are your best allies to educate your team? Share in the comments below!