Developed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development outlines the normal process that every team goes through before they can become high performing. As a new leader, you need to understand this model in order to successfully navigate your new role.
There are four stages of Tuckman’s team development model: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing.
The forming stage, as the term suggests, is the beginning of your new leadership role. This is when you are getting to know your team and they are getting to know you and each other. As the new leader, you are observing and being observed. Everyone, in general, feels a sense of excitement, though there might be some apprehension. This is also the stage when you will be setting your expectations for the team. For the most part, everyone will be on their best behavior.
In this stage, be sure to spend ample time listening, asking questions, and learning. I confess that four years ago, I did not navigate this first stage of team formation well. I entered the organization with a know-it-all attitude and youthful arrogance and pride. I wanted to start fixing things right away, but what my team wanted was for me to understand the root cause of their problems first, get their buy-in in the decisions I was making, and allow them to be part of the change process. Not doing these things created a lot of conflict on my team. As the leader, you set the tone for your team, and they will follow your example, whether good or bad. So model the right behaviors early and often, and be transparent. Listen well!
The storming stage of team development is when you begin to experience that special thing called conflict. Many people—myself included—don’t like conflict. The storming stage is usually a result of differences in expectations and opinions. You will find yourself being challenged by your team on certain objectives you want to set forth or decisions that you make. Again, this is all a normal part of the team development process. I did not know this model five years ago, so it was a complete surprise to me that I was having so much conflict in just my first month on the job. And looking back there are many things that I wish I did differently. With that in mind, here are three things I recommend you do during the storming stage.
#1 Communicate. As a leader, remember that your team is your greatest asset and your job is to serve each member of that team. The Bible says, “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matt 20:26). You will do your team a great disservice if you fail to communicate with them openly, honestly, and frequently. Share your vision for the team; your expectations; and your goals. As you are communicating, also remember to listen. Ask questions, request feedback, and welcome ideas on how to reach the goals— as a team. You will be surprised what you will learn. Check out my last article on management for more tips on how to communicate with your team.
#2 Pray. Leadership can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. I myself went through a long bout of anxiety and restlessness as a new leader. For months I struggled with thoughts and feelings of inadequacy; and, at one point, I even wanted to quit my job. My storming stage was more like a tornado or a hurricane.
But what kept me going was knowing that God would never give me more than I can handle (1 Cor 10:13). The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:6,7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication…let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The peace of God is truly supernatural, and when I trusted him to supply me the wisdom that I needed to lead well, he provided it in overflowing supply. Do not underestimate the power of prayer to lead you through and out of the storming stage.
#3 Ask for help. One of the mistakes that many new leaders make is trying to figure things out on their own. Perhaps this is due to a fear of failure, or wanting to prove to your team or your boss that you are the “right” person for the job. Whatever might cause, remember that many have traveled the same road that you are currently on. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Find someone whom you can trust and ask them to help you navigate the stormy waters. This will help to shorten the storming stage, and will also help you draw closer to your team.
Although you will know instantaneously when you enter the storming stage, the norming stage may not be as apparent. There are some key indicators, however, that you can look for. For example, you are in the norming stage if your team is becoming more receptive to your leadership or more open to sharing their ideas with you (this means that they trust you). Another sign of norming is that you are having less conflict and experiencing small (or major) wins as a team. Be attentive to these signs, and keep two things in mind during the norming stage.
#1 Celebrate the small wins. As a new leader, find every opportunity you can to celebrate your successes as a team. This will reinforce to your team that you win and lose together. Make sure that you stop and celebrate when the team meets a major milestone on a project closes that deal. The celebration does not have to be lavish. A 5-minute huddle in the conference room, for example, to make the major announcement and congratulate each other is quite sufficient.
#2 Recognize your team members. “Give honor to whom honor [is due]” (Rom 13:7). These days recognition is often used as a participation trophy, but this is not the type of recognition to which I am referring. What I’m saying is that as a leader, you must give honor to whom honor is due. The temptation many new leaders face is to take all the glory for themselves because that makes them look good to a watching world. This is not right. Instead, find opportunities to recognize the hard work of your team members and do this both in public and in private. As stated earlier, your role is to serve your team, and the servant seldom gets the praise.
Finally! You have formed your team; you have gone through the storming stage, only to come out on the other side stronger and more united than before. You have had a series of small wins, but now the momentum is building and the team is beginning to click on all cylinders. Engagement is high and performance is even higher. Welcome to the performing stage of team development! This is where things really start to fall into place, and you begin to enjoy the success that you have been anticipating for so long. This is the Super Bowl. This is the NBA championship. And here the storming stage seems but a shadow in the far distant past. The performing stage is exciting, but it also requires careful navigation, lest you revert back to the storming stage or even worse. I recommend you do these three things during the performing stage.
#1 Beware of pride. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18). As a leader, you will never be immune to pride. It is for that very reason that you must always stay on guard against it. When in the performing stage of your team’s formation, you must not be quick to forget the times of wrestling, turmoil, and conflict. It is a sensible reminder of those times that will keep you humble in the face of great success and accolade.
#2 Be grateful. Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, “How much money is enough money?” his reply was, “just a little bit more.” Here was a man who did not have a proper view of gratitude. He had all the money a man could ask for, and yet he was not satisfied. As a leader, you will have many successes and many failures, but your response to these successes and failures will determine the quality of your leadership. The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes 5:18). Thankfulness is the definition of gratitude. So, be thankful. Be thankful for the small wins. Be thankful for the major wins. And, perhaps most importantly, be thankful for the storms and the failures. The storms and the failures are what make the sunny days so sweet.
#3 Help others. Earlier I advised you to seek help if you are struggling with a storm. Don’t weather these times alone. But after you have successfully navigated the storm and have entered the performing stage, do turn around and help others. Find someone to mentor and guide them through this process. I am grateful for so many people who counseled me, challenged me, and encouraged me during my career. I would have resigned my post a long time ago if it were not for them. It is a privilege to be a leader. It’s a high calling, and not one to be entered into lightly. As you transition into your new leadership role, you will be challenged. Remember that you are not there to be served, but to serve. There’s no greater example of this than of the greatest leader in history, Jesus Christ, who said of himself:
In a future article I will elaborate on this concept of servant leadership, and provide you with some tools and behaviors you should employ, as a new leader, in order to truly be effective and impactful. Stay tuned!
Below are some tools for better management:
Use These Three Steps to Develop Your Team and Get Results
Every New and Seasoned Manager Needs to Know This
Four Tips to Create a Highly Effective Team That You Can Trust
Follow These Five Tips to Coach Your Team and Improve Performance
– Led by the Book