What’s the secret behind high-performing teams? A superstar boss? The best talent? The finest tech money can buy?
These things help, sure. But the real secret behind top performance is the ability to collaborate. And part of this includes navigating the stages of team development, aka the ‘storm to perform’ process. Never heard of it before? We have answers.
What is ‘storm to perform’?
In 1965, psychologist and researcher Dr. Bruce Tuckman presented a model that would become a cornerstone in understanding team dynamics.
Drawing on observations of various groups, Tuckman posited that all teams go through a series of predictable stages — forming, storming, norming, and performing. He later added a fifth stage, ‘adjourning’ (or ‘mourning’), to address the end phase of a team’s life cycle.
Storm, form, norm, perform: A quick overview
- Forming: a period of getting to know each other, setting up team goals, and defining roles. Everyone’s polite and a little cautious as team members attempt to understand their place in the group.
- Storming: as the name implies, it’s a tumultuous time. Conflict bubbles up as team members challenge ideas and each other. It’s an uncomfortable stage, but an essential one; it’s full of learning. Make it through, and you’ll enjoy growth, understanding, and, ultimately, better performance.
- Norming: This is a period of stabilization. The team begins to settle into their roles and processes. Collaboration improves, and the team gets down to efficient work.
- Performing: This represents the pinnacle of this journey. The team works smoothly, showing high levels of efficiency, innovation, and autonomy. At this stage, the team’s productivity is at its peak.
How to navigate storm to perform like a pro
The journey from storm to perform isn’t always easy or linear. For that reason, you’ll need to call on your patience, empathy, and emotional intelligence reserves. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making the process a smooth one.
Stage 1: Forming a team
This is when a collection of individuals becomes a cohesive unit (in name, at least). They take their first steps as a team, laying the groundwork for future progress.
Team members are usually polite and excited at the start. They’re trying to understand the project, their roles within the team, and how they fit into the big picture. As Dr. Tuckman suggested, this stage is marked by a high dependence on the leader for guidance and direction. There’s little conflict as team members are keen on avoiding controversy. But don’t be fooled by the surface calm; beneath it, individuals are observing each other and evaluating their roles.
Set clear goals
A common shared goal has a uniting effect, helping people focus on the big picture rather than their own individual needs. The team leader plays a pivotal role in defining these objectives, making sure they’re specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
Define roles and responsibilities
Each team member needs to know what their job is and how their role contributes to the team’s overall success. Clarity prevents misunderstandings and conflicts and keeps the team running smoothly.
Last, but definitely not least, this stage is all about building strong working relationships. Encourage team members to get to know each other (team drinks, anyone?). Simple, structured team-building activities foster a sense of camaraderie, breaking down barriers and helping individuals see each other as allies rather than competitors. And if your team’s geographically dispersed? No worries. There are plenty of remote team building activities to bridge the gap.
Forming: top tips to establish a strong foundation
- Set clear objectives: Make sure the team’s goals are clear, achievable, and align with the overall organization’s goals.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities: Help each team member understand their role and how it contributes to the team’s success. Clear roles prevent clashes and unnecessary competition.
- Strengthen relationships: Encourage team members to get to know each other. Building personal connections strengthens cohesion.
Stage 2: Navigating the storm
After the initial excitement comes the storm — arguably the most challenging yet significant part of the group development process.
This phase is marked by conflicts and power struggles as individuals begin to assert themselves, their ideas, and their ways of working. But don’t be disheartened. Remember, it’s in the storm that teams truly start to grow.
Know the nature of the storm
Turbulence and contention, oh no! Personality clashes and disagreements over roles and goals can lead to conflict. But these aren’t inherently bad. They help teams confront and address issues that might otherwise simmer beneath the surface, ultimately paving the way for a more cohesive, high-performing team.
Conflict can be a catalyst for growth. But to get to this stage, you need to create an environment where disagreements are seen as opportunities for learning rather than disasters. Encourage open and respectful communication, promote active listening, and foster a positive, solutions-first approach.
Be a leader-coach
The leader should serve as a mediator, helping the team navigate conflicts in a constructive way. They need to ensure that all team members feel heard, valued, and respected. So, learn about conflict management, know different communication styles (and how they clash and mesh), promote collaborative problem-solving, help clarify misunderstandings, and guide the team toward resolution.
This stage is tough! Remind everyone that it’s all a normal part of the team development process and an opportunity to learn and grow. When teams embrace their conflicts, they become better prepared to face future challenges. Is that sunshine on the horizon?
Storming: Tips for constructive conflict
- Promote open communication: Create a safe space for team members to express their ideas, concerns, and disagreements.
- Address conflict directly: Encourage constructive discussions, and find mutually agreeable solutions via team decision making.
- Strengthen the team’s resilience: Remind the team that conflict is a natural part of the team development process and an opportunity for growth.
Stage 3: Embracing the norm
This stage is marked by increased understanding, cooperation, and productivity. The turbulence of the storming stage begins to subside as team members start to work more cohesively.
A newfound harmony
The calm after the storm. Team members start to appreciate each other’s strengths, accept their differences, and adjust their work habits to support the team. You’ll see improved communication, better collaboration, and a sense of camaraderie. The team begins to develop a shared sense of purpose.
Build trust and open communication
At this stage, trust among team members becomes more firmly established. With conflicts resolved and roles clarified during the ‘storming’ phase, individuals feel more comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions.
Strengthen the team culture
Shared experiences, both challenging and successful, shape your team’s collective identity. During this stage, the team establishes its norms — unwritten rules about how members work and interact. These norms are a powerful tool for building a positive work environment.
Maintain motivation and engagement
While this is a phase of relative calm and increased productivity, it’s important to keep up engagement. Celebrate successes, however small, to boost team spirit. Recognize individual contributions, strengthen team culture, and make sure every single person feels seen and recognized.
Norming: Tips to strengthen your team
- Foster trust and openness: Encourage team members to share their thoughts, ideas, and feedback openly. Thank individuals for all ideas and contributions, no matter how small.
- Define team norms: Establish clear expectations about how the team should work, interact, and communicate (whether face-to-face or remote).
- Celebrate successes: Recognize both individual and team achievements to boost morale.
Stage 4: Reaching peak performance
This phase marks the moment when a team’s collective efforts come to fruition, resulting in high productivity and effectiveness.
Notice the hallmarks of high performance
The team is firing on all cylinders. Team members are confident, autonomous, and highly skilled at managing relationships and tasks. They are deeply committed to their shared goals and have a clear understanding of their roles and the team’s processes. This stage is marked by high efficiency, creativity, and mutual support.
Maintain open communication and collaboration
You made it! But don’t rest on your laurels just yet. Even at the peak of performance, open communication and collaboration remain paramount. Encourage teams to continue to share ideas and feedback regularly and work on a culture of continuous improvement.
Promote leadership at all levels
High-performing teams often exhibit distributed leadership (aka people-oriented leadership) — where leadership responsibilities are shared among team members, not just confined to a single designated leader. Encouraging leadership at all levels fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment, driving the team to maintain its performance peak.
Nurture the team’s wellbeing
Even the most high-performing teams need to be mindful of their wellbeing. Regular check-ins, a good work-life balance, and recognition of individual and team efforts are a must to prevent burnout and keep motivation high.
Aim for continuous evolution
Teams may cycle back to earlier stages if new members join, a significant project fails, or the team’s goals change. But the skills developed during the journey to this stage mean the team is equipped to overcome future challenges.
Celebrate the team’s journey
Reaching this stage is a major accomplishment. So raise a (metaphorical) glass to your efforts! Celebrating is a chance to acknowledge individual contributions and keep motivation levels high.
Performing: Tips to sustain high performance
1. Encourage leadership at all levels: Promote a culture of shared responsibility, where everyone feels empowered to lead in their areas of expertise.
2. Promote continuous learning: Encourage the team to continually seek ways to improve processes, skills, and relationships.
3. Nurture the team’s wellbeing: Prioritize work-life balance, ensure regular check-ins, and recognize the team’s efforts.
Bonus stage: Adjourning
Dr. Bruce Tuckman later expanded his model to include a fifth stage, known as ‘adjourning’ or ‘mourning.’ It kicks in when a project ends, a goal is achieved, or team members part ways for any other reason. While this stage may be filled with mixed emotions, it’s an essential part of the journey.
Recognise the end of the journey
As the project winds down, the ‘adjourning’ stage begins. It’s a time of reflection, celebration, and, sometimes, a touch of sadness. Team members may experience a sense of loss as they disengage, especially if the team’s journey has been long and the relationships deep.
Celebrate success and learn from the journey
A project post-mortem will help identify what worked well, what didn’t, and what can be improved on in future team endeavors. Celebrating the team’s achievements reinforces the value of the journey and provides a sense of closure.
Provide support and recognition
The end of a team’s journey can stir up myriad emotions. Some team members may feel relief, some may feel a sense of accomplishment, while others may feel uncertainty about what lies ahead. Recognizing these feelings and providing the necessary support is important. Take the time to acknowledge individual contributions and celebrate the team’s success as a whole.
Just because the team’s work is complete, it doesn’t mean the relationships formed should end. Encouraging team members to maintain their connections can lead to valuable networking opportunities in the future. Plus, you never know when you might have the chance to work together again!
The secret to storm-perform success? Collaboration tools
We all know the importance of collaboration. But not everyone takes full advantage of the tools on offer.
1. Project management software
These tools help teams organize tasks, track progress, and manage resources. Backlog, our own PM tool, offers intuitive interfaces where team members can share files, see their deadlines, and follow the project’s overall status in real time, keeping the team on track.
2. Diagramming apps
Visualize ideas, workflows, and systems with diagramming software. Cacoo, our tool, makes it easy to create flowcharts, mind maps, organizational charts, and more, thanks to a handy template bank and a drag-and-drop interface. It also offers virtual whiteboarding, multi-user editing, in-app commenting, and video chat for the ultimate collaborative experience.
3. Chat apps
Think of chat apps as the digital office watercooler — more casual than email and a space for everyone to join in. They let you message teammates instantly, share files, and even video call. They keep everyone connected, whether you’re in the same room or across the globe. It’s all about quick chats and making sure nobody’s left out of the loop.
Navigating storm to perform is no easy feat, but with the right attitude and the right tech, teams can make the journey smoother. As they master these elements, teams will not only weather the storms but turn into high-performing units capable of achieving amazing results. So, embrace the journey, foster collaboration, and let your team’s potential soar!