Friday, August 05, 2005

Groups and Teams and Growing Pains

I've linked before to Big Dog's Leadership page, which summarizes the stages of team development described in Tuckman's classic "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups."

If you've got deja vu because you remember my post, well, so do I, since I'm going through the same phenomena yet again with a new group-- supporting how universal his observations were. Tuckman's stages are these, named with silly names (I'm quoting from here) :

  • Forming: The group gets to know each other. It's non-threatening. The major task functions also concern orientation. Members attempt to become oriented to the tasks as well as to one another. Discussion centers around defining the scope of the task, how to approach it, and similar concerns.
  • Storming (my favorite because it's the one I always notice and hate): Because of "fear of exposure" or "fear of failure," there will be an increased desire for structural clarification and commitment. Although conflicts may or may not surface as group issues, they do exist. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and what criteria for evaluation are. These reflect conflicts over leadership, structure, power, and authority. There may be wide swings in members’ behavior based on emerging issues of competition and hostilities.
  • Norming: Group members are engaged in active acknowledgment of all members’ contributions, community building and maintenance, and solving of group issues. Members are willing to change theirpreconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other members, and they actively ask questions of one another. Leadership is shared, and cliques dissolve. When members begin to know-and identify with-one another, the level of trust in their personal relations contributes to the development of group cohesion. It is during this stage of development (assuming the group gets this far) that people begin to experience a sense of group belonging and a feeling of relief as a result of resolving interpersonal conflicts.
  • Performing: The Performing stage is not reached by all groups. If group members are able to evolve to stage four, their capacity, range, and depth of personal relations expand to true interdependence. In this stage, people can work independently, in subgroups, or as a total unit with equal facility....Members are both highly task oriented and highly people oriented. There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale is high, and group loyalty is intense. The task function becomes genuine problem solving, leading toward optimal solutions and optimum group development. There is support for experimentation in solving problems and an emphasis on achievement. The overall goal is productivity through problem solving and work.

The Big Dog site points out that groups aren't teams, and the above stages really characterize the formation of teams that work towards a known, shared goal.

While teams have an identity, groups do not. It is almost impossible to establish the sense of cohesion that characterizes a team without this fundamental step. A team has a clear understanding about what constitutes the team's 'work' and why it is important. They can describe a picture of what the team needs to achieve, and the norms and values that will guide them. Teams have an esprit that shows a sense of bonding and camaraderie. Esprit is the spirit, soul, and state of mind of the team. It is the overall consciousness of the team that a person identifies with and feels a part of. Individuals begin using "we" more than "me."

The formation of teams requires some special commitments -- everyone knows everyone is on board and working for the same goal; they can be relied on. If some of the members aren't reliable, or have split loyalties and agendas, there's not going to be a real team at the end of the day. There are lots of potential barriers, including prior history; I think I'm currently part of a subclique in the new group composed of survivors of another successful team (where some group members evolved to a real team and others dropped out); we're dubious about whether the new group will become a team, given what has gone before and who we're missing now.

Teamwork is hard to get right, that's all there is to it.

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