Teams are not static entities and they evolve and change over time depending on the prevailing environment. You may, at some time, have come across Tuckman’s stages of team development – forming, storming, norming and performing – as one model to describe how teams develop, or not, as the case may be. Whilst this is perhaps a useful framework for a project team, where all members come together at the one time and stay in place for the duration, it is not wholly appropriate in the workplace where teams are constantly changing as individuals join and leave.
As an alternative, rather than view team development from a progressive model perspective, it can be useful to consider differing states of team effectiveness. After all, a team is judged on its ability to achieve the required outcomes, not necessarily on how long it has been in existence. I think three states of team effectiveness can be defined:
Teams can at times be described as being ineffective from the point of view of achieving outcomes or in bonding together. This may simply be due to the fact that many of the members are new, so it is taking the team as a whole some time to get up to speed. Alternatively, it could result from the fact that there has been a breakdown within the team of some kind, perhaps if high levels of conflict have emerged. Equally, a new work practice might have been introduced and the team could be considered somewhat ineffective on that activity until they mastered the new approach. In reality, there are many factors that can make a team ineffective and no team can excel on all occasions.
At the opposite end of the scale, a team might be deemed excelling when it is working well as a unit and outcomes are being achieved which surpass expectations. At times, all teams can go through a ‘purple patch’ where everything just runs to perfection and of course the ideal is to build up a team which excels most of the time.
In the middle, a team can be described as effective, which means it is generally working well and delivering on expectations.
These three states are perhaps a more accurate portrayal of what happens in the real world when it comes to teams in the workplace. Rather than progress through definable stages, teams can shift back and forth through the three states. For example, you might have a really top performing team for a while and then one or two members leave which might reduce its effectiveness, at least in the short-term. Or, you might bring a new person into a team that was operating effectively and if they didn’t fit in, this could bring the whole team into an ineffective state for a period until the problem was resolved.
Viewing teams as fluctuating between different states of effectiveness is also useful from a leader’s perspective as it can give you some guidance regarding what leadership style to apply. Where a team is ineffective, then this would require you to adopt the steering style of leadership until you had them performing at the level you wanted. An effective team would respond best to an engaging style of leadership whilst a team that is excelling will be ready for the facilitating leadership style. It is worth spending time now reflecting upon your own team, or if not already a leader, think of the team you currently work in:
- What state(s) of effectiveness do they operate from most of the time? Is there wild fluctuations? What is causing this?
- How does your leadership, or your leader’s style vary in response?
- What might be done differently to keep the team in an effective more of the time, or progress it to and excelling, state?
- How does the climate in the team change with the state of effectiveness?
It is vitally important as a leader to constantly monitor your team’s state of effectiveness and to take proactive measures to address blockages that you find.
Enjoy your day!