Supporting Teams Through the 4 Stages
There are many different models of team development, but we have all probably come across Tuckman's "Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing" approach. Recognizing that teams have a dynamic that changes and adapts as the team builds experience with projects and with each other is important for the project manager to realize. And as a group facilitator we can support the team and work with the process, rather than try to push a team when it isn't ready.
In the forming stage the team is being orientated to the task. Team members look to understand the task and how the group experience will be used to accomplish the task. It is important at this stage to set the team ground rules, so people can start to develop some structure that will support stability and security down the road. As well, this is the stage where teams are trying to build the shared mental model of the business and technical domain of the problem. Support by bringing in experienced business and technical resources to kickstart the process through workshops.
This is a phase of all teams; some teams move through it quickly and some stay stuck in the quagmire for a long time. It is a time where there is heightened conflict between team members. It is characterized by a lack of unity, and key issues may polarize the team. And the team does not benefit from the security of strong interpersonal relationships that come later as the team gels. Support the team during this phase by over-communicating. Isolating issues from the personalities, and fostering a senses of accomplishment by mitigating and solving these problems starts to build the collective sense of accomplishment. Sharing in the early successes, however small, will start to build a feeling of unity. Understand that teams will go through this phase, and productivity may naturally suffer. Don't ask too much from the team at this point, and allow for a ramp-up of task velocity or capacity to do work in the early stages of the project.
Here is where the team really starts to develop of group cohesion. There is a more open exchange of relevant interpretations. This boosts creativity through the inclusion of differing opinions, and the team starts to really generate results. For the project manager, your role evolves from moderator to team facilitator. Drawing from and standardizing on developing processes, and working to remove and isolate the team from remaining roadblocks will allow the team to get down to effective task development.
By now the team has developed strong functional role-relatededness. The team becomes a problem solving instrument. Roles are clearly defined and enhance the task activities. The group is effectively providing feedback and adapting learning to improve the performance of the team. Support the team by providing mechanisms for mutual performance monitoring (feedback sessions, project retrospective checkpoints). As well, the team can become effective champions of what works and what doesn't work in the organization and should be given the task of sharing the lessons learned and best practices with the rest of the organization, and provide peer reviews of other teams that may be earlier in the team life cycle.
I am always interested in hearing what others have done to work with the natural evolution of new teams.