The Process of Creating a High Performing Team


Becoming a manager should be exciting for a new leader; but often, after the honeymoon period wears off, many new managers feel overwhelmed and isolated. What can you expect when transitioning into a manager role, and how can you transition well? Truth is, transitions are not easy. Four years ago I transitioned into my first leadership role, and in less than six months I wanted to quit. If you are going through a rough transition right now, I want to encourage you to stay the course, because, as you will see in this article, there is a normal process that every new and seasoned leader goes through; but, if you stay the course, you will eventually find success on the other side.

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. 



FORMING

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, and 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, and, 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!

 STORMING

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, and 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.

NORMING

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. If a deal was recently closed or the team met a major milestone on a project, be sure to stop and celebrate. 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.

PERFORMING

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, and 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 in this article, I advised you to seek help if you are struggling with a storm. Don’t weather these hurricanes alone. But after you have successfully navigated the storm and have entered the performing stage, be sure to turn around and help others. Find someone to mentor and guide them through this process. I am grateful to have had so many people who have counseled me, challenged me, and encouraged me during my career as a leader. I would have resigned my post a long time ago if it were not for them.

Lastly, being a leader is a privilege, a high calling, not something to be trivialized or entered into lightly. As you transition into your new leadership role, you will be challenged on many fronts; but remember that you are not there to be served, but to serve. There is no greater example of this truth than of the greatest leader in history, Jesus Christ, who said of himself:

“...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many”  (Matt 20:28).

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!

- LBTB




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