Team development is the process by which teams come together and organise themselves to achieve their objectives through progressing tasks and developing effective relationships both within and outside the team. A well-used team development model was defined by American psychologist Bruce Tuckman. His work describes the stages of team development that a team typically experiences:
Forming: Where team members are focused on learning about the objectives of the team, tasks, processes, rules and ways of operating and getting to know each other. People may be unwilling to share their real opinions for fear of offending others or disrupting progress. Productivity and conflict are often both low as team members explore how to work together.
Storming: As team members become more familiar with one another, their work and the expectations, their confidence and willingness to challenge increases. They may begin to challenge the way things are done, objectives, leadership and one another. Conflict can emerge as people share opinions, assert themselves and feel more able to disagree with one another. During this period, employee turnover may increase, and productivity and performance may be negatively impacted.
Norming: Here the team works together, collaborating to reach common understanding and agreement on goals, roles and how work is done. Interpersonal relationships improve, and there is greater openness between people. Productivity and performance improve.
Performing: Characterised by high levels of commitment, a performing team is stable, organised and efficient in the way it works. Consensus is easily achieved through a shared understanding of goals and motivations, and when conflict emerges, it is dealt with effectively. High levels of engagement are mirrored in high productivity and performance, and employee retention and talent attraction are easy.
This process is not linear, and the pace at which teams move through each phase of team development can be affected by many factors such as the size of team, the culture in which it operates and familiarity with the task. Teams that are norming or even performing can revert back to storming when faced with a significant change such as new joiners (especially the leader), a shift in objectives/expectations of the team, the tasks it is working on and/or factors outside the team, such as organisational culture, political, social or economic issues. Targeted team development activities, such as team building events, team planning sessions, the use of psychometrics to develop awareness and understanding of self and others, can all help accelerate the rate at which teams progress towards the performing stage.
How can teams be successfully developed?
In the book, The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith define a team as, “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
Based on this widely accepted definition, approaches to team development are underpinned by the principle that effective teams:
Have a clear, collective purpose and agreed objectives
Align these objectives to the needs of their stakeholders
Recognise the need for effective team collaboration to achieve these objectives
Team development models take account of six interlinked aspects (or lenses) of a team’s development:
Wider organisational context
(Systemic Team Coaching: John Leary-Joyce and Hilary Lines, 2018)
Team development activities are designed to progress all these aspects.
What are examples of team development activities?
Team development seeks to enable teams to develop and maintain the above-mentioned three characteristics. Some team development examples include the following activities:
Useful in bringing new teams together, team-building events work well when they are aligned to the style and culture of the team and the organisation of which it is part. Generating engagement and buy-in for the event with clear, inspiring and exciting communication from the team’s leadership before and during the event are key to its success. Within the event, activities are designed to help people learn more about themselves and one another, explore ways of working together and identify strategies for successful collaboration at work. Action planning at the conclusion of the event helps transfer the learning from the experience back into the workplace. It’s essential that the actions are followed up, progressed and developed to maintain momentum and continue the team’s development.
The team works with at least one facilitator to focus on a specific issue, e.g. how to generate increased sales/revenue, improve product development, attract new customers/markets, etc. The facilitator works with the team to ensure all aspects of the issue are raised and debated, all voices are heard, ideas are generated and evaluated and commitment to a plan is reached. The facilitator ensures that ownership of progressing the next steps resides within the team.
Psychometrics that explore personality preferences help people understand more about themselves, how they prefer to work, their potential strengths and blinds spots. Used in a team setting, they can deepen understanding of how to work effectively with others, help the team to manage conflict and maximise a team’s collective strengths. Working with a qualified facilitator, teams can explore this through a series of experiential activities to bring the learning to life and help them learn how to apply it in day-to-day life within the team.
Teams can use data generated from measures such as customer satisfaction surveys, 360 degree feedback tools and employee engagement surveys to explore how well the team is performing and identify areas for improvement. These can be a power way for leaders to gain insight into how their leadership style impacts others through the climate they create. This helps to identify adjustments they can make to create an even more positive climate where team members can thrive, grow, and develop.
Effective team development activities are designed for a specific team’s needs and take account of its stage of team development. Facilitators work with the sponsor (often the team leader) to agree a team development plan to include clear objectives, timescales and ways of measuring the impact of the work.
Why is team development important?
Successful teams are those that achieve their objectives, and if these are aligned to the organisation’s goals, the team’s success will contribute to the organisation’s overall success. Successful teams typically have high levels of employee engagement and also find it easier to retain people and attract talent into the team. Engaged and satisfied employees are more productive (a Gallup analysis of 1.4 million US employees revealed that engaged workers are 22% more productive than disengaged employees), and also drive higher levels of customer satisfaction (research from the Institute of Customer Service found a one-point increase in employee engagement was likely to give a 0.41 point uplift in customer satisfaction).
Team development that includes targeted team development activities helps to increase effectiveness and enable organisations to achieve the benefits of highly effective teams.
What is the role of a leader in team development?
A team’s leader has a powerful impact on the success of any team development activity. Leadership can positively impact the success of the work in the following ways:
Leaders should practice open honest communications about the work, its purpose and intended outcome, what’s required of everyone (including the leader) and timescales. Inviting debate and discussion and being open to team members’ ideas all help the team feel involved in co-creating the process they will experience.
By being part of the development process, leaders can model the learning culture they want to see in their teams by sharing their own learning journey, describing what they’re working on, the why and how. Leaders who openly acknowledge their own learning from mistakes and encourage others to do the same can create a climate of psychological safety, where people feel comfortable to innovate, experiment and try things out, learning from their successes and failures.
Understanding their impact on the team is a powerful way for leaders to gain insight into how their leadership style impacts others through the climate they create. This helps identify changes they can make to create an even more positive climate where team members can thrive, grow and develop.
Showing a willingness to change how they lead the team, flexibility is a key skill of effective leadership that enables leaders to meet the current needs of those that they lead and adapt their style to suite the circumstances.
Leaders who are authentic, open and consistent, by showing who they are and what matters to them, invite the trust of their team members. Trust is a key component of effective team development.
It’s important to see team development as a process, not a one-off activity. Creating a team development plan with team development goals that are reviewed and revised regularly demonstrates a leader’s focus for continuous improvement. Teams continue to grow and develop and can learn from their experiences if team members are encouraged to regularly review experiences and share learning.
Developing emotional intelligence will enable leaders to support the development of their teams in this way. Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of their own attitudes and emotions and adopt an open mindset. This personal intelligence will support leaders to access their interpersonal intelligence so they can genuinely engage with those they lead, pick up on how they are doing, hear the concerns of others, coach people to adapt to change and meet their teams’ needs. By using emotional intelligence, leaders can create a climate of trust, confidence and empowerment where people feel included and inspired. Emotional intelligence profiles provide valuable insight into areas of strength and development and help leaders focus on developing practical skills.
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