Creating order before applying the right solution

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Written by Eddie Kilkelly on 23 April 2014
Albert Einstein was quoted as saying that if he had only sixty minutes to save the world, he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes solving it.  Yet it is human nature to get started, to take action and create motion.  That’s what we like to do as leaders.  We like to take control, issue instructions and make things happen.  
 
Creating order is perhaps more acute for programme and project leaders who operate at pace in a world of change.  Defining the programme parameters has to be achieved swiftly and nowhere is this more important than in the design and development of your team.
 
We tend to coach programme leaders in the use of the Tuckman Model which is something that most people know but few people recognise by its name and even fewer have actually used in practice.  Most people in a management or leadership role have come across the four stages of forming, storming, norming and performing at some point in their careers.  Within the world of project management we are regularly exposed to the creation of new teams and so how would you use the model to help?
 
Tuckman in practice
The model aims to help individuals to recognise and to act appropriately to deliver a high performance outcome.  In summary it involves four elements:
 
1. Forming is about orientation.  When a new team comes together, some of them may have worked together before. Some may never have worked in this environment.  Some may have been “volunteered”.  The main thing is to induct each one quickly, ensure that they are absolutely clear on what they are here for and where they go to for help and guidance.  As a leader it is essential that you really think through and then over-communicate the structure and processes that you have put into place.  Think through so that you are compromising only where it is unavoidable and over communicating to the point that it is boringly repetitive.  Forming shouldn’t take long and the only way you can leave the forming stage is to have everything in place.  All of the team members you need or can have are with you, all of the processes have been tweaked to work for this project and everybody is crystal clear on what is going on and how we operate.
2. Storming, this is what we think of as the toxic stage and is the only one that you can become trapped in if you are not careful.  Cliques and alliances start to form where people agree with each other for tactical reasons.  Showboating takes place in meetings as people jostle for status.  Information isn’t always shared openly as trust hasn’t been established yet.  In fact the only way you can leave the storming stage is by engendering trust throughout the team and as a leader your own behaviour is a critical success factor. Your role here is to swiftly seek out and address bad behaviour in a fair and consistent way.
3. Norming.  Things settle down and the distractions go away.  Work becomes more enjoyable as there are no cliques and very little politics.  Any conflict is healthy.  The Team knows who does what and can move forward without looking over their shoulder to check that things are being done as they would expect.  Not every team gets past this stage and even the slightest team change can send you back to storming.  So how then do you develop a team that is norming into a high-performing team?  The answer is through succession planning so that the loss of any individual can be covered easily and to provide extra capacity at times of peak load.  This in turn motivates our Team members to stretch themselves and acquire new strengths.  This will allow things to happen much faster.
4. (High)-Performing. Mario Andretti said “If things feel under control, you’re not moving fast enough”.  This is perhaps the most uncomfortable place for any leader.  Decisions and actions start to be correctly taken before you are aware of them and the pace really picks up.  The important thing to look out for here as a leader is that pride doesn’t turn to arrogance.  For some leaders, this is the point to move on to a new challenge perhaps starting up the next programme.
 
Why is this model relevant in today’s workplace?  Among all things, it is essential to invest time in getting the team structure right and working on any barriers to high performance.  None of the day to day challenges will go away – but by having a framework or model in place organisations can help to reduce risks of failure. Bear in mind that a high performing team is the most sensitive engine you will ever handle equipped with both abilities and emotions.  Ongoing vigilance is needed to ensure that you spot any warning signs and ensure that you continually fine tune the performance.  The Tuckman model is incredibly powerful approach and if used well allows individuals to truly lead in a pressurised and fast moving environment.
About the author
Eddie Kilkelly is managing director at insynergi®. He can be contacted via www.insynergi.org or follow on Twitter @insynergi.

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