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Last month, my article introduced you to my Leading Hybrid Teams model.

In this article, we will look at the center of my model and explore Tuckman’s team development framework — Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing — and take an in-depth look at the first two stages and how they apply to the leadership of hybrid teams.

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Origins

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman produced one of the most quoted models of team development.

In a short article titled “Development Sequence in Small Groups,” he introduced the concept of forming, storming, norming and performing as stages in team development leading to enhanced effectiveness and functioning.

While many would label it as overly simplistic, it has been one of the most influential models of the team-development process.

This is how Tuckman described the stages in his original 1965 article.

Groups initially concern themselves with orientation accomplished primarily through testing. Such testing serves to identify the boundaries of both interpersonal and task behaviors. Coincident with testing in the interpersonal realm is the establishment of dependency relationships with leaders, other group members, or pre-existing standards. It may be said that orientation, testing and dependence constitute the group process of forming.

The second point in the sequence is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues, with concomitant emotional responding in the task sphere. These behaviors serve as resistance to group influence and task requirements and may be labeled as storming.

Resistance is overcome in the third stage in which in-group feeling and cohesiveness develop, new standards evolve, and new roles are adopted. In the task realm, intimate, personal opinions are expressed. Thus, we have the stage of norming.

Finally, the group attains the fourth and final stage in which interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities. Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channeled into the task. Structural issues have been resolved, and structure can now become supportive of task performance. This stage can be labeled as performing.

These terms have been commonly used to describe team development for subsequent decades.

Still, is it useful to use as a diagnostic framework to overcome hitches when integrating remote or virtual teams?

Yes!

The following table summarizes the stages we will explore in the context of the hybrid team.

FORMING STORMING NORMING PEFORMING
General Observations Uncertainty about roles; looking outside for guidance. Growing confidence in team; rejection of outside authority. Concern about being different; wanting to be part of a team. Concern with getting the job done.
Content Issues The team makes some attempt to define the job to be done. Members resist the task demands. There is an open exchange of views about the team’s problems. Resources are allocated efficiently; processes are in place to ensure that the final objective is achieved.
Process Issues Team members look outside to managers for guidance and direction. Team denies the task and looks for reasons not to do it. The team starts to set up procedures to deal with the task. The team is able to solve problems.
Feeling Issues People feel anxious and are unsure of their roles. People still feel uncertain and try to express their individuality. Concerns arise about team hierarchy. People ignore individual differences and are more accepting of one another. People share a common focus, communicate effectively, and become more efficient and flexible as a result.

Source: Bruce Tuckman

Forming

There could be many reasons why the team is at this stage of development. Often the team is newly formed or most team members have been together for less than six months. The team may have a new leader or the team that was previously co-located is now geographically distributed.

The latter is most likely the situation as organizations adopt a hybrid working model.

The uncertainty, anxiety, curiosity, unsurety and seeking of guidance means that leaders must provide clear direction and purpose for the team.

In addition, time must be allowed for team bonding with acknowledgement that this process will take longer for hybrid teams.

Leader actions:

  • Provide clear roles and responsibilities.
  • Establish clear team goals and shared purpose.
  • Be prepared to provide coaching and mentoring, especially for employees new to the organization.
  • Help new employees get settled and introduce them to key people in the organization.
  • Provide new employees and new team members with a “buddy” to help them find their way around.
  • Be readily available to provide guidance and direction.
  • Determine the parameters by which team members can determine your availability at any time.
  • If feasible, to help the team form, spend some face-to-face time with each other in the office.
  • Foster trust, which starts with respect and empathy.
  • At Zappos, an American shoe and clothing retailer, managers ask new hires to give video tours of their workspaces. As stated in a Harvard Business Review article, “This allows colleagues to form mental images of one another when they’re later communicating by email, phone or text message.” Leaders must ensure team members are comfortable with doing this and respect boundaries
  • Encourage team members to describe their backgrounds, the value they hope to add to the team and the way they prefer to work. This is often easier to discover in a face-to-face encounter.
  • Provide a few minutes at the start of every conference call for team members to share a recent success story or some personal news.

Storming

Roles and responsibilities among most of the team are now clear. Ways of working and rituals have not been fully embedded, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions within the team about purpose or work they have been assigned.

Team members may start to push against boundaries formed in the previous stage and may still have their own agendas. Trust has not been fully established.

In this stage, conflict arises between team members and their different working styles, causing frustration, anxiety and stress. While conflict often is seen as a negative thing at this stage, it actually plays a positive role in team integration.

The challenge with the hybrid team is that conflict can get buried due to the remoteness of team members, and productive conflicts are avoided. This establishes a false harmony as team members keep their differences and disagreements to themselves. They are not aligned as a team, and the situation only festers.

The lack of psychological safety in this stage means that team members don’t feel safe to speak up without fear of repercussion.

This is a critical stage that the team goes through and must go through so that there can be open debate while maintaining good working relationships.

It is critical that leaders of hybrid teams seek out the unanswered questions, root out and manage conflict, and show their own vulnerability so others will feel safe to do as well.

Leader actions:

  • Encourage and manage conflict.
  • Remain positive and steadfast.
  • Build and maintain an environment of psychological safety.
  • Guide the team through this stage by increasing feedback.
  • Provide training so employees can keep up with skill demands.
  • Provide mechanisms for team members to connect socially via chat, forums or other methods.
  • Make sure goals are clear and achievable.
  • Deliver feedback regularly and consistently.
  • Create a continual feedback loop.
  • Be transparent.
  • Model and positively reinforce the behaviors you want to see more of.
  • Build trust through transparency:
    • Keep employees informed.
    • Act on feedback.
    • Reduce the bureaucracy.
    • Measure performance on outcomes not hours.
  • Utilize many team-building activities that meet the needs of the team.

In part two of this series, I will examine the Norming and Performing stages of Tuckman’s framework and what leaders of hybrid teams must be aware of to effectively manage their workforces.

Karen Ferris is an organizational change-management consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. Her opinions are her own.

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