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Real team – dream or reality?

You recognize an effective manager by his results. Yet, in order to be a leader one has to build a strong team besides having good results. Many organizations, however, don’t pay much attention to that process. The situation can be compared to a unicorn – everybody talks about it, yet no one has ever seen it.

25 years in the job market gave me the opportunity to observe three kinds of bosses: those, who have the results but are unable to build the team; those, who neither have results nor a team (short-term position) and those, who have both, the team and the results. Interestingly, those first ones are on demand recently. Justification is quite simple – the strategic horizon of organizational development changed and many project has to deliver within one fiscal year. Unfortunately, experience proves that most changes in organizational culture need more than 12 months to settle. Therefore, a discord occurs between expectations of the organization and the ability of actually incorporating them into everyday life. This is why the approach of exploiting the resources instead of developing them, wins. Havoc is very often an effect, which such manager leaves behind, when he goes to another organization and his successor has to deal with all that mess.

Talking about the second type makes no sense since such managers are only a temporary fix and when occasion presents itself, they are being replaced.

The most interesting type are the leaders, who can realize goals that are set for them no t through so called „managerial engineering” (such as exploitation of resources, cost cuts, switch in motivational system), but through the team they had built.

Team building, what is it exactly?

According to professor Robert Bales from Harvard’s University Psychology and Social Relations Department, leadership is defined as a process of uniting a group of different people into an effectively working team, which realizes its goals even in difficult times through eliminating the phenomena of a scapegoat, usage of mediation as much as possible and reasonable usage of power. The conclusion can be drawn that the foundation of a well-functioning leadership is building a team and this is the topic covered by this article.

In order to talk about the process of team building, we first have to define what the team is. A team is a group of at least two people cooperating with one another, which leads to emergence of a social attachment; striving for a common goal, working in a particular structure, having a sense of individuality and distinctiveness from other groups of people, having a sense of community.

While discussing the process of team building and tips for a boss on how to strengthen this process, a model known as The Stages of Team Development by professor Bruce Tuckman will be helpful.

Stage 1: Forming

In the fist stage of team building, rules of functioning and cooperation are not yet precise. It affects behaviors of team members that can become very facade. People are putting on masks, which seem to be effective at this point. Due to the fact that many variables are still in the process of being defined, it is good to be distanced and behave „appropriately”. Often, these behaviors are not a result of individual differences but a resultant of what behavior pays. This is why people may tend to hide their weaknesses, which in the future can become a source of misunderstandings, when everybody will be focused n realization of tasks entrusted.

At this stage, team goals are not yet well-defined, only general team vision is known and meetings are often chaotic because of too many variables, which need clearing out. This stage ends when members of the group begin to see each other as a coexisting organism – they know that their individual results will depend on work of their colleagues. This moment it key for a group to enter the second stage called „Storming”.

Which behaviors of a leader are needed to get the team through this stage?

It’s worth remembering that interpersonal relations are dynamic and highly depend on individual differences. This means that despite supervisor’s best intentions to shorten this process, it will last as long as each member of the team needs to go through it. Still, there are certain behaviors, which can accelerate this process. Supervisor should lay down precisely roles and goals for each person and determine the relations between these roles as much as possible. It leads to setting concrete standards, which become the minimal standards of effectiveness for team members and a foundation for its organizational culture. Moreover, the leader knowing that a social facade is a barrier in open communication should encourage expressing individual opinions and justification of such. Being respectful of different points of view and at the same time calibrating the set standards, the boss is affecting behaviors of his subordinates by creating a desirable model.

It is important not to get into emotional discussions, when they emerge, because the leader is a guard of standards and the whole team, not individual interests of particular team members.

Stage 2: Storming

This stage starts when the social facade is beginning to drop and people start accepting their individuality and independence. It is an interesting moment because on the one hand, the authority of the leader isn’t yet grounded and on the other informal team leaders emerge. This stage is often accompanied by personal conflicts, which are a natural result of creation of internal team structure. Thus the name of the phase, which resembles a storm at the sea. Some reactions might be exaggerated and emotional therefore the crucial element of leader’s behavior is emotional distance towards emerging conflicts. Storming ends when all members of the team accept their roles and structure in which they will operate. This is a crucial requirement for the team to go into the next stage. From my personal experience of working with organizations, a sad conclusion can be drawn. Many departments swing between first and second stage, without a chance to get into a third stage due to „individuals in the team” among other things. These are very often high class specialists, who are not ready to cooperate with other team members. This is when the organization has a hard nut to crack. On one hand, in order to unblock the process of team development this person has to be let go off, but on the other, that person is valuable and hard to replace. I encountered a solution of creating a special job position for such person, which didn’t engage her into team’s daily operations.

Which behaviors of a leader are needed to get the team through this stage?

At this stage, supervisor’s emotional self-control is tested, who should be distanced while still controlling and eliminating team destructive behaviors. It is good to remember that energy created during personal conflicts can’t be swept under the rug because emotions buried alive don’t die. It has to burn out on its own but in a controlled environment. The supervisor can sometimes become a mediator, who confronts two sides but without stating his/her own opinion, because it can only escalate the conflict. Emerging difficult situations can become a chance for the leader to establish or ruin his position and trust in a team. It all depends on his choices.

Stage 3: Norming

At this stage, subordinates have accepted informal structure in the team and they can concentrate on tasks entrusted instead of focusing on relations between them. Group unity occurs and team interests are more important than individual ones. It is especially crucial when performing tasks that require cooperation and high level of time engagement, sometimes even sacrificing personal preferences for the good of the team. This stage ends when within the team there starts to occur first signs of distinctive organizational structure that shows in informal habits of team members, typical behaviors which need no explanation, common value system and acceptance of differences, which instead of interrupting can become a topic of common jokes bonding the team even more, among others.

Which behaviors of a leader are needed to get the team through this stage?

This stage is a chance for a leader to pass responsibilities in the field of goal setting and ways to realize them on a particular team members. It can be a challenge in this sense that not all team members might be ready for such thing. Thus why it requires a leader to use a variety of management styles and subdue them to a particular person and situation.

Conflicts at this point can be openly discussed because a platform for searching for solutions had been created. There is a new task for a leader now, to create and encourage situations aiming at informal integration, which can bind the team not only professionally but also personally.

Stage 4: Performing

At this stage roles in the team are known and accepted, tasks performed with engagement, individuals identify with team goals and focus is put on best performance instead of relations. It can be said that a team is self-organized and the main task of the supervisor is to watch over deadlines and quality of tasks entrusted.  This is a stage, when the supervisor can delegate his responsibilities and in justified cases minimizing the spectrum of control and builds trust and sense of responsibility for realization of team goals.

Summary

The question is, do teams which managed to go through all the stages, stay in the last one? Not for long, unfortunately. It turned out that after some time some independent variables emerge such as new member of the team, change of the boss or employment reduction, which bring the team back into the forming stage. It is good to remember that the team can’t be created, it is creating. It is, therefore an open process, which requires the boss to be very sensitive toward adequate behaviors and particular stages. If only the organizational circumstances will be favorable, the result will be worth it.

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