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Get the most out of team work

Explore some of the challenges and solutions for developing from a new group into an effective team

Your team has started to work on its assignment. You have followed all the guidance about understanding individuals’ strengths and how to allocate roles. You hope things are going to run smoothly — but there's more work to be done. 

Groups generate dynamics that influence individual and group behaviour. If you are aware of these dynamics you can minimise their interference with your progress. One commonly used model of the life-cycle of a work group or team, as a social and a task-focused process, was first proposed by Tuckman in his 1965 article: Developmental sequence in small groups. A simplified version of that model is used below. 

Tuckman model 

 

Stage Some social characteristics Some task characteristics 
Forming Members ‘test’ their way towards a balance in terms of interpersonal behaviour within the group Identification of what the task is and how it might be tackled
Storming Possible resistance as individuals respond to the demands of their subtasks, or challenge each other Task progress can be compromised as individuals work through feelings and individual differences
Norming The group and the differences amongst its members are now recognised and appreciated Diversity is understood as an asset that can contribute to overall task achievement
Performing Members work on ‘what needs to be done’, without preciousness or a jobsworth mind-set Group energy is now devoted to outcome achievement and solutions to the various problems presented by the subtasks appear

 

What this model suggests is that your team, by using our working in groups tips and allocating team roles, has probably achieved the 'forming' stage of team development. Unexpected disagreements might appear now, often about the ‘balance’ or ‘fairness’ of initial agreed allocations, or perhaps doubts are being expressed about other team members’ commitment. You are in the 'storming' stage.

Although there is no law that says it will occur, the two most unhelpful things you can do at this storming stage are either to pretend that it’s not happening and try to ignore it, or to forget that you all have a common interest in success (like a high grade) and focus instead on ego-driven personal attacks. Although avoiding and attacking the problem are different responses, they both threaten your ability to complete your assignment successfully.

Storming is evidence that some, or all, of your team members are outside their comfort zone. This can leave individuals feeling vulnerable. It is easy to go ‘on the attack’ or withdraw situation situations like this. To help manage this storming stage, revisit the ‘allowable’ weaknesses in Belbin’s Team roles model. Any team, whether it is sending an interplanetary probe to Jupiter, introducing a new corporate logo, or implementing improved health-care protocols, will have many weaknesses yet achieve fantastic and significant things.

SWOT analysis

One way of dealing with apparent weaknesses in an objective way to do a Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOT) analysis. You can quickly produce a hand-drawn matrix on a white board or A3 sheet of paper to do this.

Using the team from starting to understand team strengths as an example, a SWOT analysis could look like this:

 

SWOT Analysis

Opportunities

  • We have a booked group tutorial with our tutor
  • A chartered marketeer has offered to critique our draft proposal

Threats

  • Hitting our deadline with our current project timeline
  • One of our research subjects has become unavailable

Strengths

  • We established good, initial inter-team communication
  • We are actually quite dynamic!
  • We can all use Google drive

(1)

  • Zahraa will contact tutor to bring forward meeting by a week. Within two days.
  • Nikhil will transfer all our documents to ‘the cloud’. By tomorrow

(2)

  • Nikhil will reschedule our task milestones. By tomorrow.
  • Suzie will approach alternative potential research subjects. By next progress meeting.

 

Weaknesses

  • We have a tendency to theorise rather than ‘do’
  • Our project experience is limited and we underestimated how long tasks can take

(3)

  • Sam will discuss our current proposals with the marketeer to ensure we don’t waste future effort on ideas outside our capacity/capability to deliver. Within two days

(4)

  • We have all added two extra progress meetings to our diaries to increase our accountability to each other. Today.

 

The team has written specific, objective things and used the pronoun ‘we’ in their analysis. They've also respected their ground rules and paid attention to the language in their conversation. Rather than saying, “You don’t understand…”, which is a closed statement and invites a defensive response, they have made their feedback an open question: “What do we need to understand about..?” This allows further exploration.

Rather than blame each other and use comments like “You haven’t done anything”, the team have focused on the positive and said: “Do we have the task balance right, and in what way can we improve it?” This is not always easy to do. You'll need to separate your personal response from your professional one, but this will become easier with practise.

Using a SWOT analysis helps to produce strategies for strengths to exploit opportunities (1) and neutralise threats (2), for  opportunities to overcome weaknesses (3), and for weaknesses and threats to be mitigated and/or avoided (4). By using SWOT the ‘problem’ itself is reframed as a problem-solving activity and this helps to side-line individual ego in the service of the common goal.

References

Belbin, R. M. (2010). Team Roles at Work (2nd ed). New York: Routledge.

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental Sequence in Small Group, Psychological Bulletin, (63)6, 384-399. Retrieved from search.ebscohost.com/

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