Motivating and managing teams requires people awareness and behavioral dynamics understanding
More than a half-century ago—in 1965, to be exact—researcher Bruce Tuckman published his now-famous theory on group development, which says that development occurs in four distinct stages or phases: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Over the years, managers and other business leaders have tapped Tuckman’s theory as a practical framework for assessing and driving operational improvement.
This past fall, Omnia Group Client Advisor Tonya DeVane used Tuckman’s work as the focus of her leadership-track presentation at Applied Net 2017 in Las Vegas. Omnia Group is a behavioral assessment firm that helps agencies and other businesses hire, develop, manage and retain top talent. Applied Net is the annual conference for users of Applied Systems agency technology.
“You need to know the individuals. As many as seventeen different behavioral styles can make up a team. That’s a lot of personalities that you could be bringing on.”
In her standing-room-only session, DeVane explored the four phases and addressed additional related issues, including self-awareness. “A good first step in leadership is to know ourselves,” she explains. “Define yourself. That’s key. Understanding who you are, your strengths, your challenges, what’s in your wheelhouse—it’s all essential. This lets you play to your strengths; you can really amp them up.”
These strengths and challenges come into play differently at various stages of team development. For example, she notes, some leaders are good facilitators. “If that’s your strong suit, you’ll do great in the norming phase.” But struggles related to confrontation and dealing with conflict may surface in another phase. “In phase two, storming, you may have a challenge. But by knowing it’s a challenge, you can adapt.”
According to DeVane, self-awareness drives clarity of direction. “When you have that self-awareness, you have clear purpose,” she explains. “You know which way you’re going; you know where you want to head and how to get there. Without it, you’re starting out behind the eight ball. You really need to know what success will look like.”
Equally as important as self-awareness is team-awareness. “You need to know the individuals,” she explains. “As many as seventeen different behavioral styles can make up a team. That’s a lot of personalities that you could be bringing on. You want to know their personality, their behaviors.”
It’s also important to know how you’ll measure performance. “Employees want to know that, too,” DeVane adds. “Just like for yourself, if team members don’t know what success looks like, they won’t know how to be successful. You want to give them a clear metric.
“You also want to give them opportunity,” she says. “People are successful—and they’re engaged and want to work in teams and want their team to thrive—because they want opportunities to do bigger and better things. Be sure employees have opportunities; be clear up front on what they are and how people can grow.”
Feedback goes hand-in-hand with team-member performance. “If an employee never hears anything, they won’t know if they’re doing a great job or if they need to change,” DeVane explains. She recalls taking a job where her duties included running a monthly report. As it turns out, she’d been running the report wrong but did not learn that until her annual review. “You don’t want your employees to think they’re doing something right when they’re not.” Feedback should include positives and negatives. And it should target specific employee needs or preferences.
“Some leaders are very direct, factual, assertive types,” DeVane explains. “They say employees have a job and a paycheck, so they should know they’re doing well. That does not necessarily work with everyone.”
By the same token, she adds, “Not everyone needs the kudos, the rah-rah, the running down the halls saying ‘You did an awesome job.’ That’s why it’s important for leaders to know their style and know their employees. Feedback can be a great motivator when delivered the right way.”
Some employees enjoy granular feedback, like, “Jane, you did a wonderful job handling that client escalation and getting the information to the right department. I really like how you did that. I appreciate it.” While that may motivate Jane, DeVane notes, “Give that same information to Cindy and she’d be thinking, ‘Man, he talks way too much. He could have said I did a great job; I don’t need all the detailed information.’”
At the Applied Net session, DeVane offered attendees a tip to help ensure motivation consistency. It’s sometimes referred to as “The Five-Penny Challenge.” Start the week—or day—with five pennies on your desk. They’re a reminder to offer compliments to team members during the course of business. Each time you do so, move one penny from outside the desk into a drawer. Aim to finish the week—or day—with a penny-free desktop.
“If offering up ‘atta boys’ is not your strength, this could be a great way to remind yourself,” she notes. “People on your team thrive on that. They need to know they’re doing a great job. Actually, everyone probably wants to know that.”
Understanding yourself and your people and how to motivate them are important elements to building and leading a team successfully. So is knowing—and leading through—the four phases of group development.
According to DeVane: “Forming is basically the bringing together of the people. It’s where people are getting to know each other. It’s also where you’ll go back to if you bring somebody new onto the team, because team members will have to explore and get comfortable with the new person.”
When dealing with service teams, forming can be especially challenging. “People on the service side of the house often have a high attention to detail,” she explains. “That’s what makes them great service people. But it also can mean they’re, how can we say this, um, controlling? They want to hold onto things.
“They have this need to be perfect,” she adds. “They’re more inclined to do things themselves than to hand them off. They also may be hesitant for someone new to join the tribe. So, you also have issues of inclusion.” Add the fact that some service people are more analytical and, as a result, tend to be shy, and it’s even more difficult for others to get to know them.
DeVane also points out that some service people are more prone to rejection. “As a new person, they may get their feelings hurt. They may not want to stick around because they think nobody likes them. That’s why it’s important in the forming stage to do some team building, hold some ice breakers, some getting-to-know-you opportunities to bring everyone together.”
Managers and other leaders need to set ground rules and clear expectations early on, and then give guidance along the way. She says managers also need to adjust their own expectations for the team. “During the forming stage, you’ll likely have some lower productivity,” she says. “Existing employees may try to handle too much work, which could slow things down. Also, the process of getting to know each other takes time. It’s kind of like dating.”
“Half of you are probably in the room right now because you’re in the storming stage,” DeVane said to attendees at the Applied Net session. “This is where all the conflict and drama takes place. Everything blows up in this stage. This is where you want to give up. But don’t. Hold on.”
Part of this goes back to perfectionist tendencies discussed earlier, peppered with a somewhat competitive nature. “A service person may think, ‘Oh, they hired Cindy; I must not be doing a great job. I need to work harder. Well, I’m not going to give Cindy anything anyway.’ And now it’s a competition,” DeVane explains.
Existing team members may be unsure of and nervous about the new employee and what they bring to the table,” she adds. “There often can be ambiguity when someone new arrives, and employees aren’t comfortable with that. And there still are issues with control. Plus, as the team changes, managers may be looking more closely at the department,” and that can present challenges.
She offers tips on how to address storming teams: “First, stand back. You want to let some conflict happen. As parents, you understand you don’t need to always jump in immediately when there’s a problem. Step back a bit and see if they can handle it themselves.”
Next, she says, is one-on-one engagement: “If they can’t work it out, address the situation directly. Have a conversation. Talk about the issue to see where they’re coming from. Most conflicts arise because people don’t understand what the other is really talking about. Having one-on-ones and getting the individuals’ perspective can stop conflict quickly.”
Then you want to reassess. “Make sure you have the right players in the right positions, and reassess that the goals are right,” DeVane suggests. “Maybe the conflict arises because we’re trying to do something this department can’t do. Maybe we’re going the wrong direction. Or maybe this conflict is the result of another issue.”
She says many teams stay in the storming phase for a long time. “It’s the manager’s responsibility to try to push through, to get the team past this, by being proactive in seeing it, hearing it, having the conversations, and then addressing it head on.”
Then norming and performing
The goal is to reach the final two phases. “In norming, everything, well, normalizes,” DeVane says. “You’re getting a rhythm. The team is working on its own. Everybody knows each other’s strengths and challenges, and they’re working to their strengths.”
Norming takes place when trust has developed. “I have a coworker, Cynthia, and her strengths are in being analytical and methodical, making sure things don’t fall through the cracks,” DeVane explains. “My strengths are, I’m relational, a multi-tasker. I tend to focus on the big picture.
“Because our strengths differ—my challenges are her strengths and vice versa—we work well together,” she adds. “I understand what she brings to the table and she understands what I bring. And we trust each other. We also appreciate differences. I am truly grateful that Cynthia can work her magic on spreadsheets. I know that’s not my deal.”
Building trust and appreciation requires listening. “Pay attention to each other. Understand the other’s strengths. That, of course, starts in the forming stage,” she says, but becomes refined when the team is norming.
Beyond listening, norming involves encouragement. “In this phase, things are starting to run like they’re supposed to run,” DeVane explains. “Encourage it; you want to start encouraging that team play.
“You also want to evolve from being a hands-on manager to being a facilitator,” she adds. “Be the leader and make sure things are on track. If there are questions, answer them. If things are moving in the right direction, let them go.”
Do that, and they’ll quickly find themselves in the performing phase. “I think of this as the high-performance stage; we have 93 octane in the tank and we’re moving and grooving,” DeVane notes. “Not all teams get to this phase, and that’s okay.
“In the performing phase, managers really aren’t involved much. The phase is marked by high productivity; nobody on the team really has to think twice about doing things. They know their strengths and they work to them. Problem-solving happens without a manager.”
Then why is the manager there? “You’re just there as a coach or supporter,” DeVane explains. “You’re sitting on the sidelines, watching your people conduct themselves and handle the responsibilities you hired and trained them to do.”
Focus instead on development. “Start developing people, look at succession planning, see who can move into different positions within your organization,” she notes. “People stay with organizations because they’re empowered, because they matter, because they’re part of something, and have a future there.” Support that by coaching, developing, empowering and trusting employees.
“Give them some independence; let them make decisions,” DeVane says. “They’ll feel empowered. They might be your account manager, but they’re the CEO of their account manager responsibilities. Once they feel it’s their business, they’ll care even more.”
The entire team will perform even better. And isn’t that the goal?
By Dave Willis, CPIA