This post deals with managers new to a group of people where they have been given management responsibility for that group. Managers who have created a performing team shouldn’t need to go through the whole process written about here but it’s often of value to review team performance from time to time, in order to prevent stagnation.
Why the objective team?
As discussed previously in “Creating teams- the collective team”, there are three main categories of teams. Here I discuss what I call the Objective team; the people who, in essence, are responsible for ensuring that one’s objectives are achieved.
Organisational goals create objectives and those objectives cascade down through however many levels of management the organisational structure supports. Clear objectives provide a manager with what needs to be achieved, in turn that what needs to be connected to the why and the how and communicated effectively to the team…..but first there must be a team.
As with any management task that requires people interaction, always begin with communication, even before the outset of the building process. It is a good starting point to understand what it is the team think is expected of them; what they understand as their “purpose” in the team. Very often team members will pull in different directions, due mainly to poor communication or misinterpretation of the message (or the fact that there hasn’t been a message). Ensure that the team objectives are clearly understood by all and that there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretation – create a common directive.
Communication is the instrument used to define clarity of the message but is also the mechanism to establish trust and credibility. I have written extensively about those attributes in earlier posts on culture (Business Culture – part 3&4), so I will not repeat here, I will merely reiterate the importance of communication.
A group isn’t a team
In 1965 Dr Bruce Tuckman, an Ohio State University professor of Psychology, published a theory on the creation of teams known as “forming, storming, norming, performing” (1). In my opinion, the theory, as postulated by Dr Tuckman, doesn’t help a new manager create a team and I disagree with the sequencing so, unless one is a contestant on “The Apprentice”, or participating in an actual team building course, this theory has little day to day relevance. But I can recommend it as a sufficiently unwieldy introduction to academic management theory and Tuckman’s work did help my early development as a manager of people.
It’s human nature that, often, a new manager will be received with varying degrees of cynicism and resistance when facing the new group for the first time (also, importantly, consider that harmonious rapport in a team can swiftly turn to hostility as the result of an internal promotion). In an organisational team environment, the new manager must take dynamic, composed control of the group and exert influence through leadership.
If a group of people have worked together as a team, they will have become familiar with each other; the presence of a new manager is likely to unsettle that familiarity; here leadership skills must come to the fore.
Challenge and assess
As Dr Tuckman’s theory states “a change in leadership may cause the team to revert to storming as the new people challenge the existing norms and dynamics of the team”. Here is where my approach and sequence conflicts with the theory; the group shouldn’t be the instigators of the storming phase, the manager needs to start it and control it. Disruption, rather than storming more accurately describes this phase. If a manager wants to understand out how this group of people are going to actually perform together, a little disruption will help that along nicely
As an exercise in understanding people, from a management perspective, this phase is most interesting as it sorts out the performers from the non-performers. I’m not suggesting putting the individuals under undue stress, that’s counterproductive, but don’t be afraid to disrupt the psychological bond of the team by setting tasks that raise the bar above current performance levels (Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” best illustrates my statement (2)).
To give some examples; I’ve tasked Engineering Managers with writing Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) schedules, Quality managers with compiling 8D quality analysis reports and Print department managers with ensuring that their supply chain is in place before production, all tasks that were within their scope of responsibility but not currently being performed.
When raising the bar in increments, to the point where each member of the group has no time to focus on anything but their own tasks, those who are under-performers emerge as such, their benevolent colleagues no longer have time to shelter them from their inadequacies.
Part of the Tuckman theory states, “Tolerance of each team member and their differences should be emphasized; without tolerance and patience the team will fail”. Do not translate tolerance and patience as an acceptance of under performance or a lack of individual responsibility within the developing team. Identifying it and dealing with it in a fair and resolute manner will further engender trust and respect in the future.
What develops, surprisingly quickly, after the disruption phase is an evolution of the group into a team. As discussed, tolerance and patience within the group dissipates as performing members coalesce in support of each other and non-performers, as in an unstable emulsion, sink, metaphorically, to the bottom. If one were to identify the genesis of a team, it would be at this juncture.
Setting the performance standard and removing the weak performers will provide a good understanding of the team; the particular skillsets and attributes within the individuals may not have been evident at the beginning of the storming exercise but once complete the process can move forward to the next part of creating objective teams – Forming.
(c) Andy Collinsson May 2020