The Four Phases of a Team: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing – After Lockdown

Having been trapped in our homes for weeks on end with the same group of housemates – you might start thinking that you are in Big Brother (despite it being cancelled due to the Coronavirus Pandemic). It seems we are all in a reality show now.

As we all head back to work and we try and rebuild our teams or build new ones to get our businesses functioning properly again, we have to accept that the road to a well performing team won’t be easy on. In fact, it is totally normal for a team to have a bit of push and shove as they work out how to operate together.

Reality TV shows give a good example of why this happens.

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

Back when I was completing my professional studies to qualify as an accountant, I really enjoyed the ‘Business Strategies’ side of study.

It was a big departure from the ‘number crunching’ stereotype we all expect of accountants, and instead covered theories and management principles, some of which have more to do with psychology than business finance.

One of these principles that I really got interested in was forming, storming, norming and performing.

I have lost count of the number of meetings I have had where a client has been discussing the trials and stresses of managing a team that had undergone a period of change (and this is pre-COVID levels of change).

Once I had explained the theory of how teams operate under forming, storming, norming and performing the exasperated employer experienced the same click I felt. They could understand that some parts of a team’s dynamics are not problems to be solved, but a necessary process to ride out on the route to getting a truly brilliant team together.

Phase one: Forming

This is the first step of all teams, whether the team is completely new, or an existing team has grown by one member. It can even occur when someone leaves a team and simply isn’t replaced. In this first stage, the team are civil and often excited to be placed together. There is a polite exploration of what each member of the team can do and how everyone appears to work together.

In reality TV shows, this is a very important trick in the show. Ever wonder why they add people to the show late, after a week or two in? Because adding them to the team later meant interrupting the team development phases of those who started on day one.

Why do they often split the group of “contestants” up into teams? And why do they evict people one at a time? It is because each change starts the process again and shakes things up.

We are all going to see “forming” happening again even in teams that were working closely together back in February or were continuing to work together remotely in lockdown. As the new team environment forms, they will be excited and passionate to be together after what has just passed.

Phase two: Storming

And then one day the excitement will turn to the worst phase of a team. Where it might appear that the honeymoon period has ended, and some employers start to fear the team divorcing from each other.

The second stage of team development is the one that can, if not managed well, be the breaking of a team or business.

Once a team has made their initial impressions of how they work together and how they complement each other it is time to test the waters. More often than not, the civil assumptions and polite natured talk is very different to the realities of working together.

Increased workload, time pressure, lack of technical ability or simply getting to know the ropes causes tensions amongst the team. Team members can become annoyed, rebellious and teamwork can breakdown.

Often in reality TV the producers want the contestants to be suspended in the Storming Phase for as long as possible because headlines get juicer and viewership increases when the group are ridden with angst!

Adding a conflicting personality with different attitudes to the group can cause what was once a harmonious group to splinter. Some will use their position to encourage the newcomer into the fold, and others will feel the need to discipline the newcomer so that they know what is expected of them.

The storm is the madness of all these personalities asserting their views to fit the jigsaw of teamwork back together again.

To a team leader or business owner this is the scariest time. Some businesses struggle to get out of this phase because the team changes and resets to the Forming stage so often.

Some buckle under the pressure but many succeed and come out the other side into phase three. As we come out of lockdown it might be a few weeks before you see this happening, and maybe it will be delayed as teams change as people desperately try for some sort of holiday in August, but the storm is coming.

Phase three: Norming

Making friends, kissing and making up, whatever you want to call it. This is the stage where the team get over it and finally learn how to work together. Sometimes the team will do this themselves, but it usually takes a combination of leaders and members to encourage all to make peace and learn how to accept each other’s differences and strengths.

In reality TV, with no people joining or leaving for a while, you can see how the group have started to accept each other and learn how to cope as a team. The friction (in most cases) has reduced. That is prime time to begin evicting people, which effectively resets the team to the forming phase.

Although I am a softie and enjoy reality TV, I like “I’m a Celebrity”, much more when they are getting along.

For your team this is the point where you start to see the leaders emerge and the team attitude becomes more respectful to each other, or at least more stable. They start not only doing their own “job” but also knowing how to help the others around them.

Phase four: Performing

The holy grail of team management! The point at which the team can carry out a task and there is almost no need to communicate to each other what is happening and what they are doing. They just know! The team becomes more of an organic creature than a group of individuals.

On reality TV programmes these moments are rare but powerful. You’ll see this phase when the team are put into a difficult situation and must work together, under stress, to achieve a clear goal.

In “I’m a Celebrity”, for example, I would say that examples of this are the challenges to get letters from home, or the “celebrity cyclone” challenge.

In my team this phase is most obvious in in December and January with the biggest deadlines of the year making our office the busiest it has been all year.

The pressure of the deadlines and the complexity of the work always brings out the performing phase in the team. By the time the 31st January arrives the people I work with have become a well-oiled single unit that can achieve so much more than they themselves would have anticipated just 6 months before.

I should also say that this year the team also pulled some exceptional performing out of the bag in March and April.

We can help

Being able to help businesses requires so much more than just knowing how to read a balance sheet! It is with these not-so-number-orientated bits of knowledge that we are able to help our clients grow and achieve success.

We have been busy developing our Breakthrough Recovery Service to help owner managed businesses survive and grow as we recover from the last few months. Part of this includes helping with how you manage and focus teams and manage the people in your business.

We’ve also launched our “Making money in the new normal” webinar series which covers everything you need to know to get your business ready to start making money. It’s only an hour, it’s packed full of ideas and it’s free!

If you would like to know more about how we can help with more than just the numbers, please contact us on 01474 853 856 or email discovery@a4g-llp.co.uk.

Contact me today!

Josh Curties

BA (Hons) ACA

Partner & Principal Adviser

01474 853856

Send me a message

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