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Forming–Storming–Norming–Performing


I’ve spent my career getting small and large teams of people to work together.  Having gone to college in Cambridge, I lived with fraternity brothers that were sailors or rowed crew.  I’ve always been attracted to pictures of a rowing crew working together flawlessly, their paddles hardly causing ripples in the water as they slice in and out.  Getting to that level of performance takes hard work, many hours of practice, individual training and commitment to work with others. Getting several engineers to work together with someone from manufacturing, accounting, marketing and legal can be tougher.  Every team, whether a group of volunteers at church, a rowing crew or a task force in business goes through several stages before getting to the stage of performing.  Initially, they are forming.  The sponsor or leader gives the team a task or a goal, explains the rules and the expectations.  Introductions are made, people get to know each other at a superficial level.  Not long after, they begin to question the rules, to get upset with each other and their levels of commitment.  A simple rule at the beginning to chip in a quarter to a jar if you are late to a meeting sounds good in the forming stage.  Not long after, the first person is late for a legitimate reason such as a boss holding them up and rankles at having to put in that chump change.  Peer pressure initially keeps them “in line.”  As more people run into those issues and others, people start questioning the rules, the assignment, the commitment of their bosses and the commitment of each other.  The team is fully into the storming phase.  The sponsor needs to step in and re-affirm the goal and the importance of accomplishing it.  With any luck, the team really starts to get to know each other and starts creating its own rules and expectations during the norming stage.  People stop arguing about the task and start working on the task.  With some initial success, such as a report out to the sponsor that goes well, the team enters the performing stage.  That’s when real results appear.  The team has its own identity and everyone is proud of being a part of the team.  Then it happens.  Something changes with the task.  Something new happens requiring the sponsor to intervene and modify things.  Worse, someone gets promoted off the team and someone new is brought in.  The key to a highly performing team is how fast it adapts and goes back through the stages of forming, storming and norming to get back to performing.  This model is good for a classic squad of ten in the military, to a regiment of 1500 or an army of 100,000 or any business of any size.  It even works for two individuals.  I submit that the classic plot of “boy meets girl–boy loses girl–boy gets girl–they live happily ever after” fits the mold of forming–storming–norming–performing.