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Managing Unhappy Teams – Spotting When A Storm Is Brewing

As leaders it is vital we understand the dynamics of team development

  • Managing Unhappy Teams – Spotting When A Storm Is Brewing

If you lead a team you will be well aware of how it can change from term to term, day to day, hour to hour, and even minute to minute. A fully functioning and happy team can become one that is unproductive and unhappy very quickly. Every time a team member leaves or joins, or different configurations of team members come together, the team can go through these development stages.

As leaders it is vital we understand the dynamics of team development.

I have found Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 model by far the most useful one to support my leadership and team development. It’s popular in our leadership training, too. The four main stages are: forming, storming, norming, and performing. A few years later he added a fifth: adjourning. But it’s storming I want to focus on here.

The storming phase is one every team goes through, and will experience regularly. It may be a brief phase, but unmanaged can last for considerable amounts of time, damaging team and business in little or big ways. It’s often caused by change and uncertainty.

The characteristics are many. The easiest one to spot is the formation of small sub-groups and cliques. There is also unhappiness with, or even challenge to, the leadership, the former being more difficult to spot from the leader’s perspective than the latter. Look out for grumblings in the car park, corridors or quiet corners. It’s normal and healthy for people to have conversations in smaller groups, but it’s not good if they are complaining and negative, and don’t work to positive solutions.

Indeed when you are working with the team, you’ll find that decisions don’t come easily either, as members struggle to share their views and opinions, and may vie for position, role and status.

Leading the recovery

Your job is to ensure the team focuses on its shared and unified goals. This prevents members focusing all of their attention on their relationships and emotional issues. You need to be prepared to change course, or slow down or even speed up plans to support the ironing-out of these creases.

Overall, think about how you are coaching individual members to work through their concerns, and the team as a whole. Using motivational selling-style techniques is vital too – at this stage you’ll be needing to put more effort into selling ideas and agreements than in other stages. Do that, and you’ll be moving towards ‘forming’, before you know it.

James Hempsall OBE is director of Hempsall’s training, research and consultancy. Visit hempsalls.com or follow on Twitter at @jhempsall.

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