My experience of leading a storming team

Continuing with my focus on the Bruce Tuckman model, this week I recount my experience of working with storming teams. 

I am very grateful for the storming stages I have been lucky enough to have been a part of. They are the times where I have been gifted the most learning and personal development, both in the senior teams I have been a member of and those I have lead. I have always felt comfortable around conflict, and, some might say, caused a lot myself (but we shall move swiftly on from there). 

Conflict is an essential ingredient to change and growth. Skipping forward past the conflict stage can feel comforting at the time but is often akin to those early relationships you have where you don't argue. 

Understanding the true personalities and traits of your team members, the good and the bad, is key to laying down the foundations for healthy working relationships. Ignoring this and suffering them rather than addressing and/or learning to live with them is, in my view, not conducive to making relationships that can stand the test of time and of the inevitable ups and downs a team will endure. For those of you in tech teams, I am sure you are no stranger to a team barney at 3 am when trying to get a broken system up and running - they are a fact of techy life and one that must be accepted as part of the journey.

I also believe that if you don't call out what is broken and not working you are simply building a house on sand. This may get you through to a pseudo norming phase sooner, but it wont take much to make it all come crashing back down to the storming phase, or even forming after the loss of significant numbers of staff.

I recall one moment in a storming team I was managing years ago. It was a team of young men, most just out of college, all of which were ambitious in their own ways and navigating their way through working out who they were as a worker as well as an adult.  Some team members felt reassured of their position in the team based on their technical knowledge, after all knowledge is power and can be used for good and bad in a tech team in particular, especially if the leader is non-technical. 

A new, very head strong and ambitious young man had joined the team. His timescales for what he deemed success were much tighter than the rest of the team and his ways of getting it were seen as selfish and aggressive in comparison to the softer more 'expert' approach to power and influence of the rest of the team. I embraced this 'cat among the pigeons' and was keen to harness this 'take no prisoners' approach to pushing the team on to a much needed next level of delivery and innovation, particularly in terms of the levels of automation possible in the technology the team used. 

Sadly his lack of self awareness or regard for what was going on outside of his own ambitions meant that in a frustrated rant he raised the discussion of salary among the team and uncovered a banding mis-match that had legitimately occurred due to team restructures (and annoyingly were about to be realigned). All hell broke loose and I spent the next week sorting it out.  Not much got done that week nor did it, looking back on it now, until salaries were aligned accordingly and ultimately our lone wolf left anyway.  He had realised money was more of a driver to him than technical development at that point in his life, which I applauded.

But what I learned from this disruption was priceless. Firstly it takes all personality styles to create the spark and drive in a team to keep them driving forward.  Building a team of similar personalities, those which you as a leader are comfortable with perhaps, may seem like the easy road but it slows progress and throttles innovation in my experience. 

Secondly, from such conflict came a deeper understanding of the pressures we were all under and increased self awareness about what we valued most.  Some had never asked for a pay rise, favouring day to day treats or flexible time, but realised that their lives had moved on and perhaps money was more of a motivator them.  Some learned not to collude with a tribe and look for what was important to them not the general consensus.  And some learned what they were and weren't willing to do to achieve their career goals which taught us all a lot about our boundaries and helped us prioritise what improvements and processes needed to be made in the team to ensure it remained a place we wanted to work in.  The team that remained was closer and more transparent for it - creating a bond that enabled us to cement our learnings and move on.

Without this conflict, if I had intervened sooner when the frustrations had started to surface, we would not have got to this place and eventually moved on to a pseudo norming phase, I am in no doubt. 

If I had, at the time, been knowingly not intervening within the framework of this model, it would have been all the more powerful and a more enriching learning experience for all of us.

If you are interested in arming your leaders and their teams with practical models and a shared understanding of how our values drive our behaviours, please reach out so we can arrange for a chat about how my team coaching partnership Dynamic Connections can support you.

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