Mariah Ramirez

Growing Pains: Group Dynamics & Team Building

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There are many factors that contribute to the way group dynamics play out. Regardless of those influences, all groups pass through the same 4 stages.

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing

Every time a new member is added to an existing group, the cycle starts all over again. A psychologist named Bruce Tuckman developed these stages of development in 1965. He found that the stages start from the time that a group first meets until the project they’re working on ends.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of textbooks, studies, and papers on the study of group dynamics. So if you’re interested in this topic, I encourage you to explore as you’ll find no shortage of information. In this blog, we’ll focus on how you can build effective teams quickly.

Multiple theories and practices suggest it is easier to build teams quickly when there is a common end goal in mind.

In the case of business, the end goal may be the mission or vision of the company. On a smaller scale, the goal may be specific to the department. For example, increase new business by 2%. Regardless, to achieve any goal, your mission is to move your group through these stages as quickly as possible so you can get to the key stage – performing.

Forming

This is the first stage in team development. You could consider it comparable to your first day at camp as a kid or even the first day on the job. Everyone is at their most well-behaved state and exceptionally pleasant.  Typically, there’s a genuine excited, nervous energy in the room.

As the facilitator of this group, it’s important for you to do the following during this stage:

  1. Encourage every group member to get to know each other. How? Classic icebreakers, networking events, staff outings, etc. — scenarios that encourage people to get out of their shell and talk to everyone on their team.
  2. Set the vision for the group. This can include ground rules, the project’s end goals, why you’ve chosen this team specifically, a timeline for the project, and even individual roles if you have those defined.
  3. Take note of emerging personalities and interactions.

Storming

This is the second stage in team development. During this stage is where conflict tends to arise. At this point I would like to remind you that conflict is healthy if resolved in the right way. Storming can be caused by different personality types, ideas, strategies to reach the goal, etc. Here are some typical archetypes you may see arise during the storming stage of the group. Heavy emphasis on some. There are endless personality types you will see arise during these types of scenarios, but these are the most commonly seen in my experience.

  1. Harmonizer 

    This person is going to be the unifier of the group. They’re focused on the task at hand and seek to overcome interpersonal differences for the sake of accomplishing the goal. They understand how to achieve peaceful compromise.

  2. The Scapegoat

    This person is who everyone blames for everything, regardless of if it’s their fault or not. As the facilitator of the group, it is your responsibility to check the bias of the group and evaluate whether the blame is “correctly” being assigned. I’ll never forget in my early leadership days during a team building exercise when I made conditions worse for our group and I exclaimed, “it’s not my fault!” My manager responded with, “Who’s fault is it then? And does it matter?”

  3. The Expert

    This is the person who thinks they know everything, but they most likely don’t. A good way to redirect this archetype is to say something like, “you’ve had a lot of great ideas, let’s write them down and charge you with recording everyone’s ideas.” This way their energy and focus is redirected to a task. Try to hold off on intervening until absolutely necessary if you are the facilitator. Give your group the chance to work things out among themselves first.

  4. The Joker
  5. The person who doesn’t take the task at hand seriously. They make jokes for entertainment purposes and try to amuse others.
  6. The Leader
  7. This is the person who naturally takes charge in the situation. Their natural influence over the group can be positive or negative.
  8. The Thinker
  9. This is the person who will lead from within. They are the observer who will logically think of a solution before presenting to the group or one individual.
  10. The Challenger

    This person may also be known as the “devil’s advocate.” For every suggestion a group member has, they will have a reason why that may not work.

  11. The Follower

    This is the person who will go with the loudest or majority opinion in the room and is easily swayed. They’re a great support role and take direction well.

  12. The Peacemaker

    This person is most concerned with finding peace in the group. They may be willing to sacrifice reaching the goal for sake of peace within the group.

  13. The Taskmaster

    The person who strives to finish the goals or tasks for the group that help them meet the end goal. Need supplies gathered? Seating organized? They’re your go-to person.

  14. The Aggressor

    They deflate others and often express disapproval of the task, the group, or the feelings of the group, or the values of the company.

  15. The Coordinator

    Clarifies communication and the relationships of the groups various ideas. Will often excel the group by setting up the groundwork for success. This can look like clarifying the end goal of the project, distributing materials, laying ground rules for communication with each other, etc.

During this stage, as the facilitator, to help your group get to performing more quickly, you want to induce stress.

I know that sounds counter intuitive, but this will do two key things for your group. First, it will force communication. Secondly, it will build trust. If you are the one to induce stress you also have a certain measure of control over the circumstances versus waiting for a crisis to occur. It’s like practicing the fire drill in preparation for the actual fire. In the business world, our version of fire drills is team building.

If you are a supervisor or team lead of some kind, when possible, I encourage you to ask your company about training to lead team building of your own.

There are certain criteria one must be educated on before venturing into that territory. If that’s not feasible, you can bring in a neutral third party to facilitate team building with you as part of the group. I could write an entire separate blog post about team building activities, but here’s a good place to start.

As soon as possible after the team building activity, it’s critical to debrief the activity. If you are playing the facilitator role, it’s important to give the debrief session structure so everyone has a voice. Here are some of my favorite debrief methods.

The Body Part Debrief
This one is self-explanatory. You lay out pictures of different body parts in the center of the group. Then you ask the group to pick a card to speak on. For example, someone might pick the brain to represent something they learned, an ear to represent something they heard, etc.

Rose, Bud, Thorn
In this scenario the rose would be the highlight of the activity, the thorn would be a challenge, and the bud is a something you look forward to.

What? So What? Now What?
While this debrief method can be used for a variety of reasons, most often it is used to resolve conflict. This is a good example of how it can be used outside of conflict resolution.

  1. Norming

During this stage your group is figuring each other out. They’re getting comfortable with everyone’s roles and communication styles, and they are starting to understand how to accomplish goals with each other now. It is very common to bounce back and forth between storming and norming. As a facilitator, keep an eye out for bullying and make sure the norming is genuine and team members aren’t being made to bend to the will of others.

  1. Performing

The golden hour of group dynamics. This is what all team leaders dream of. At this point, your team is absolutely crushing project after project, goal after goal. Not only do they understand each other’s roles, but they’ve probably figured how to maximize each other in these capacities as well. Team members are motivated and share a unified vision, and are capable of operating without your close supervision.

Where do you think your team is in the cycle? What tool are you most excited about taking back to your organization?

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