You don’t have to work with projects for long before you come across helpful guides to team building.
What you will quickly realize is that when your team changes frequently, the models don’t work so well. Let’s talk about how to make team building work in the real world.
How Teams Are Created
The guru on team building is Bruce Tuckman, who put together his model for the development of groups in 1965. He broke down the creation of a team into four steps: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing and then later added a final step, Adjourning, for when the team is breaking up at the end of their assignment.
Forming: The team comes together for the first time. They get to know each other and set boundaries for their work.
Storming: You start to see disagreements as the team becomes more comfortable working together and drop the act of being on their best behavior. It’s important to manage conflict when you hit this point so you can get to the next stage which is…
Norming: The team accepts each other and gets on with the job at hand, putting aside those annoying issues that troubled the Storming phase.
Performing: This is where you want to get to as quickly as possible. The team is confident, has clear objectives and works well together, taking decisions as a group and sometimes without the involvement of the leader.
So far, so traditional.
Why Tuckman’s Model is Broken
In real life, people get sick, go on maternity leave, retire and quit for other jobs. Unless your project is ultra-short, it is highly likely that you’ll have new people joining your team and someone leaving. That’s where Tuckman’s linear approach struggles.
In an ideal world you would set up your team and then work together to deliver a project, building deeper and more productive working relationships the more tasks you did together. Some projects can be managed like that, but for many teams life is messier.
Not only do you have the general shifting about of human resources as they find new jobs and take time off for whatever reason but you also have the problem that project objectives are often unclear. You could get half way through your project and realize that you don’t have the skills in-house after all. Then you’re looking at bringing in a third party company or a contractor and introducing them to an established team.
Managers need a more flexible approach to building a performing team even when the members of that team change.
7 Ways To Build A Team That’s Changing
1. First, accept the fact that you are only ever going to be able to do your best.
Team building is hard work at the best of times, and even harder when you don’t know if you are working with the ‘final’ version of your team. Assume that the current cut of your team is the ‘final’ version and treat everyone as if they are here to stay; a full contributor.
2. Make it easy to onboard new starters
Any new joiner is going to find their first few weeks difficult. That’s the nature of starting a new job. Make it as easy for them to get through their personal Forming stage by giving them a full introduction to the team, the project and what you are trying to achieve. Allocate them a mentor so they always have someone to turn to and check in with them regularly.
3. Set ground rules
Help new starters quickly move through the Storming stage by having clear ground rules and policies for the team. These can cover everything from what is acceptable to wear when visiting a client site to not using their devices to multi-task in meetings.
Processes and tools can help too because they make it easy to adopt the same ways of working as everyone else, meaning there is less need to work on items from scratch.
4. Delegate responsibility
Act as if the new starter will step up and take responsibility for their tasks and they probably will. Get them to their personal Norming phase by encouraging them to participate and delegating tasks that fall within their remit.
5. Practice facilitation skills
As a project leader and team manager, you want to ensure your team have the tools they need to do their jobs. This leaves you free to facilitate the team, rather than overtly manage it. A high performing team should only need little prods in the right direction and you should be able to participate and facilitate. The team will take their cues from you, so set the culture of the team as respectful, professional and autonomous, at whatever stage the individual members are at.
6. Be sensitive to the existing team
A new starter can be disruptive for the existing team members. Give them plenty of notice that someone else is joining. If possible, involve them in the selection and recruitment. Circulate details of the new starter and set out clear roles and responsibilities so they can see how the new person will effectively contribute to the team.
7. Plan your leavers
Just as people join the team at various points, people leave too. Try to create a team environment where individuals feel that they can tell you if they are going with plenty of notice. This gives you the opportunity to work together to plan for and hire their replacement, with lots of time for handovers and knowledge sharing.
Be aware as well that not everyone will choose to give you notice. You can future-proof for that by using your online project management systems to store tasks, discussions and files so that you are building up documented knowledge of the team’s work and it won’t all leave with the individual as they walk out the door.
Teams are flexible. You bring people in when you need them and you let them go when you don’t. If you approach Tuckman as a guide to how people might feel when they join a new team then you can help them leap through those stages and quickly get to the point where they are contributing effectively.
If you’re interested in what Jennifer Bridges, PMP, has to say about building a team, then watch “Project Management Team Building Ideas,” the embedded video below.
Dealing with teams in a real-world scenario calls for flexibility, collaboration and knowledge of what’s happening in your project and with your team members in real-time. ProjectManager.com offers all those functions and more in its software suite of online features. See for yourself by taking a free 30-day trial.