Ah, group work: everybody’s favourite activity.
Except when it isn’t. Which is most of the time.
The reality we must accept is that there’s no avoiding it, especially in the marketing communications field. While I pull myself through the last week of the IMC semester that contains multiple deadlines (with one very large deadline looming four weeks away), I invite you to ponder a model of small group development I first learned about eleven years ago. What do team leaders, managers, and group supervisors need to know?
Nearly 50 years ago, Psychologist Bruce Tuckman described the typical path groups follow from when they are created to when they are working effectively (if they get that far). The “Forming” stage requires managers to employ a bit of hand-holding while group members are too shy, confused, or polite to get much work done. I say polite because the desire to get along interferes with the desire to take charge and develop an action plan. Leaders must strike the right balance between leaving time and space for group members to get to know one another and gently pushing the group to get organized.
During the “Storming” phase, group rules are broken and tempers flare. Multiple group members may have strong opinions about the “best” way to get work done, which inevitably isn’t accepted by everyone on the team. Frustration spreads. Dissent reigns. Work grinds to a halt. Supervisors can help by asking group members to refer back to the roles and tasks they assigned themselves and each other. This could be a good time to review previous group strategies that worked well and can be replicated. If necessary, step in to mediate any serious conflicts. Explain to the team that it is normal to work through these issues.
Bit by bit, the group will be able to incorporate more “Norming” stage characteristics into the group dynamic. Colleagues acknowledge each other’s strengths and play to them. Lapses back into “Storming” may occur, but with less frequency over time. Managers can focus on supporting those group members who need more assistance with learning to give and receive constructive feedback.
Once the “Performing” phase is reached, group leaders can get back to their own work because the team is running like a well-oiled machine. Now is not the time to disturb the focused effort with new ideas or strategies, just like you’re not supposed to open the oven door during the baking process: when productivity is high, disruption is bad. Consider making note of your observations of what’s working; your highly efficient group won’t stop to reflect on their behaviour!
Although not in Tuckman’s original model, the “Adjourning” stage should not be overlooked. This is a great time to acknowledge the effort and energy that brought about success and to celebrate what went right. If group members originated in and will now be returning to different departments within the company, encourage them to continue to lend support to each other. This sets the stage for smooth group work in future.
If you have any examples of what to do – or what not to do – in group work situations, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’m certain everyone has memories of the “Storming” phase!