Because where there’s a team there’s always a team development issue!  Choose from away days, team building sessions, team development programmes, outdoor challenges,  bonding & hugs……etc.

When a manager identifies the need to develop their team, do they really know the degree to which this team has already developed?  What criteria are they using for making their judgement, and how can they select the most appropriate options for development?

Too often, generalisations are made about the team’s strengths and weaknesses:  “We’re a really close group of people”  I was told on a recent team development event “We really look after each other”.  The person making this statement obviously believed it to be true, but spoke for everyone when they made this point.  A subsequent exercise which asked team members to rate their team against various criteria including ‘support between team members’, saw wide ranging scores, some as low as 2/10………others as high as 9/10.

What is key for this particular group is they now know more than they did before, and the question is, what do they do with what they know now?……How discussable are the now apparent differences in perspective amongst the team members?  What is the development requirement here anyway?

Team life cycle models offer us convenient structures for explaining and rationalising team behaviour.

Many are familiar with the Tuckman ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing’ model which splits team development into four stages.

I choose to work with Mike Vernon of Consulting People Ltd’s Team Life Cycle.  Reflecting the complexities of group development, Mike developed a more detailed cycle, which,  I believe offers more opportunities to explore, understand and test.  Mike’s work recognises that groups can get stuck – indeed some groups rarely progress beyond the early stages of the cycle, and of course when the group changes in some way (personnel changes, location, resources, events…) then the group can actually regress to earlier stages in the cycle, thus potentially reducing performance in some way.

Much could be written about the application of this cycle, but for the purposes of this article a brief outline is given below:

1.         ‘GROUND STATE’………it is the point that each individual is at, as they become part of the team, bringing prior experiences, formed beliefs and attitudes which will influence an individual’s expectations of what can be achieved (and therefore may have a self-limiting effect on what the group does achieve).

2.         A new formed group goes through a ‘BITS and PIECES’ stage, as concerns for many focus on the impression they give and polite co-operation exists.

3.         As frustrations rise amongst group members, stemming from lack of progress or unspoken issues rising to the surface, the group has the chance to enter the FIGHT or FLIGHT stage.  Having watched and waited, now is the time that the first spoken conflicts will be heard as someone chooses to ‘make their move’.

4.         The fight and flight dilemmas are resolved resulting in leadership and formal working agreements.  The FORMAL GROUP stage recognises formal structure, resulting in work being done and backlogs cleared.  The group acts ‘as if’ what exists now is the ‘right’ way.

5.         TAKE A RISK comes at a time where the group responds to the question of ‘how effective are we really’?  It takes a risk to challenge what has been agreed and in place….the risk enables the group to benefit from more creativity or a more entrepreneurial approach.  Relationships become more important and rank is put to one side as skills are recognised and appreciated.

6.         As the team becomes a MATURE GROUP openness and honesty abound.  The group finds itself able to design processes and procedures in response to the specific nature of the task….and importantly it begins to look for learning in its own operations.

7.         The CREATIVE GROUP sees members taking real responsibility for others’ learning and development .  Feedback is given openly with positive intention.

8.         As teams disband, due to restructure, project ending or change of focus an ENDING stage encourages the group members to learn from their experiences and move on to the next opportunity.

Using the life cycle model as a diagnostic and planning tool offers managers the chance to appropriately match development options according to the needs of the team at the point they’re at in the cycle.  In that way expected outcomes can be more realistically set and acceptance of what could been seen as ‘perfectly normal behaviour’ at a given stage, paves the way for advancement to more productive stages.