Fact: Every team confronts four stages of development that are non-linear: forming, storming, norming, and performing. The key factor in whether the team makes it from forming to performing and remains there is the capability of the team leader. Unfortunately, most leaders are neither aware of the science of group development nor equipped with the tools to effectively navigate these inevitable stages.
One of the reasons it is so important to focus as a leader on shepherding your team to the performing stage of group development is so that when inevitable crisis hits, you are able to focus on what matters most, and not tear each other apart due to interpersonal strife. But what do you do if you are in the midst of a crisis AND the dreaded storming phase? How do you regain control of both situations quickly enough to right the ship and insulate it from irreperable damage?
Well first, you need to be able to recognize the signs of team storming. When teams storm, fundamentally they disagree on the way to perform a given task or activity and they don't readily accept the authority of the leader. So you can see, that inherent in the definition is a correlation with what usually happens during the opening moments of a crisis. Which is why it is doubly difficult to manage a storming team DURING a crisis.
Now, back to the symptoms of team storming. Other issues you will sense in the group as a leader are as follows:
Decisions don’t come easily within group
Team members vie for position as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members and the leader, who is challenged by other members
Clarity of purpose increases but plenty of uncertainties persist
Cliques and factions form and there may be power struggles
The team needs to be focused on its goals to avoid becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues
Compromises may be required to enable progress
Once again, this list is very similar to what you encounter during a crisis. Unsurprisingly, even a high performing team can devolve back into storming depending on the nature of the crisis specifically due to the inability to agree on decisions. The leadership key, therefore, is to recognize your current situation and take the necessary steps to demonstrate that not only do you understand what's happening, you also have the skill to bring the team out of it together.
The value of a ship's captain is not proven during days of calm, but in the midst of the tumult of stormy seas.
Here are three keys to successfully moving through the storming phase as well as a crisis:
You start by unifying the group behind a sense of purpose. Whether you call that purpose business continuity, customer excellence, or social responsibility; you need to rally the team to focus only on the mission at hand - surviving the crisis. Focus creates order and order leads to progress. By holding each key decision up against the core purpose of the organization, you can simplify complexity. For example, if the crisis is related to the ability of key suppliers to afford to manufacture product due to increasing financial constraints, your purpose of business continuity should dictate that the right decision is to provide them the financial flexibility to continue to operate and serve you so you can serve the customer. If your purpose is not clear, you might spend weeks debating the financial risks of such a decision instead of the objective you need to achieve.
In the chaos of crisis and storming, roles become blurry and influence becomes more apparent. Negativity and worry mongering can supercede rational thought and action and must be nipped in the bud. This is best achieved by making sure each person on the team knows and owns their role. That includes you as the leader. You need to step up and understand that you are the ultimate tie breaker and the ultimate voice of reason during inevitable debates.
Others on the team need to settle into their roles and execute with as much urgency is required. Usually, it's when certain functions overstep their weight that chaos reigns. Such as when legal colleagues begin inhibiting commercial decisions due to the risk profile of the moment or when health and safety concerns supercede business needs and common sense. Functional leaders are fundamentally there to advise and advocate and complement the plans while the business leaders make the decisions that will best permit the alignment with the purpose. Of course, roles are easier to play when everyone is aligned to the purpose.
During tough circumstances is when your culture will be most challenged. This is because crisis puts significant stress on trust, ways of working, accountability, and shared commitment. Storming teams have not yet established the requisite trust or processes which is why focusing the group on purpose and roles is way to temporarily create a path toward progress and alignment. At the outset of the crisis, defining how the team will make decisions, resolve conflicts, and communicate is the next most important step after reminding the group of the core why behind all actions and their crucial role. Then your job as the leader is to continuously reiforce team norms along the journey. The good news is that you can usually leverage a crisis to create greater group cohesiveness than you had going into it in the first place if you are able to execute these key steps. However, a team that doesn't have high trust going into the crisis and that remains unaligned to any purpose with unclear roles is unlikely to suddenly cohere unless forced to do so.
Shared purpose, clear roles, and aligned norms are three key methods of hacking the storming phase while in the midst of a crisis. For a more comprehensive method of moving a team through the storming stage PRIOR to a crisis, please give my book Leader Board: The DNA of High Performance Teams a read through - you are guaranteed to receive a bevvy of information and resources that will allow you to not have to deal with managing a crisis AND storming at the same time!
What did you think of this article? Do you agree with the three steps of navigating storming during a crisis? If so, please give the article a like and share with your networks. Please add any other thoughts on this topic in the comments below!
Omar L. Harris is Associate Vice-President and Country Manager for Allergan PLC in Brazil. He is the author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams available for purchase in ebook or print on Amazon.com. Please follow him on instagram, twitter, and/or LinkedIn for more information and engagement.