Loyal leaders, I hope this month’s edition of the Leadership Toolbox finds you basking in the summer sun. This article starts a five-part series on the stages of team development:

  • Forming,
  • Storming,
  • Norming,
  • Performing
  • And ending.

First up, forming. People often find the outset of a team’s journey one of the most memorable parts of its lifecycle. Some take the icebreaker approach and gather new members in a circle with nametags to participate in some sort of odd activity to get everyone talking. Others like renowned USA Hockey coach Herb Brooks introduced himself and gave new players a several-hundred question personality test to complete. Whatever method you select for your first team interaction, remember that it sets the tone for the team.

Most teams I have led I took over amid some form of disarray. My baseball team for instance lost its head coach mid-season. Although I had previous interaction with this team as the assistant coach, I treated my first interaction with the team as head coach much differently. I brought the team together on the field, had everyone take a knee comfortably, and addressed the situation. I reiterated where we had been, stated my qualifications, and highlighted they would now have an environment with a caring coach who wanted to re-establish the fun in the program. As the days passed and we continued forming, I accepted input from players on practice plans, instituted captains and elicited their advice on lineup decisions, and planned fun team events off the field.

Keep things concise and clear in the forming stage. Prescribe where you want the team to go, but allow it the flexibility to change and mold with its members and their views and input.

I have written before about the drilling program at RED HORSE, where I saw a much different forming process. Remember, at the forming stage teams may require a tailored approach. My first order of business? Inject organization back into that team. However, I took care not to overwhelm everyone at this stage. A not-yet-fully-formed team needs space to get to know itself and its identity. If you try to inject too much too quickly, you can find yourself losing buy-in. Keep things concise and clear in the forming stage. Prescribe where you want the team to go, but allow it the flexibility to change and mold with its members and their views and input.

You might wonder how long forming should take. This varies for every team. The fast-paced operations of the military often left us only a few days, if that much, to form a team and move out. With a sports team, I was not as constrained, and we moved at a more leisurely pace. Leaders have a responsibility to gauge team progress based on the operational tempo, and push the team to progress when appropriate.

How can you gauge a team’s readiness to progress to the next stage? Understand your team’s purpose, evaluate their performance in pursuit of that purpose and observe their interactions with one another. For instance, a drilling crew — obviously — exists to drill wells. You can measure their performance in training exercises, and look at the experience of individual members and how they prepare for the task at hand. A team with a firm grasp of purpose exhibits cohesiveness as they train and prepare for their next task, and they more than likely are ready to start executing their work.

Take time to tailor an approach to how your own teams form, whether you start from scratch or bring together current employees for a new project. I do not recommend simply throwing a team together and expecting it to form in a baptism by fire. Forming is a critical stage of team development that requires a thoughtful approach. That formation must ensure it can weather the storms in stage 2, which I get into next time.

Until then, Fletch over and out.