Loyal leaders, welcome to another edition of the Leadership Toolbox! I am excited to dive right into this month’s topic, continuing on our journey through the stages of team development. Up next, stage 2, storming.

Storming can seem to be a daunting word for most people, let alone team leaders. The word implies something wild, uncontrollable and downright threatening. However, in team development, it is very healthy and a sign of growth and progression.

What does storming look like (or not look like)? The storming stage does not mean our team is fighting every moment of the day. It does not mean we stagnate and accomplishing nothing, and all of our teammates hate each other. If our team has gone through a good forming process, it means we have gotten comfortable communicating among ourselves. We channel our passions for the team, trying to find the right balance with others. Does this mean moments of frustration or disagreement? Yes! It also means leaders can and must manage the team as they navigate this stage of development.

Let’s think about it from a kitchen science perspective: Making ramen noodles. You need a pot and some water. Our team, in this case, is the water. We formed when poured in the pot together. The pot represents the parameters and the team’s given direction. Even within the constraints of the pot, we still have flexibility to move around and grow together. In stage 2, we begin to work toward the execution of our primary purpose — in this case cooking up some ramen.

We turn the heat on and things begin to change. Much like the water molecules in the pot, during the storming stage our teammates heat up and (so to speak) bump into one another. As leaders, we cannot prevent this process, but we can control the conditions in which it happens. Our ramen lunch, if left unchecked on the stove, boils over and makes a mess. The same holds true when leading a team: If you leave your team unchecked during the storming stage, they may boil out of control. Instead, we must control the things we can. Leaders have the ability and the responsibility to monitor the heat, turning it down when necessary to avoid a boil-over.

My ramen tales have made their point, so let me move on to a real-world example. During my time stationed in Alaska, I took charge of our base’s facilities maintenance division. I oversaw 400 craftspeople maintaining $8.3-billion of facilities and infrastructure. The leadership team included 24 shop supervisors and their assistants. Truth be told, I took over a formed team that seemed stagnated in the storming stage.

The key thing to accept about the storming stage? You cannot avoid it. You can only focus on the things that you can control.

We had a wealth of different personalities in the conference room each week and my job involved calming the storm and getting them moving in the desired direction. Ultimately, I determined I could not control the large scope of the infrastructure or the number of work orders. I could control the pace we worked and the prioritization of work orders, as well as resolve any constraints to our work. I simplified our meeting process. Instead o a report about every work order, I requested reporting on only high-risk impact work orders. In essence, I entrusted the shop leads to do the work on most of their work orders and only wanted to hear about those that would be an issue so that I could keep superiors informed of relevant information. This immediately calmed the leadership team environment and, almost like magic, shops even began to help each other with troublesome work orders. Supervisors began to say things like, “I can help you guys out with that; let’s talk after” or “Hey, I have some guys that are not too busy because we are caught up; how many do you need?” I knew I could never fully avoid storming among the leadership team. But, by focusing on things I could control, I kept the team from boiling over and got all of the molecules (people) moving in the same direction instead of bouncing randomly.

The key thing to accept about the storming stage? You cannot avoid it. You can only focus on the things that you can control. Also, remember that not everyone on the team is going to be amicable, but team members can respect one another and support each other to get the job done. Not everyone on that leadership team met at the bar on Fridays but, ultimately, we respected one another and got the job done so we could go home and do the things we enjoy. By focusing on controlling those things in your power, you can effectively direct your team into a structure that will help them normalize operations, which we will tackle next time.

Until then, Fletch over and out.