Howdy loyal leaders, time to gather around the coffee pot for another edition of the Leadership Toolbox! Galloping right along our journey through the stages of team development, we find ourselves entering stage 3, the norming phase.

 The word “norming” can almost equate to boring. It evokes a sense of repetition and easiness, much like putting the plane on autopilot. In terms of team development, we have flown through and survived the storm. The team begins to sync into the same battle rhythm.

Given the easiness I describe you might wonder, why bother discussing this phase? The norming phase is perhaps one of the most critical phases in the entire process. The team can either regress or progress and, as leaders, it is our job to drive the team toward progress. It is very easy in this stage to become complacent. Having formed together and weathered the storm, it is natural for a team to feel as if they have accomplished great things already (and they have!). However, this does not mean the team has fulfilled its potential.

A scene from one of my favorite movies, “Remember the Titans,” reinforces the point here. The T.C Williams High School Titans had made it through forming and storming. (They actually formed in the middle of a storm if you really think about it.) The team had come together, endured training camp and begun to find a sense of normalcy after winning their first game of the season. For some of the Titans, however, this was not enough. What they had accomplished to that point was only a mere fraction of what they were capable of. Several members of the team decided to call a team meeting and address this fact. One player, Blue Stanton, has this to say to his teammates:

“Coach Boone brought us this far, ya’ll, but he ain’t gonna be there for us forever, man. So what? We won a few games. And ya’ll fools think that’s something? Man, that ain’t nothin’, ya’ll! And you know what else? We ain’t nothing either. Yeah, we came together in camp. Cool. But then, we right back here and the world tells us that they don’t want us to be together. We fall apart like we ain’t a damn bit of nothing, man. And ya’ll think we done won something? Man, we ain’t won nothing ya’ll. Nothing!”

It would have been easy for this team to accept their small successes, especially in their first season. They had even won their first game, which many did not expect, and some hoped they would lose thus justifying the need to avoid integrating schools. Of course, the team went on to win the state championship with an undefeated record and many other accolades along the way.

Norming signifies a team’s comfort with itself. The members of the team know one another and can trust each other.

Remember, the norming phase can have its own conflicts or hard times as the journey toward success continues. Norming signifies a team’s comfort with itself. The members of the team know one another and can trust each other. It also means teammates recognize when a member is off their game. The truth is, norming implies anything but lackadaisical or relaxed.

Many times, on deployment, construction projects have scheduled phases. On each rotation, a team should complete their portion of the work. In reality, I see many teams fall short on these types of goals due to a lack of team development. Of course, you hear excuses: equipment failures, weather conditions, logistics. Good teams find ways to overcome these things, especially in construction. We work in an industry where people pay for and rely on us to accomplish things few people can contemplate doing. Because of that fact, some consider accomplishing a fraction of scheduled work on a deployment a success, when they should push teams toward higher performance.

As leaders, we have to be willing to push our teams to want more than mediocrity. This requires a deep understanding of both the capabilities of our team and how far to push them. It also requires that we develop quick and unique solutions to overcome obstacles. Sometimes this involves simply dealing with adverse conditions and keeping our personnel motivated and focused. Other times it requires us to get on the phone and advocate like hell to get our people what they need to get the job done! Whatever the case may be, we have to ensure the team does not fall into complacency. That can lead them to regress into another storm in which they begin to blame one another for obstacles or setbacks.

The T.C. Williams Titans faced many obstacles in their march to victory: unfair referees, vocal and violent disapproval from the community. They even suffered a catastrophic loss of their team captain due to a car accident. However, their coach, despite warning from other staff members, knew how and where to push the team. Coach Herman Boone knew that anything short of total success would render any of the team’s accomplishments as mere coincidence. By being unwilling to accept initial success as total success, you can push your team toward performing — the stage we explore next month.

Until then, Fletch over and out.