The Truth about Teams

Originally published on January 23, 2019 by the Montrose Daily Press.

Hello everyone, today we will be performing a team-building exercise. It’s going to be so fun. Raise your hand if you just rolled your eyes a little. When we hear “team building,” many of us immediately picture one person in the middle of a circle of other people. The one in the middle closes their eyes and falls backwards “trusting” that the others will catch them. We’ve all been there.

My radar could be way off, but it seems like somewhere along the way, team-building has gotten a bad rap. Yet, if any of us thinks we can do it on our own, we are lying to ourselves. Teams are to organizations what water is to a fish. Can a fish survive outside the water? Sure. But not for long.

I attended a City of Montrose supervisor training last week. As I was perusing the agenda for day two, you can imagine my delight when I read that we would be spending the afternoon discussing teams. It isn’t that I don’t like teams or believe in them, but until last week, I’d never had team functionality explained to me in a way that truly clicked. The next 90 minutes would change my outlook on nearly every aspect of my work.

The city’s director of innovation and citizen engagement, Virgil Turner, explained team dynamics in four stages: forming, storming, norming and performing. Much of this information was first developed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965.

Forming: Yay, we’re a new team! We’re so excited for this new job we’ve been given and we can’t wait to dive in and get things done. Though we might have little knowledge of how to do the job or what success looks like, we are excited to get there. This stage can last for some time and can re-start whenever a new team member is added.

Leadership tips: Now is when your team will need the most direction. You should be setting the tone and defining responsibilities. Channel your inner drum major.

Storming: All the unicorns and rainbows have disappeared and conflict has cropped up instead. We are annoyed with one another’s work styles, some of us may be jockeying for roles we believe we deserve over the role we’re in. Some of us may question the mission, some may be overwhelmed with workload, and some may seem to stop working all together. Some of us may quit. Typically, if a team is going to fail, it is now.

Leadership tips: Encourage team members to build relationships with one another. Inspire trust and camaraderie (and know this type of thing may not happen while performing regular job duties). Help your team understand their own personality, working style and that of others. The City uses the DISC assessment to aid in this. Others uses Enneagrams, Myers-Brigg, and or similar assessments. Regardless of the system, using a “common language” will pay dividends.

Begin explaining processes of the job and the “why” behind the mission. Be firm and uncompromising in your commitment to the team.

Norming: We aren’t best friends, but we understand each other and trust one another’s work product. We are comfortable providing two-way feedback for the most part and we are back on board with the mission. We sometimes get sidetracked with a new task and relapse into our storming behavior, but we are collectively striding toward accomplishing our common goal (usually).

Leadership tips: If something goes right, give the credit to the team. Ensure team members are recognized for their accomplishments and can see the fruits of their teamwork mindset. Back off giving as much direct leadership and move into a more hands off approach.

Performing: We’ve hit the easy button! Or so it feels. This team is awesome! We are getting stuff done and hitting all of our goals! We work hard, there’s no friction and we are tuned in to our teammates. This is the team dreams are made of!

Leadership tips: Now is the time to delegate more work to capable team members and focus on developing the next mission as well as developing your team members. The goal is to be as hands off as possible in this phase and let the team do their thing!

Everyone wants to be on a winning team. It feels good when your teammates anticipate your moves and you theirs. It’s nearly like magic and it is a heck of a lot of fun to be part of. Winning is the easy part. Leading teams through the tough times is the true test.

At the end of the module, Virgil asked us what happens when the team reaches the goal. “Celebrate!” someone shouted out. “That is exactly right,” he said. Celebrate the smiles, the tears, the hard work, and the Kumbaya moments. Cheers.

Chelsea Rosty is the director of business innovation for The City of Montrose. She can be reached at crosty@ci.montrose.co.us.