In this article Sefton Davies shares with us a perspective of team development and team dynamics that many of you will recognise as part of the story of your life. Do you remember that last conflict with a manager? Was he right to blame you and were you right to blame him? Was it that the basis of your interaction was not clearly understood? What are the principles of good co-operative working relationships? You will find Sefton's analysis of group dynamics and the development of co-operative working relationships in teams a very helpful guide in how to survive in a team.
In my work as a management consultant, I frequently encounter organisations whose performance belies the high levels of technical expertise, intelligence and commitment demonstrated by their managers. Examination quickly reveals that such under-performance derives, not from ineffective policies or individual incompetence, but from the interactions between them, i.e. process rather than performance. This factor, often referred to as group dynamics, needs to be understood and utilised if an organisation is to achieve its full potential for effectiveness.
The nature of organisations
Organisations are comprised of people who share a common task and who combine in a structured and systematic manner to achieve its successful completion. Observation of successful teams reveals common qualities such as:
However, a team is more than just the sum of its parts, and the very highest levels of success depend upon that extra dimension of the team dynamic. To understand this, it is necessary to examine the ways in which teams develop from a collection of individuals. Much research work has been done on team development and although the terminology and detail many vary, a commonality of conclusion emerges.
The stages of team development
(1) The birth of a team occurs when a group of individuals is brought together to achieve a common task.� Initially, they have all the qualities of individuality (personal ambition, self-esteem, the need for power and status, etc.) and are usually unknown to each other, at least in the sense that they have not explored their ability to work together.� There is, therefore, an initial uncertainty both about the task itself and their relationships, and time must be spent in examining both of these.� This is the first task of the leader, that is, the person who has brought them together.� All team members will look to the leader to clarify direction, explain working practices, provide resources and prescribe the rules by which the team will work. This initial stage has been described as the 'forming stage', or the 'ritual sniffing stage', after the behaviour of animals encountering strangers.
During this early stage, members are circumspect about their relationships with others, and there is usually an air of extreme politeness and a stiffness in interpersonal behaviour, which produces nervousness and embarrassment, often demonstrated in cathartic laughter and forced humour.� Members are not yet prepared to take any risks and tend to wait for the leader to initiate action, and to promote group activities through the allocation of roles and tasks.
The team is ineffective at this time, because its members are uncertain of their roles and their task. As vital energy is absorbed in establishing relationships and exploring means of co-operation, the sooner the team move away from this phase, the quicker the process of team development.� The leader has an important part to play in this process, by undertaking to:
(2) Effective teams swiftly leave behind the forming behaviour described above and move towards interdependence, rather than leader-dependence, by challenging the artificiality characteristic of early interactions. This phase can be uncomfortable and is often known as 'storming', since hidden irritations and grievances are brought into the open and conflict can result: however, it is an essential development if the team is to become effective, since the 'hidden agendas' of an immature group cause energy to be diverted from the main task into posturing for status, power, etc.
Storming is characterised by the following behaviour:
This negative and dishonest behaviour may continue unless someone is willing to bring it to a head by a more forthright declaration of dissatisfaction about the group's performance.� This makes possible the open examination of the hidden agendas present within the group, and their satisfactory resolution, but only if members are prepared to accept the uncomfortable criticisms that usually form part of them.� Too often, the group 'sweeps the dirt under the carpet' and pretends that the issues have been resolved, but this only exacerbates the situation, since the irritations, grievances and dissatisfactions expressed have not been resolved but have generated new resentments in those who are targets of these criticisms and jibes.
(3) Some groups never leave the storming phase, and remain uncomfortable and ineffective teams that lurch from crisis to crisis and put unnecessary energy into quibbling.� An effective leader can, however, use the energy of the storm to move into more productive behaviour if (s)he can:
If the leader is successful, the group can move to definition of how it wishes to proceed as a committed, effective team. This requires the establishment of a 'psychological contract' regarding acceptable behaviour, e.g., members will not interrupt others, will not discount the opinions of individuals, will confine criticisms to open expression within the group and will individually accept responsibility for drawing attention to breaches of this contract.
During this phase, roles may well be redefined and leadership may change hands or be redistributed among the members.� Members whose behaviour is considered to be detrimental to the best interests of the team will be asked to change or, in extreme circumstances, leave.� Members who have taken little part in team activities will be encouraged to do so and those who have dominated it will be asked to allow others to participate more fully.
(4) Only when group norms have been accepted and are being implemented does a team become truly effective since its energy is now focused on completing its mission.� Members feel safe with their colleagues and team procedures and can commit themselves totally to the team. Morale is high and team members enjoy working with each other. Leadership becomes increasingly contingent on the particular task to be achieved and can therefore be in the hands of the member who at that particular time possesses the skills needed for success, although the nominated leader will still possess the authority to make final decisions.
Behaviour typical of this mature stage includes:
However, this ideal state is not permanent, since external events or unforeseen internal problems can sometimes cause the team to regress to the storming stage although such a setback is, of course, more easily rectified because the team has already learned how to resolve such conflicts.� Team problems are most likely to occur if there is any change in team membership, since, even when only one member changes, it is essential to return to the forming stage and renegotiate the team's norms of behaviour.
Applying knowledge of the process of team development�
Since it is the ambition of all organisations to be fully effective, it behoves managers to ensure that operational processes ensure success.� Most managers have achieved their position because of technical expertise, i.e. they are expert in production processes such as engineering or teaching where their success is measured in added value, or because of political expertise, i.e. their ability to influence organisational policies, in which case their success is often measured in terms of added organisational status. However, such effectiveness also involves interactions between members of the organisation. In addition to technical and political skills, therefore, a fully effective manager needs to be able to form and maintain a team in which every member gives maximum commitment to the task.� This can be achieved if:
By following these guidelines, it is possible to build and maintain a highly effective team.� However, potential leaders would be well advised to remember the characteristic of good leadership is ' . when his task is accomplished and his work done, his followers will say "it happened to us naturally"'.