When we work in teams we tend to think we're supposed to get along all the time and there should never be any conflict. But that’s silly. The best Teams in the world don’t always get along. We see that often. We’ve seen it recently.
Some conflict can be good for teams; it can help us to get to the next level. The trick to knowing the difference between a healthy conflict and a damaging conflict, is to know something about team dynamics.
In the 60’s, a guy named Bruce Tuckman studied team dynamics. He was a Navy man. He studied teams there and he did a very comprehensive literature search of all the work that had been to date about teams.
What he figured out is that there are four general stages of team development, which all teams go through in their dynamics.
The first stage he called, "Forming." In this stage, this is where the team members are coming together for the first time. They're talking about, "Why are we here? What are we doing? What's our goal? What's our purpose?"
After that is when conflict starts to happen, that's the next stage, it's called "Storming." In Storming, what you have is different people going in different directions, no one can agree and it seems like chaos. There is an inherent danger here that can manifest itself too. The “Team” protects each other in the true spirit of teamwork. However that protection can sometimes mask underlying issues that affect the team’s performance and ability to move into the next stage. While team spirit is critical, the team always needs to understand that the performance or non-performance of each member affects the group. If there are problems within the group and the team is not able to resolve it themselves very quickly, it’s critical that they ask for outside intervention before the damage is too hard to fix.
This is a time when “CYA” is NOT productive. Each member has a reliance on the other, but the TEAM’S overall mission HAS to be for the good of the company and the company mission, regardless of individual needs. I believe the old phrase is “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few.” The good intention of trying to handle it themselves may be “team inspired”, but the results are almost always the opposite of that intent.
If you're lucky you get through Storming and you move into the third stage, which is called "Norming." In Norming people are starting to go in the same direction. There's starting to be some agreement, starting to be some output.
If you're lucky you move from there to the fourth stage, which he called "Performing." In the Performing stage that's when everyone is working like a well oiled machine. Everyone is going in the right direction, everyone is moving together in unison.
Now obviously you get better performance as you move up the model, so it's to your advantage to get up here if you can.
Here's how it seems you do that:
When the team is forming what you're focusing on is goals. What are we as a team trying to accomplish? Coming to agreement on our purpose as a group. That way when the Storming, when the fighting starts, we can fight and argue about roles and strategies. "What are trying to do? How are we going to do it? What's our plan?"
The role should refer back to the shared goals. That's the good kind of fighting; we're arguing over the common goal, how we're going to get there. If you get through that, that way the Norming becomes focusing on norms. These are the rules and strategies understood and agreed upon. These norms are for back to the roles, which are for back to the shared goals. That's the only way to move forward into the performing stage.
Now in today's teams, we change membership and change purpose a lot more often than they did in the '60s. So some people have proposed one more phase of the model that goes like this; that's called "Reforming." This means when we change the people on the team or change the purpose of the team, we sort of fall back down the model.
This happens a lot today, but the point is still the same. Focus on shared goals first, make sure everyone understands them. That way when you start fighting, make sure you're fighting about roles and strategies based on shared goals. That way you're fighting about the right things, you don't deteriorate it into bickering or petty arguing.
If you can stay focused that way, keep your fighting on the right track, you'll move into performing, and get a lot more out of your team.