What Everybody Ought to Know About Team Development

Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s novel about a group of boys stuck on an uninhabited island, remains a classic. What at first seemed like an ideal situation for a bunch of kids away from their parents soon became a rather harrowing experience.  Stranded all by themselves, they were suddenly forced to entertain an entirely new set of challenges.

One of the many challenges they faced was how to function as a group. Questions related to roles and responsibilities in the group began to surface. Needless to say, this group of kids could not come to a place of unity. Their disagreements about how live together led them to splinter into two opposing groups, each with their own methods of survival. Unfortunately, the boy’s naiveté and immaturity got the best of them. Their inability to function as a team seriously undermined their ability to face the challenges of their environment.  The boys finally make it off the island, but not without significant trauma and violence to certain members of the group.

Lord of the Flies, has enduring relevance, not just as a classic piece of literature, but also for those who are in the business of forming new teams. There is a particular set of challenges that come with teamwork. This is especially true when those teams are looking to be on mission together.

Issues related to vision and values, roles and responsibilities, communication and conflicts, just to name a few, will naturally emerge when people join up and go on a journey together. Being aware of how groups form, and the ways they can develop over time can help you navigate the challenges that naturally emerge when people lock arms and go on mission together.

Professor and author Bruce Tuckman has developed a helpful way of describing some of the challenges teams experience. He calls this path of development called Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Adjourning. Each of these stages of development brings with it certain challenges that have to be worked through and resolved if the group is going to move forward and develop its potential.

The following is a brief sketch of Tuchman’s model, with one overriding question that tends to dominate that stage of the group’s development.  We are going to apply his model specifically to the formation of new leadership teams, but these same principles can also be applied to the formation of new groups in general.

Forming: IN or OUT?

The first stage is called Forming because people are coming together to form a new team. At this stage group members are wondering what it means to be IN the team. Where is the team going? Why is the team going there? How do I fit in the team? What roles are available in the team, and which role do I want to play? How do others in the team see me, and how do I want to be seen by them? In essence, all of these questions point to the larger, overarching question related to what it means to be IN or OUT of the team. New team members are looking for clear boundaries and expectations that can help them know where they are in relation to the leader(s), the team members, and the team itself.

At this stage of the team’s development, there is often a high dependency on the leader(s) to define these initial boundaries and expectations of the new team. As the principal leader(s) of the group, you have the task of clearly outlining the expectations of what it means to be a part of the group. Initially, this means formulating things like:

  1. Missional Vision: where are we going?
  2. Missional Methods: how will we get there?
  3. Missional Practices: in what disciplines will we regularly engage?
  4. Missional Marks: how will we measure faithfulness and fruitfulness?

While these four building blocks of culture answer the “big picture” questions about the group, there are other more practical questions that also have to be addressed. For example:

  • How much time is required of group members?
  • What will the weekly, monthly, seasonal, and yearly rhythm of the team look like?
  • What will the rule of life be to which they will (voluntarily) be held accountable?
  • Will there be any financial commitments?

Clearly outlining these expectations not only helps people know what you are inviting them into, but it also lays the groundwork for healthy accountability to take place within the team.

The leadership’s role in the initial phases of forming a new team is to clearly define what it means to be IN or OUT, and help people work through the implications of what it means to be a part of the team.

Storming: ME or WE?

In the Forming phase, team members are looking for common ground and often sacrifice their own individual identities in order to fit into the collective identity of the group. In other words, in the beginning, not everyone puts all their cards on the table. People often hold back from sharing who they really are and what they think in order to experience safety and harmony in the group.

However, this kind of restraint can only last so long. Eventually, people will begin to open up and share more of who they are, as well as their own unique perspectives on various topics or tasks. When this starts to happen, it will create a subtle kind of tension within the group. What once felt like a simple, unified group now starts to feel more complex and diverse. This is especially true when it comes to leadership teams where problem solving and decision making require team members to contribute their own unique perspectives. This can potentially put them in conflict with other team members, as well as the leadership.

Storming happens when the team begins to wrestle through the practicalities of diversity in the group.  For example, if someone signs on to be a part of the leadership team, but consistently misses the weekly leadership team meeting that was clearly outlined in the team’s rhythm of life, then this person could be wrestling with their priorities as a team member. In simple terms, they are putting ME before WE.

Sometimes STORMING happens when a team member reveals that they were never in full agreement with what it meant to be a part of the team in the first place. They may not like the team’s stated mission, methods, marks or practices. In this kind of scenario, the team member has to work through issues related to ME or WE? Can they bring their own preferences under submission to the team, or are their convictions ultimately incompatible with the team? They will have to make a decision to either go with ME or WE.

Team leaders, you should not be surprised by conflict at this stage.  Sometimes people do not voice their disagreements up front. Instead, they wait until they feel like the group or leaders will not reject them for doing so. In other cases, sometimes people are not aware of the practical implications of being part of a team. Ultimately, being part of a team will require them to cede some of their personal preferences for the sake of the team.

In order for teams to work, individuals have to sacrifice some of their autonomy and individuality for the sake of the team and its mission. In other words, the WE has to, in some sense, take precedence over the ME. The task of leadership at this stage is to remind people of why they first joined the team, and encourage people to come up with creative solutions that stand in the way of them moving from a predominantly ME orientation to a predominantly WE orientation.

Norming: NOW or LATER?

At this stage, the group has moved past the conflict stage and begins to settle into what it means to work as a team. If the FORMING stage has to do with boundaries, and the STORMING stage was about wrestling with those boundaries, then the NORMING stage is when team members begin to settle into their roles and responsibilities on the team.

At this stage, the leadership’s task is to focus the team’s energies and attention on tasks that will help them achieve their goals. This means mapping out what the short and long-term goals are, as well as prioritizing what needs to happen first in order for goals to be reached. For example, if a team of 10 people are planting a church together, they have to figure out how they are going to do mission together. Do they want to jump right in and throw a block party in one of the neighborhoods they live in, or do they want to start by prayer walking the neighborhoods to get a feel for what God is up to in that area? Both a Block Party and a Prayer Walk are good ideas, but a decision has to be made as to which one will come first. This is means discerning what tasks should be done NOW or LATER.

As a general rule, it is often helpful to create a 6 month track in which tasks are clearly defined and sequentially ordered. This allows team members to see where they are going, as well as how they can play a role in the ongoing life of the team.

Performing: PUSH or PULL?

Once a team settles into their roles and responsibilities, and has a clear vision of where they are going, they can focus their energies and attention on the work at hand. This is a great stage to be in because by this time, the group has learned how negotiate the diversity of personalities and perspectives in the team, and is primarily concerned with working as a team towards common goals.

Most teams that make it to this stage of development are able to see a significant level of fruitfulness from their efforts. However, this stage is not without its challenges. Once a team has passed from the NORMING stage into the PERFORMING stage, it runs the risk of drifting into the trappings of routine and institutionalization. In their busyness, teams can lose sight of what is going on around them and become ritualistic in their roles and responsibilities. In the words of Kurt Lewin, a team can “freeze” up and get locked into a particular pattern that becomes detrimental.

Helping a team “unfreeze” means disturbing it in some way. This involves what Kurt Lewin calls engaging in PUSH or PULL. PUSH is when you make the present less comfortable by challenging people to press forward. PULL is when you make the future more desirable by challenging people to see a greater vision of what could be. Your task as a leader is to discern whether or not you need to PUSH or PULL the team through these “frozen” stages.

Transforming: US or THEM?

In keeping with our aim of multiplying disciples, leaders, missional communities, churches and networks, we will replace the Adjourning phase of Tuckman’s model with the language of Transforming. As leadership teams go through these successive stages of development, the groups they lead will eventually begin to bear fruit and flourish. (Some groups do indeed die, but this too is a form of transforming.) While each group will grow at a different pace, every group will have to negotiate the challenges of addition and multiplication. In either scenario, the overriding question can typically be captured in the phrase US or THEM?

Addition

When a group grows in number, there is often an unspoken tension between the original group and the newcomers. This is especially true when the original group starts to be outnumbered. For example, does the original group continue to invest in building their relationships with each other, or do they shift their time and energy towards building relationships with new people in the group? This is a question that can be summed up by US or THEM?

Multiplication:

When a group grows to the point where it has to multiply into two groups, the question of US or THEM is most clearly seen as people having to wrestle with which group they will be a part of after the group multiplies. For example, when multiplying a missional community, people have to decide whether or not they want to go with the group that is going to pursue a new neighborhood or network, or if they want to stay with the existing group and continue to pursue the existing mission focus of that particular missional community. Again, this is fundamentally a question related to US or THEM?

Subtraction:

Some groups die. This is a normal part of the cycle of life. When groups die and disband, sometimes there is a tendency to scapegoat within the group. Was it our fault or their fault? We typically default to answering this question by saying “It was definitely their fault.” When a group dies and disbands, group members have to work through the temptation to blame and scapegoat one another for why the group did not survive. It is the task of the leader to help the group name both the good and the bad things the group experienced, as well as learn from the experience.

Regressing and Progressing

One of the important things to remember about stages of group development is that groups can slip back into previous stages. Just because you move from STORMING to NORMING does not mean you are in the clear. A group can regress from NORMING back to STORMING, forcing the group to revisit issues related to ME or WE.

If the conflict lingers too long, the group will have to revisit the FORMING stage and decisions will have to be made about who is IN the team and who is OUT of the team. Regressing back to a former stage is never fun, but if the team is willing to work through the challenges of that stage, they can eventually progress and move on to the next stage of development.

Groups can also pass through one stage relatively quickly, while lingering for what seems like forever in another. Every team is different, which means every team will grow and develop at its own rate. The important thing is to not rush the process and inadvertently ignore the pressing questions that surface at each stage of development.

At V3, our training is designed to help you navigate the challenges of leading teams so you can build healthy and effective teams to lead new missional communities and church plants. If you are interested in receiving more in-depth training on how to make disciples, train leaders, and plant churches, start by taking the church planter questionnaire here.

As the principal leader(s) of the team, you have the task of helping the group navigate the challenges and questions associated with each stage of development.

As a planter, after your family, your core leadership team is perhaps the most pivotal group for you to develop in the first stages of your plant. It will play a foundational role to the development of the initial church. So much so, that you can pretty much say “so goes the leadership team, so goes the plant.” Your team will function as the initial point of reference for the kind of culture you will be creating.

Become a V3 Church Planter.

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Tim Catchim
Tim is a disciple, planter, author, consultant and coach. He is the founder of Generate Coaching and Co-Author of The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church (with Alan Hirsch). He enjoys camping, hiking, reading and starting new ventures. Learn more about Tim on his blog. .
Tim Catchim

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