Stage 2: Storming (or adolescence)
The next stage is referred to as storming. This is a time when individual members feel comfortable enough in the team to begin to challenge decisions. They test the boundaries of authority by arguing their point, standing their ground, and sometimes actively seeking an argument with others in the team – just like teenagers do with their parents. Factions form, personalities clash, sub-groups come to the fore, emotions run high and the authority of the leader is often challenged. Most importantly, very little communication occurs, since no one is listening and some are still unwilling to talk openly.
True, this may seem a little extreme for the groups to which you belong – but look beneath the veil of politeness at the power struggles, low trust and competition and conflict in personal relations as the group members attempt to organise for the task, and you may see a picture that is more familiar.
Individuals now have to bend and mould their feelings, ideas, attitudes and beliefs to suit the group organisation. Because of fears of exposure or of failure, there will be an increased desire for structural clarification and commitment. Although conflicts may not always surface as group issues, they do exist. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and the precise criteria for evaluation. These reflect conflicts over leadership, structure, power and authority.
There may be wide swings in members’ behaviour, due to emerging issues of competition and hostilities. Because of the discomfort generated during this stage, some members may remain completely silent, while others attempt to dominate.
The team leader must concentrate on establishing a good, productive atmosphere, cementing solid interpersonal relations between the team members and keeping them focused on a common vision and the tasks and goals agreed.
Don’t fight it!
It’s important to realise that what is happening is a very natural process. Often, teams need to have a good argument to clear up certain points. When you see small disagreements beginning to get in the way of the task, encourage the team to talk openly about what’s going on – even if this involves an argument. Teams often feel a desire to shy away from argument because it would be upsetting or rude, yet they generally feel a great sense of release when they have been given the opportunity and permission to ‘get it off their chest’.
Dealing with cynics
It is at this stage that you are most likely to encounter and have to deal with cynicism. People can be cynical for a whole range of understandable reasons. Common among these is the fact that they may have seen change happen in the past, and not work very effectively.
If you are taking over as their new team leader, you may find that these people have seen new team leaders come and go, making promises that weren’t kept. They may have even applied for the role of team leader themselves and been unsuccessful.
In all of these cases, it’s important to take the time to listen to their concerns and understand why they feel the way they do.
Involving the cynics at a very early stage in planning a project can help to bring them on board quickly. If they are sceptical about team meetings or team awaydays, involve them in the planning. Ask them what they would like to see happen that would improve the situation for them and the team. You can also ask them for advice on what you should and shouldn’t do as team leader to avoid any of the pitfalls experienced with previous leaders.
The technique of involving someone early in a process can create an emotional engagement and make them feel more valued and appreciated; as a result, the person often feels more able to contribute positively to the team.