As a facilitator I’ve worked with a wide range of teams from those planning the strategic future of the company through to small teams trying to solve their day to day issues. I find the way teams work fascinating and like a lot of people in the UK I’m curious to see how the new coalition cabinet manage to sort out their differences.

To shed some light on the development of teams we’re delighted to have a guest blogger, Rhys Jones from Team Factor. Rhys specialises in maximising the effectiveness of teams through workshops, facilitation and training and below he explains the process of team development

As someone who has worked with teams for many years, I watched the formation of the new coalition government with much interest. The creation of a new team is always fascinating, particularly a team with differing political beliefs, opinions, and values.

Many of you will be familiar with the four stages of group development – Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. The model has existed for many years, and is attributed to Bruce Tuckman (1965). All teams and groups go through these stages; the time spent in each stage depends on a number of factors including the size of the group, the personalities involved, and the skill of the group leader.

Most people seem to agree that the new government is still in its “honeymoon” period, and therefore still in the Forming stage. Each member of the cabinet is trying hard to be tolerant (even enthusiastic) about working with previous political foes. The team is busy making policy, defining roles and organisation structures, and internal processes. Conflict is avoided, or at least kept firmly hidden away from the press.

It is only a matter of time before the cabinet enters the Storming stage. Individuals will open up and confront each other’s ideas, roles, and values. The leader (the Prime Minister) will need to emphasise the importance of tolerance, patience, and compromise. Mature debate and a non-judgemental culture will help the team through this stage (attributes not often found in politicians). A lack of tolerance will inevitably lead to resignations and possibly the collapse of the coalition. Inevitably the press will exaggerate any perceived difficulties, creating additional stress for individuals. It is interesting to note that some large organisations never move beyond this stage. Chief executives sometimes wrongly interpret conflict as an organisational weakness and undertake a major re-organisation. This throws the enterprise back to the Formation stage. Annual re-organisations are quite common in large corporations.

On the assumption that the Prime Minister and the coalition cabinet survive the Storming stage, the group will enter the stage known as Norming. This is a period of reconciliation, minor adjustment in responsibilities, and compromise. Every member of the team will need to take personal responsibility for the continued survival and success of the government.

Some teams reach the Performing stage. Teams in this stage are not simply surviving and delivering. These are high-performing teams able to operate effectively and efficiently without inappropriate conflict or constant supervision. Dissent will occur and will need to be handled by a process already agreed by the team. The government’s intention of moving to fixed term parliaments will force the cabinet to survive, but it will not (in itself) guarantee a high-performing government. It may just extend the life of a government that has run its course.

If this government continues for five years, inevitably there will be resignations and re-shuffles. There could even be a change of Prime Minister. Hopefully the leader and senior cabinet colleagues will understand the danger of the government reverting to the Storming, or even the Forming stage, if there is too much change.

Those of you that have been part of a high-performing team will recognise a fifth stage – Mourning. The end of a project inevitably means the breakup of a successful team where many strong relationships have been established. People need time to adjust to the new situation and their behaviour maybe slightly unpredictable for a while. There are signs that members of the outgoing Labour government are currently in the Mourning stage.

Rhys Jones

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