A productive team doesn’t spring up overnight. If you’re involved in launching a team or task force for your organization, pay special attention to these stages of development:
- Orientation. When the team is new, people look to leaders for structure and direction. Provide training, help the team set goals, offer feedback, and keep the team focused. Initially, team members may welcome this; as they grow more confident they may find your guidance stifling and intrusive. Be ready to step back and let the team come to you with questions and requests.
- Challenge. Once the novelty of working together as a team wears off, team members may start to challenge each other and jockey for dominance. This is a natural result of their growing confidence and skill mastery, but it can stunt the team’s development if not addressed promptly. Be alert for conflicts, so you can resolve them before they explode. Focus your leadership efforts not on achieving the specific task at hand but on teaching people how to function cooperatively.
- Cohesiveness. As the team begins performing effectively, your role becomes that of a coach. Concentrate on training people in teamwork skills like leading meetings, solving problems, and giving each other feedback. Be prepared to act as a liaison between the team and the rest of your organization.
- Disillusionment. For a time, the team may bask in its newfound sense of accomplishment. At some point, though, teams often hit a new wall caused by unresolved personal conflicts or external obstacles they’re unable to overcome. Team members often want to give up and revert to being led by a manager. Your role is to keep their expectations realistic and remind the team that obstacles and conflicts are inevitable. Use objective measures to show how much they’ve already achieved. Keep them focused on team goals, and coach them to overcome roadblocks.
- Maturity. Once the team has overcome its first substantial obstacles, it’s usually ready to spread its wings and move up to higher levels of performance. Start involving team members in the organization’s long-range planning; provide the resources they need to set their own goals and strategy.