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Team Development Isn't Just a Walk in the Park

I’m taking care of a friend’s dog for a few days. I have two of my own, so it seemed like no big deal bringing a third into the mix for a little while. Famous last words…

It occurred to me this evening, as I was taking all three dogs for a walk, that bringing in a new personality into the well-tuned team that is my dogs is just like bringing in a new member to a team at work. You’ve likely heard of the stages of team formation before: forming, storming, norming, and performing. I have worked through all those stages in this walk alone!

Just as dogs need to sniff each other out when they meet, team members have to take some time to get to know each other—how everyone works and what skills, knowledge, and abilities each worker brings to the table. This period of forming takes some time as the team that already has a work dynamic going on figures out how to readjust and what the new guy brings to the unit. As a leader, it’s your job to clearly outline what exactly is expected of the new person, and to advise existing team members how their roles will change.

Sometimes the new person is eagerly anticipated—existing employees are pleased there will be someone else on board to help with the task load. Sometimes the existing team thinks they were doing just fine before and look upon the new person as someone upsetting the work flow. In all cases, the team will get to a stage of storming, where things get rocky and conflict arises as team members acclimate to their new roles. This is a challenging time for a leader, but it’s crucial, at this stage, that you clearly define how things will work and support your workers in their efforts to change.

Eventually, things even out and productivity surges ahead. In this period of norming, the team will recommit to established goals or may even create some new ones. They’ll ask each other for help and will look for feedback from you and from each other. As a leader, you’ll see some good progress being made on goal accomplishment, and it’s your job to recognize and reward the team’s efforts.

The next stage is performing. This is where all the hard work of changing pays off. At this stage there is a well-established team dynamic where work is getting done and friction appears to be gone. Things are pretty easy at this stage, but that doesn’t mean you get a pass from leadership. On the contrary! Although it’s smooth sailing, there may be course corrections required from time to time. As a leader, you have to stay on top of your team’s activities. In addition, your team is looking to you to help keep them performing well, and members will seek out opportunities to develop and grow. This is tough for you because you don’t want to rock the team’s boat again by needing to replace members due to promotion. However, this is how people stay motivated and wanting to work with a company. They want to progress, and they deserve the chance.

Looking at the pictures of the dogs, you’ll see the 4 stages displayed. There is a period of forming, then storming when all three dogs went in different directions as they jockeyed for position. The norming phase looks like the worst, since the leashes were all tangled up. However, the three dogs were at least moving forward. In the last picture, we see all three walking nicely, side by side. All along the way, I had to establish what we were doing, where we were going, and how to get there. It was challenging to lead, but paid off in an enjoyable walk.

If you're working through some times of challenge with your team, or if you’d like to fine tune your ability to lead, empower, and inspire your team members, reach out to me. I work with managers to create human-centered and productive workplaces and I’d be pleased to work with you! Email me at and we'll chat.

Cover image: pasja1000

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