My mate Stevo said it was good and Norm just couldn’t wait his turn!

 Dec 09, 2015

This blog is about team formation and effectiveness but it starts off at a barbeque we had a few weeks ago for some mates (and spouses) I went to uni with for my business degree – before I retrained in psych.

As a plane flew overhead, my mate, Stevo, told me it was an Airbus 330 and I quipped facetiously, “I didn’t know you were a plane spotter.”

From there Stevo proceeded to tell me of his interest in planes and that he had read a book on the incident that nearly led to a crash of a Qantas plane in Singapore in 2010. The book was ‘QF 32’ by the pilot at the helm that day, Richard de Crespigny. Stevo said he couldn’t put the book down. So here were two surprises from a guy I thought I had known quite well for over thirty years: he was a closet plane spotter and he had actually read a book. Stevo is pragmatic but not a reader – even he’ll admit to that. I do like the occasional ‘Air Crash Investigations’ show and so as a good host I dutifully showed my interest in his topic.

Two days later before I knew it, the book was in my letter-box and I was instructed to read it quickly and pass it on to another friend who was part of the barbeque conversation. If Stevo had read it then it must be interesting and so I read it – in two sittings. He was right, it was a page turner.

So why do I bring it up for you?

Because a week before I read the book, one of our Professional Development trainers had mentioned that not all teams went through the Tuckman Jensen stages of team evolution – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing (developed by Psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965). She cited air crews as an example where they just get right into ‘performing’.

In teaching these four stages, we talk about what feelings and concerns team members might have as they are in the various evolutionary stages of a team and what a team leader needs to do in each stage.

Stage Issues   Leader Actions
Forming Group assembles. Possible apprehension or excitement of team members   Recruit, orient, expectation set, goal set and empathise
Storming Members deal with difference and pecking order and may get into conflict   Empathise, manage and mediate conflict and create norms.
Norming Accepted and implied ways of working with each other emerge, that is, norms of behaviour are established out of the storms   Poor norms of behaviour can also form at this point so the leader should document and reinforce the good and renegotiate the bad
Performing People supress the problems, feel confident and competent and get on with the job   Resist micro-management, step back, resource and have regular catch-ups

In conjunction with colleague Mary-Anne Jensen, Tuckman added a fifth stage in 1977 – Adjourning or Mourning – for the demise of a team or for short-lived project teams.

Adjourning Closing off the team after it has fulfilled its objectives   Recognise contributions and celebrate success. Create a plan for the next transition

All of the literature I have read puts the stages in this way, however, I teach participants differently when it comes to Norming. Just like in a contract that you might sign for a two-year mobile phone plan, you agree to the terms and conditions up front; that is, the norms are set before any storms occur. I believe it is the same for teams; you need to establish norms of behaviour at the Forming stage.

Some norms may still happen after the Storming stage but it is better to agree to the bulk of them up front, then you have a better way to negotiate the storms if and when they arise.

As I was reading through ‘QF 32’, de Crespigny mentioned how the five pilots in the A 380 that day (there were two extra than usual) went through the first three parts of the five Team Evolution stages: Forming, Norming, Storming, Performing and Adjourning. I found it interesting that in such a high-performance team as a group of pilots that the Norming phase was proactively attended to after the introductions were through.

Apart from describing what was going on in the cockpit that day, de Crespigny also commends the work of the other team that was on board that day; the flight attendants. Because of the focus that the pilots had, they gave little direction to the flight attendants who had to manage the anxiety of some 450 passengers on two separate decks. They were on emergency alert for four hours before they were able to ‘adjourn’. This is a highly intense state which broke a record by a long margin and by all accounts they did an excellent job.

Again, there would have to have been some norming that went on early to deal with the level of intensity of that day.

I spoke to my Professional Development colleague about this and she reviewed her position on the example of air crews going straight to the Performing Stage. They just go through the other stages a lot quicker than teams that stay together over a long period.

In my view swapping the Storming and Norming stages aids this process and is crucial if you desire a high performance team.

For more information, take a look at New Horizons' Professional Development portfolio of courses.

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About the Author:

Tim Higgs  

Tim has been involved in the corporate training industry for over 15 years; seven of these have been as the Portfolio Manager and Senior Facilitator at New Horizons. Tim holds a Graduate Diploma (Psych/Couns), a masters’ degree in Cultural Psychology and a bachelor’s degree in Business, giving him a unique theoretical backdrop for understanding human performance in the workplace. This complements his actual experience of working within the corporate sector in sales and management positions and owning and running a small business. Having worked with individuals and groups in both clinical and business settings, Tim has a fantastic insight into human behaviour, motivation and the issue of human change.

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