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A Team Leader’s Challenge: Leading through the Four Stages of Team Development - Storming

Storming: Uh Oh – The Team is Not Getting Along

Part 3 of 5

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this case study.

The team has now been working together on the project for a few weeks and, while there was work getting done, there were a number of issues and conflicts that kept arising. It was apparent to Joshua that the team was going through a difficult time. What was happening, in fact, was that the team was still in the Storming stage of team development (Exhibit 1.)

In the Storming stage of team development, conflicts and problems are to be expected. This is the stage where team members are, effectively, finding their place on the team. They want to make their mark on the project and stand out from the team. As they figure out how to do this, there will be conflicts, disagreements and problems will arise. The project manager’s role through the Storming stage is to be sure the team is following outlined processes and procedures and that they listen to each other’s ideas.

Storming

Exhibit 1

Although much had been done to enable team members to be comfortable working together, and a number of solid friendships had formed (see Part 2,) it was still apparent that the team wasn’t quite working as well together as Joshua and the sponsor would have liked. However, this was expected and Joshua knew how he would work with the group to get them to the point where they were working well as a team and accomplishing the work of the initiative.

A Number of Conflicts and Issues

Conflicts and issues that had arisen over the last few weeks included:

  • Arguments between the team leads – Tony and Heather – about who was better qualified to manage a particular major task on the initiative
  • Arguments between team members that seemed petty (for example, one team member complaining that he was working harder than another)
  • Conflicts that were due to miscommunications among team members
  • A number of problems that took long to resolve (even simpler issues seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to come to agreement on how to resolve)

While conflicts and issues were not unexpected, Joshua knew they needed to be addressed sooner and reduced overall if the project was going to be successful. One particular conflict which was troubling to Joshua was the one between Deborah (on Tony’s team) and Siraj (on Heather’s team.) As the reader will recall from Part 1, Deborah can be more rigid in her approach and appears to not mind conflict situations. Siraj, on the other hand, is more easy going and tends to avoid conflict. To Heather, as well as to a few other team members, it appeared that Deborah was regularly picking fights and causing conflict with Siraj.

For this part of the case study, we’ll focus on how Joshua addressed conflicts and issues overall and will also address how Joshua worked specifically Heather and Tony to ensure their teams were collaborating effectively.

The Virtual Meeting to Work through the Conflict and Ensure a Reduction in Future Conflicts

At a virtual team meeting specifically arranged for addressing conflicts and issues, Joshua included on the agenda some time to review the team norms and ground rules agreed to at the initial meeting, as well as the processes and procedures agreed upon by everyone.

During this virtual meeting, he reiterated that he does expect that conflicts will arise (in fact – he said that he is “looking forward to conflict as conflict means the team is passionate and engaged!) and problems will occur. The fact that there were conflicts and problems were not the issue, but rather how those conflicts and problems were managed and resolved was key to the team working together effectively and collaboratively.

During the meeting, Joshua outlined – at a high level – the types of conflicts and problems that had already surfaced on the project. He did this in a way so as not to place blame.

These were working sessions where the group broke into small teams and discussed a better approach to managing two major conflicts that had occurred and to solve two major problems on the initiative that had occurred.

For each conflict reviewed, the team discussed how the conflict may have been better approached – based on the processes and procedures discussed in the very first team meeting – to either:

  • Reduce its impact
  • Avoid it altogether

Similarly, for each problem reviewed, the team discussed how the problem may have been addressed – again, based on the processes and procedures discussed in the very first team meeting – to resolve it in a more innovative way relying on the expertise and diversity of the team.

As part of this meeting, Joshua also led another risk planning session to confirm how the risks identified previously would be managed should they come to fruition, based on how conflicts and problems were to be addressed. This enabled for advanced planning and, if particular risks came to fruition, the team would have already worked together to develop a solution to the risk, thereby reducing conflicts and additional problems.

Meeting with Heather and Tony

Joshua’s meeting with Heather and Tony was to be focused on enabling them to figure out how they would work together, supporting their teams as well as each other. Joshua loved that their personalities were so diverse, but also understood that the diversity was going to create some conflicts between the two. In particular, he didn’t want Heather to feel as if she had to cave in to what Tony wanted. In addition, conflicts between the two team leads may lead to conflicts between their team members and that was something to be avoided.

During the meeting, Joshua spent some time talking about why he wanted Heather and Tony as team leads – he praised their past experiences working on projects as well as their willingness to push through adversity to accomplish objectives (areas where they are similar and have common values.) He also told them that he was pleased with the diversity on the team overall, including the diversity between Heather and Tony.  He commented to them, however, that he has noted that there has been some conflicts between their team members that, in his opinion, could be avoided or minimized moving forward if they got to know each other a bit more, figured out how they would work together and enable for better collaboration between their team members. In particular, he wanted to talk about the conflict between Deborah and Siraj.

Deborah and Tony are rather similar in that they both can be a little “rough” and abrasive. Siraj, much like Heather, tends to avoid conflict and is more easygoing. It was apparent to Joshua that Tony condoned and therefore supported how Deborah was interacting with Siraj. Tony needed to model the right behavior in order to ensure more collaboration and less conflict. Heather and Siraj, for their parts, needed to be a bit more forceful so that they don’t feel like they are being “run over” by others on the team. Joshua knew that Heather and Siraj had great ideas and he needed to get them to the point where they could more easily and comfortably make the case for their ideas.

The two hour meeting was focused on letting Tony and Heather take the lead in figuring out how they would work together given their diverse personalities; but also with a focus on using their strengths to supplement each other in getting the work done. Joshua did not lead the conversation but rather ensured that Tony and Heather listened to each other and equally contributed to resolving the situation.

At the end of the two hour meeting, the two of them had learned a bit more about each other including finding a number of similarities. This helped to strengthen their working relationship. Additionally, together they came to agreement on how they would work together and how they would hold themselves and each other accountable. They would share these expectations with their teams.

While Joshua was pleased with the end results of the meeting, he knew that conflicts would still arise (which was OK) and would wait and see how Tony and Heather addressed them going forward.

Stay tuned for Part 4: Getting the Team to High Performing

Future parts of this case study:

  • Part 5: Lessons Learned in Team Development