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A Team Leader’s Challenge: Leading through the Four Stages of Team Development – Forming

Forming: Getting the Team Together for the First TimePart 2 of 5

Read Part I of this case study for background information.

When we ended Part I of the case study, Joshua was beginning to plan some time to enable the team to get to know each other and figure out how they would work together. The diverse personalities and backgrounds of the team members, while a benefit overall needed to be well-managed so that the team would be effective in meeting the project objectives.


Exhibit 1

First, a little about the FORMING stage. During the FORMING stage (stage 1 in Exhibit 1 above), the team is finding their way around how they will work together. There is significant confusion during this stage as the team tries to determine how they fit in to the team as well as what expectations are of them. It order to move past this stage, the team leader – in this case, Joshua – must ensure that he clearly communicates the goals of the team, the project objectives, as well as expectations of individual team members and the team as a whole. Conflicts may certainly arise during this stage.

Not much is happening in accomplishing project goals in the Forming stage. But, much can be done in this stage to enable the team to move through this stage, and the next one, as quickly as possible. If this is done, then, and only then, is the team functioning well.

Planning the Team Meeting

In order to ensure that the first team meeting was productive and got the team started off well, Joshua spent time planning for the two days the team would be together. While certainly it would be important to spend time determining,

  • Team norms
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Processes for:
    • Managing through conflicts
    • Solving problems
    • Making decisions
    • Passing work
    • Reporting on status
    • Communicating among the team

…Joshua felt it would be even more important to enable the team to spend time getting to know each other. This was an important component of the two days since the team would not always be able to be co-located and would primarily work virtually.

Joshua asked the project administrator, Jeremiah, to help him in planning the team meeting. In particular, he tasked Jeremiah with working with Abudi Consulting Group to determine a number of team activities to enable the team to get to know each other. Additionally, Abudi Consulting Group would facilitate during the meeting so that Joshua was able to participate as a member of the team as much as possible.

A brief outline of the agenda for the meeting is shown in Exhibit 2.

Evening Before Day 1

  • Group dinner
  • Team member introductions
  • Kick off of “Getting to Know You” Team Activity (activity 1)

Day 1

  • Team building activity 2
  • Welcome by Project Sponsor
  • Project information – objectives, scope
  • Discussion of roles and responsibilities on team
    (team org structure)
  • Break out groups (led by team members, not by project team leads) to develop drafts of processes around: managing conflicts, resolving problems, making decisions, sharing work, status reporting and communication among team members
  • Introduction to virtual collaboration portal to be used by team
  • Team building activity 3

Evening of Day 1

  • Group dinner
  • Time to complete “Getting to Know You” Team Activity

Day 2

  • Team building activity 4
  • Reporting of work done by break out groups
  • Agreement on processes for team (based on break out group work)
  • Team building activity 5
  • Agreement on team ground rules and norms, including development of Team Charter
  • Sharing of results from team activity: “Getting to Know You”
  • Planning for kick off of project as well as developing a schedule for regular team meetings and sub-team meetings

Exhibit 2

About the “Getting to Know You” Activity

The “Getting to Know You” activity is a great activity to get team members talking with each other. This activity starts with a survey sent to all team members with a list of 15 – 25 questions to answer. Individuals can choose to skip questions they are not comfortable answering. Examples of questions in this activity include:

  • Where were you born?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Do you play a musical instrument?
  • What is the oddest pet you have ever owned (not a cat, dog, bird or fish)
  • How many languages do you speak?
  • What is the most exotic place you have gone for vacation?
  • What is one thing no one at work knows about you?

The goal of the questions are to get individuals to have a conversation with each other and get to know each other outside of work. When people get to know someone on a more personal level, they establish stronger working relationships as well as build trust. For a team to effectively work together, they must build strong working relationships with each other as well as get to trust each other.

Once the responses are received, Abudi Consulting Group developed a list of questions (for example: “Who in the group has had a hermit crab as a pet?” and “Who has nine siblings?” and “Who used to play the violin in an orchestra?”) There were two versions of question sets to be answered; not everyone had the same exact questions.

The team would have some time over the duration of the meeting to get answers to the questions on the sheet.

Addressing Challenges and Concerns during the Team Meeting

You will recall from Table 1 in part one of this case study that the team members had very different personalities, a variety of backgrounds and years with the company, and different experiences. This is typical of every team!

Joshua noticed the very first night at dinner that a few of the team members were grumbling about participating in the “Getting to Know You” activity. He knew that this might be a problem as he needed to prompt a number of them to respond to the questions on the survey in the first place. Complaints ranged from “This is a waste of time, let’s just work on the project” to “I hate team building!” Individual conversations with those individuals enabled for sharing the value of team building as well as to set expectations that the team was more important than the individual on this project. The sponsor, at the first dinner of the group, set the expectation that he expected full participation over the next two days from all members of the team – in both working sessions as well as in team building activities. He commented that he himself was going to be participating himself in the activities. This helped to set expectations with those who were doing a bit of grumbling.

Additional, but not unexpected, challenges occurred throughout the next two days. Mainly these challenges occurred around ideas around how to complete the work of the project, solve problems, resolve conflicts and make decisions. Challenges were addressed through effective facilitation and ensuring equal participation from team members.

The time spent early on Day 1 by the sponsor sharing information about the objectives and overall goal of the project served to ensure understanding (and clear up any potential confusion) about the why of the project. The sponsor shared significant information about the link of the project to the long-term strategy of the organization as well as the commitment of the entire senior leadership team to this initiative. Although he only spoke for about 30 minutes, he really got the team excited about the opportunity to work on this initiative.

Team Building Activities are Fun!

By the time the third team building activity kicked off, the team seemed to be having fun! Often a group coming together for the first time will be uncomfortable and concerned about team building activities. Especially those individuals who tend to be a bit quieter or are shy. However, once individuals get to know each other a bit more, the comfort level around participating in team building activities increases and participation in the activity picks up. Given this, Abudi Consulting Group tends to start off with team building activities that are simpler and, frankly, not as “scary” for individuals to take part in. As the comfort level of the individuals on the team increases, the team building activities become a bit more complex and require more participation as well as “putting yourself out there.”

The Close of the Meeting

As the meeting moved into day 2, while conflicts still occurred, there were less of them and they were resolved more quickly. We were starting to see an appreciation among the team members around the variety of experiences, expertise, and diversity of the group.

During one conversation, a member of the team turned to another member who hadn’t spoken for a while and asked for his thoughts on the topic. He started the conversation with, “Siraj, we haven’t heard from you on this topic and given your background, I, for one, would love to get your take on the subject. How can we move forward in the best way possible based on your experience?”

At the close of the meeting, it was apparent that team members had grown more comfortable with each other. Some members were sharing personal contact information; it was apparent a number of close friendships had formed!

The project was off to a great start!

Stay tuned for Part 3: Storming! Uh Oh – The Team is Not Getting Along

Future parts of this case study:

  • Part 4: Getting the Team to High Performing
  • Part 5: Lessons Learned in Team Development

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