Highly effective teams have one thing in common: A very similar and structured process for achieving success. The four steps in this process, Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, are critical steps in moving the ideas of the team forward to a common and focused goal.
In the Forming step, teams learn about their project expectations and explore how to reach the goal a group of individuals. The Storming step is where conflicts arise as the members of the team hash out their differences about the steps to achieve project success. In the Norming stage, the team becomes more comfortable with the strengths and contributions of each and agrees to move forward with a shared goal. The team hits its stride in the Performing step when the individual members know how to function together as a single unit and their reliance and dependence on each other fuels higher enthusiasm and motivation for the project’s success.
These steps are not always apparent to the team members, but a good team leader understands the importance of the process and takes the responsibility to guide the team through each phase. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it looks. Here’s why:
No one likes Storming.
You see, most people don’t like conflict. You may be one of them. Whether it’s a genetic predisposition, shyness, or their parents raised them to be polite, the very idea of an argumentative debate with another person over a business issue becomes horrifying. I’m not talking about arguing for the sake of arguing; I’m talking about providing constructive criticism and personal insights to help shape and move the project forward in a positive manner.
So many will see this confrontation as a personal attack. Therefore, most individuals on a team never rise to the level of Storming with their peers and a few strong-willed team members will take over the project. Then the result reflects the ideas and solutions of the few, and not of the many. Because the result is not representative of the team’s combined experience and intelligence, it falls far short of the ideal solution.
Now, I know you’re saying, “Where’s the team leader who’s supposed to guide the team through the process?” The leader is there, of course, but most team “leaders” do not like conflict either. Instead of encouraging and facilitating each step, the leader allows the vocal minority to take control.
Few projects, initiatives, or programs ever reach their full potential because most individuals and many “leaders” are too afraid to talk about the issues that are important to them as they strive to achieve their goals. Lack of effective leadership is a serious problem in many corporations and nonprofits today—but that’s a topic for another post.
In our personal lives, many of us have similar challenges. We go through the same steps—Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing—as our life circumstances change and we are forced to adapt. But, we rarely allow ourselves to Strom—to confront and address those issues that keep us from moving forward. Instead, we often find ourselves standing still, perhaps talking in circles, and repeating the same conversations time-after-time because the real issues are not being addressed. Alternatively, we may just resign ourselves to carry around the burdens and frustrations of not being heard. Either way, it may sometimes seem much more comfortable to keep quiet than to step up and be the force that drives our own lives forward.
Storming is a necessary part of life. It helps us to confront the issues and overcome the conflicts that prevent us from achieving greater successes. We must not be afraid to Storm, however uncomfortable it may be for us. Storming is especially critical when it serves to move projects or ideas forward, or supports growth in our personal lives. Refusing to Storm never allows us to be the best we can be, as an individual or as a member of a team.
Think of it this way: Storms always pass. When we step outside after the dark clouds move on, look up to the clear sky and breathe in the clean air, we find ourselves giving thanks for the heavy rain the storm showered upon us. When we move from Storming to Norming, to Performing—as a team or as an individual—I guarantee the feeling of gratitude is the same.
I’ve helped facilitate change most of my career and I’ve come to recognize the people within organizations who have been shackled by “Golden Handcuffs.” Golden Handcuffs, if you ‘re not familiar with the term, is typically defined as the financial incentives designed to keep an employee from moving on until the organization believes it has recouped its investment in that employee. I define the term a little differently, though. While I do see Golden Handcuffs as a strong incentive to stay with an organization, I believe it is driven by employee desire for financial and life stability and not the organizations desire for a return on its investment.
Long-term employees of an organization gain greater financial security with their tenure. At defined points in tenure, vacation days increase, bonuses may get bigger, and there may be vesting in retirement or stock incentive plans. Organizations plan these incentives to retain their best employees yet, what they ultimately get at about 10 years of tenure is a pool of employees who have been with the company too long to leave without affecting their individual lifestyle. So, they stay on the job doing what little needs to be done to maintain their place in the organization until retirement. Sadly, an employee who joins the company at 30, and is shackled with the Golden Handcuffs at 40, will likely be a mediocre performer for the next 25 years.
It’s no wonder we have a crisis in leadership in many of our larger corporations and nonprofit organizations. Those incentives designed to keep the best and brightest employees end up being the very thing that weighs down the organization. In the largest of organizations, where significant numbers of these employees may hold senior positions, their resistance to change can be so deeply anchored in the current culture, that they effectively prevent the organization from achieving desired and necessary change.
Golden Handcuffs eventually create what I call, “Golden Anchors”; employees who are too vested to leave, too secure in their current position and responsibilities, and too comfortable with their personal lifestyle. Beware of these Golden Anchors, for they are the quiet saboteurs of any change initiative within your organization.
Although not all long-term employees become Golden Anchors, it is critical to identify those who have become anchors to the way thing are (or were), so that you may pull them up when you need to pilot a new course for change. Golden Anchors are easy to spot because they typically have three or more of following characteristics:
- Tenure (usually 10 years or more)
- General resistance to any change in their work or home life
- Noted naysayers to any new idea, process or procedure
- Tagged as “difficult” by others
- Subtlety undermine organizational initiatives in their daily conversations with peers and direct reports
- No desire for additional training or education to further their contribution to the organization
- Performance often just barely meets your expectations
Once you have identified them, you have the difficult task of determining how to eliminate, or at least minimize their impact. Whatever you decide, one thing is certain: You must address, not ignore, your Golden Anchors if you have hope to facilitate change. Golden Anchors are the greatest challenge to effective leadership that exists in organizations today.
Featured Image Source: Alan English from flickr.com under CC License.