Don’t be afraid of the storms

October 5, 2010 Insights and growth Comments (0) 411

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.


Featured Image Source: After the Storm by Phil’s Hat

David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience in branding, strategy, licensing and marketing.

In his spare time, he consults, coaches, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.

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Beware of Golden Anchors

September 26, 2010 Business, Culture and demographics, Organizational change Comments (0) 360

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 under CC License.

David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience in branding, strategy, licensing and marketing.

In his spare time, he consults, coaches, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.

Connect with him on social media below:

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Social Media: This, too, will change.

May 29, 2009 Culture and demographics, Social media Comments (6) 386

I have always been an early adopter of technology. I like change, and I get a bit of an adrenaline rush working with and figuring out new tools and toys. Unfortunately, there are a good number of my friends and family who do not understand some of the newer social media enablers. Twitter cannot be explained to most of them, and some flat-out refuse to use Facebook. Others, I am sad to say, carry a cell phone, but cannot manage to “Text.” These are the same people who could not believe I would carry a BlackBerry® and answer emails after working hours, yet they now do the same. Times and people do change.

The use of these electronic tools for conversation isn’t as really the time-waster they insist it is. Frankly, I prefer to think of these devices tools as “time-enablers” instead of a “time-wasters.” Having a BlackBerry®, for example, allows me to take my work with me wherever I go. Whether it’s soccer games, band or chorus concerts, or business trips, I can easily bridge the time between work, play, and life most of the time. This technology use means I probably work more hours than the average person does, but I work differently. I like the freedom. After all, it’s all “life,” isn’t it?

Facebook allows me to keep up with my kids and friends while traveling on business or otherwise away from the PC. Twitter opens the doors to ideas and conversations that I would never have if I only talked to the people in my everyday business dealings. For those of us with intense curiosity and a burning desire to continue to learn new things, Twitter is the source of unbelievable amounts of useful information, shared by people with similar passions—even for a skimmer of tweets like me.

In a 2003 blog entry, “The trouble with cell phones,” I shared that my friend Roger might have been on to something when he suggested, “…cell phones have replaced cigarettes as a nervous habit. People pull out their cell phones, call others when they feel bored or need to kill 5 minutes or so, and didn’t plan ahead with some reading material.” Today, this has been replaced with texting, email, Facebook, and Twitter. Tomorrow, it will be something else. As someone commented recently, given a choice, people would rather be doing something than doing nothing. Mobile technologies allow us to do something all of the time—productive or not.

Technology has naturally evolved since 2003 when cell phones were the primary source of mobile conversations. While we still use cell phones, we use them differently. We talk little and text often. Technology and our use of will continuously evolve and morph into the next generation of tools. Think about it: the “shared applications,” mainframe-thinking of the 70’s changed into tools like Google Apps and cloud computing discussions. AOL’s IM chat communities of the 90’s and have evolved into today’s Facebook, and ASP program models of the 2000’s have grown into the Software as a Service (SaaS) program models of today. The technology changed, sure. But, it was the users of the technology who drove those changes.

Knowing how technology changes, it’s hard for me to imagine that a few short years from now what we call “Social Media” and the technology that supports it, will not have undergone a significant transformation for the better. It will do so because of the users. Users of these tools already desire a more streamlined ways to improve communications with others. I have to believe that users will demand better integration of these tools to make their lives easier through increased mobility. This will allow the conversations to continue and the relationships to build all day, every day. Will this mean stronger, better relationships? Maybe. Only time will tell.

I am confident of two things, though. One: Everything about technology and social media interaction will continue to evolve. For those of us who are early adopters, we gain great insights into how that evolution may occur. Two: My friends, who don’t understand Twitter today, will likely not follow the next step in the evolution either. Unfortunately, they will find themselves farther and farther behind; not just with technology, but also in their social interactions with others as many of their friends more readily adopt the changing way we communicate as a culture.

By know, we all should realize that “this, too, will change.” Technology evolves. Communication methods evolve. People do not evolve as much as they adapt. Either they drive such change by adopting, engaging, and sharing or they only adapt to such change reluctantly in fear of being passed by.

Which will you do?


Thanks to @heathervescent with whom I had a Twitter conversation about emerging technology, which was the spark for this blog post.

BlackBerry® is a registered trademark of Research In Motion Limited.


David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience in branding, strategy, licensing and marketing.

In his spare time, he consults, coaches, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.

Connect with him on social media below:

Continue Reading