Soft Skills Gone Hard

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In 1965, Tuckman published his research on team dynamics. He described the way he had observed groups evolve, whether they were conscious of it or not. The evolution progressed through 5 sequential stages, which he called: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.

His findings have been corroborated by others and withstood the test of time.  The question now becomes how you, as a project manager, can gain from it. The faster the team evolves to the performing stage, the better it is for the project and for each team member.

The value proposition is simple:  If you do nothing different, a typical team would go through these stages naturally and sooner or later stumble into the Performing phase. How long it take a team to go get to the performing stage? That will vary, but let’s assume it takes 8 weeks. What can you do, as a PM, to shorten that time by half to 4 weeks?

The answer is two things: cohesion and situational leadership. First, focus on developing “cohesion” from day one. Cohesion refers to understanding, familiarity, mutual-respect and camaraderie. Teamwork is just the outward manifestation of the inner cohesion existing in the team. Don’t just spend your time talking about goals, objectives, roles & responsibilities. Don’t do “team-building” exercises which from my experience are just managers trying to get people who don’t know each other to awkwardly “work” together by paddling a canoe across a stream, and then jump up and down in jubilation to show the observing managers that they learned the lesson and are now a team.

Rather focus on quickly developing the cohesion of your team. Do “cohesion” building activities, for example.  Ask each team member what they need to know or do with someone else in order to develop respect and camaraderie with someone else. Then tailor cohesion activities around those requests.  As cohesion grows, so will the team’s performance.

Secondly, use “situational leadership” which means that your management style should correspond to the situation; there is no one best way to lead.  Harvey and Blanchard identified 4 styles of leadership, all of which are used at one time or another. That also means that you as a PM have to consciously act differently in each phase of the Tuckman model. Synchronizing the different leadership styles to each phase of the Tuckman model will speedup the team’s evolution and reduce the time needed to get the team to the next phase.

During the Forming stage, the team is in a “honeymoon”; at their best behavior. They also have the least amount of information about the project and about their teammates. Therefore, the Directing/Telling leadership style should be used. The team needs clear direction, firm ground rules, and a good understanding of the objectives.

During the Storming phase, the honeymoon is over and the gloves are on. The Coaching/Selling leadership style is needed. As the PM you need to do a lot of convincing and selling of the project to each member of the team, as well as coach them through the conflicts between them.

During the Norming phase, the team accepts their differences and learns to work with each other.  They develop a rhythm and are getting work done. The Participating leadership style is used.  Your role is to facilitate and support the team.

In the Performing phase, the team in on a roll and working a like a Swiss watch. They are taking on bigger tasks and with minimum supervision. The Delegating leadership style is used, where tasks are continuously being assigned.

In conclusion, by using both cohesion and situational leadership you can significantly reduce the “time to performance”.  In our example, let’s assume that these techniques resulted in 4 weeks rather than 8 to reach the performance phase. That means that your team is spending 4 additional weeks of high-productivity. It also means that your team spend 4 weeks less in conflict, turf wars, etc. Try using these two techniques and watch how much faster your team coalesces.

In 1965, Tuckman published his research on team dynamics. He described the way he had observed groups evolve, whether they were conscious of it or not. The evolution progressed through 5 sequential stages, which he called: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.

His findings have been corroborated by others and withstood the test of time.  The question now becomes how you, as a project manager, can gain from it. The faster the team evolves to the performing stage, the better it is for the project and for each team member.

The value proposition is simple:  If you do nothing different, a typical team would go through these stages naturally and sooner or later stumble into the Performing phase. How long it take a team to go get to the performing stage? That will vary, but let’s assume it takes 8 weeks. What can you do, as a PM, to shorten that time by half to 4 weeks?

The answer is two things: cohesion and situational leadership. First, focus on developing “cohesion” from day one. Cohesion refers to understanding, familiarity, mutual-respect and camaraderie. Teamwork is just the outward manifestation of the inner cohesion existing in the team. Don’t just spend your time talking about goals, objectives, roles & responsibilities. Don’t do “team-building” exercises which from my experience are just managers trying to get people who don’t know each other to awkwardly “work” together by paddling a canoe across a stream, and then jump up and down in jubilation to show the observing managers that they learned the lesson and are now a team.

Rather focus on quickly developing the cohesion of your team. Do “cohesion” building activities, for example.  Ask each team member what they need to know or do with someone else in order to develop respect and camaraderie with someone else. Then tailor cohesion activities around those requests.  As cohesion grows, so will the team’s performance.

Secondly, use “situational leadership” which means that your management style should correspond to the situation; there is no one best way to lead.  Harvey and Blanchard identified 4 styles of leadership, all of which are used at one time or another. That also means that you as a PM have to consciously act differently in each phase of the Tuckman model. Synchronizing the different leadership styles to each phase of the Tuckman model will speedup the team’s evolution and reduce the time needed to get the team to the next phase.

During the Forming stage, the team is in a “honeymoon”; at their best behavior. They also have the least amount of information about the project and about their teammates. Therefore, the Directing/Telling leadership style should be used. The team needs clear direction, firm ground rules, and a good understanding of the objectives.

During the Storming phase, the honeymoon is over and the gloves are on. The Coaching/Selling leadership style is needed. As the PM you need to do a lot of convincing and selling of the project to each member of the team, as well as coach them through the conflicts between them.

During the Norming phase, the team accepts their differences and learns to work with each other.  They develop a rhythm and are getting work done. The Participating leadership style is used.  Your role is to facilitate and support the team.

In the Performing phase, the team in on a roll and working a like a Swiss watch. They are taking on bigger tasks and with minimum supervision. The Delegating leadership style is used, where tasks are continuously being assigned.

In conclusion, by using both cohesion and situational leadership you can significantly reduce the “time to performance”.  In our example, let’s assume that these techniques resulted in 4 weeks rather than 8 to reach the performance phase. That means that your team is spending 4 additional weeks of high-productivity. It also means that your team spend 4 weeks less in conflict, turf wars, etc. Try using these two techniques and watch how much faster your team coalesces.

JoseWritten by Jose Carranza (JCarranza@keyperformance.com)

July 7, 2014

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