Group of students laughing and getting to know each other

Get the most out of team work

Explore some of the challenges and solutions for developing from a new group into an effective team

Your team has started your assignment. You understand team strengths and have allocated team roles successfully. Things should be running smoothly – but you may still experience challenges.  

Any team, whether it is sending an interplanetary probe to Jupiter, introducing a new corporate logo, or implementing improved health-care protocols, will have struggles. But they can still achieve fantastic things.

The stages of group work 

Once you've built your group and started work on your project, you'll go through particular group stages before the project is complete. A simplified version of the life-cycle of a work group proposed by Tuckman in 1965 (Developmental sequence in small groups), is visible in this table: 

 

Stage Some social characteristics Some task characteristics 
Forming Members ‘test’ their way towards a balance in terms of interpersonal behaviour within the group Identification of what the task is and how it might be tackled
Storming Possible resistance as individuals respond to the demands of their subtasks, or challenge each other Task progress can be compromised as individuals work through feelings and individual differences
Norming The group and the differences amongst its members are now recognised and appreciated Diversity is understood as an asset that can contribute to overall task achievement
Performing Members work on ‘what needs to be done’, without preciousness or a jobsworth mind-set Group energy is now devoted to outcome achievement and solutions to the various problems presented by the subtasks appear

 

Coping with storming

Your team, by using our working in groups advice and allocating team roles, have probably reached the 'forming' stage of team development. Unexpected disagreements may start appearing now. These could relate to the balance or fairness of allocated work, regardless of what has been agreed previously, or doubts about other team members’ commitment. You are now in the 'storming' stage.

Confronting storming issues will help you get your project back on track, while ignoring them can threaten your team's success. Remember, you all have a common interest in success (like a high grade), and want to do your best.

Storming is evidence that some or all of your team members are outside their comfort zone. This can leave individuals feeling vulnerable. It's easy to act defensive or withdraw when we feel exposed. To help manage this storming stage, revisit the ‘allowable’ weaknesses in Belbin’s Team roles model. 

SWOT analysis

You can use a Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOT) analysis to deal with issues constructively. Write a hand-drawn matrix on a white board or A3 sheet of paper.

A SWOT analysis can help you find way to use your strengths to exploit opportunities (1) and neutralise threats (2), and for opportunities to overcome weaknesses (3), and weaknesses and threats to be mitigated or avoided (4). Using SWOT helps you reframe a ‘problem’ as a problem-solving activity and work towards a common goal.

A SWOT analysis using the team from starting to understand team strengths could look like:

 

SWOT Analysis

Opportunities

  • We have a booked group tutorial with our tutor
  • A chartered marketeer has offered to critique our draft proposal

Threats

  • Hitting our deadline with our current project timeline
  • One of our research subjects has become unavailable

Strengths

  • We established good, initial inter-team communication
  • We are actually quite dynamic!
  • We can all use Google drive

(1)

  • Zahraa will contact tutor to bring forward meeting by a week. Within two days.
  • Nikhil will transfer all our documents to ‘the cloud’. By tomorrow

(2)

  • Nikhil will reschedule our task milestones. By tomorrow.
  • Suzie will approach alternative potential research subjects. By next progress meeting.

 

Weaknesses

  • We have a tendency to theorise rather than ‘do’
  • Our project experience is limited and we underestimated how long tasks can take

(3)

  • Sam will discuss our current proposals with the marketeer to ensure we don’t waste future effort on ideas outside our capacity/capability to deliver. Within two days

(4)

  • We have all added two extra progress meetings to our diaries to increase our accountability to each other. Today.

 

The team has written specific, objective items in their analysis. They've used the pronoun ‘we’ and avoided placing blame.

They also paid attention to the language in their conversation by using open questions like "What do we need to understand about [a topic]?" rather than saying, “You don’t understand [something]." Questions like these encourage the team to explore the subject as a group, while using a closed or accusatory statement may make team members feel targets and act defensively.  

The team have focused on the positive outcomes of their work and asked: “Do we have the task balance right, and how can we improve it?” rather than blaming each other or complaining that participants haven't done their fair share of work. You may need to separate your personal response from your professional one to do this successfully but it will become easier with practise.

You group dynamic will influence individual behaviours and attitudes within your group. Use your SWOT analysis as an opportunity to celebrate your strengths and achievements and ensure that all team members are happy with their roles and progress.  

References

Belbin, R. M. (2010). Team Roles at Work (2nd ed). New York: Routledge.

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental Sequence in Small Group, Psychological Bulletin, (63)6, 384-399. Retrieved from search.ebscohost.com/

This site uses cookies. Click here to view our cookie policy message.

Accept and close