INsight/ Making Teams Work


Manila, 8 November 2017 — If teams perform below expectations, what will you do to get them to work? It might be easier than you think.

Team Models

One of the best-known models for understanding team performance looks at the developmental sequence of a team. Introduced by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965, the central idea of this model is to identify five typical stages that teams will go through as they develop, from forming to storming, norming, and performing. Tuckman later added a phase of adjourning (sometimes called mourning). 

In my experience, I have indeed seen team dynamics that resemble these stages. And I have also seen cases where performance peaked very early, rather than in the fourth stage. And why not?

What models do for us is to help us grasp what is involved, to be better informed when we take action. Because models simplify reality, they are also inherently wrong, because the world around us is always more complex than models suggest. Yet models can help us.

This was summed up in 1976 by George Box, a British statistician, who famously wrote that "All models are wrong, some are useful.” 

There are other models that can help teams to perform better. Some draw on personality aspects of the team members—using one of the many personality assessments available today—and others on their individual strengths, for example. All of these models have a degree of usefulness, and none of them offers 'the whole truth.' 

The wisdom distilled from using these models suggests that a high-performing team brings together diverse members who learn to work together well. Shades of Tuckman there.

Three Factors

I would single out three factors that can hold teams back from reaching their best performance.

Diversity of Communication Styles

First, there is often a diversity among the team members that was neither considered when the team was planned nor recognized sufficiently when the team starts working. I call this a diversity of communication styles, originating from the worldview (mindset) of each member. It goes much beyond introversion and extraversion. This diversity of communication styles is both visible and invisible, yet it can be brought to the surface and turned into a team's greatest strength.

Unproductive Tensions

Second, most problems in teams occur not because of a big difference of opinion on substance. They are caused by different communication styles, that can easily rub some members the wrong way regardless of the substance of what is being discussed. These problems cause unproductive tensions that raise emotions, cloud relationships and make it more difficult to work together, mostly because of differences in style. Note that this is different from creative tensions that are about substance and are increasingly seen as necessary to produce innovation.

Tuning Out

Third, average and low-performing teams often fail to improve because they don't know where to begin in overcoming their internal challenges. So the door to start maximizing the complementary expertise and experience of the members remains closed. Going back to Tuckman, we can observe how invisible quiet storms can go on for a long time, especially when members tune out and quietly withdraw from contributing their best to the team. 

If you're with me in saying that communication styles are a major factor in team performance—including those quiet withdrawals of members from giving their best—then I invite you to explore a method that looks specifically at different communication styles that individual team members prefer, and how to learn to use all of these styles to bring your team together.

Did you know that your team members have different preferences for how they want to be acknowledged and rewarded? Do you know which member has which preference? 

Work In All Colors

What if you could boost the performance of your team by looking at the preferred communication style of each member, and then help them discover how to work together with a deeper sense of mutual appreciation and trust? Would that not open the door to a much higher level of performance of the team as they work together better?  

If this intrigues you, you're welcome to get in touch with me and I'll be happy to tell you more about the Work In All Colors method, and why leaders I have trained call it a life-changing experience that boosts their influence, leading to better team performance.

It was easier than they thought, several of them commented.