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Forming Storming Norming Performing: Stages of Team Development

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Understand how your team members relate and process tasks through Dr. Bruce Tuckman's Forming Storming Norming Performing model.

Marketing teams are often tasked with many asks on short timelines, and achieving maximum productivity means marketing team leaders need to have a strong understanding of how team members work and relate to each other. One breakdown of that dynamic that can help you execute on your marketing strategy is Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s Forming Storming Norming Performing model.

Tuckman’s model focuses on understanding relationships on teams. For B2B marketing teams, in particular, this is key: as B2B organizations move quickly to incorporate B2C best practices and innovations into their workflows, it can be difficult to prioritize and implement new tactics. Understanding how your team members relate and process tasks can give your organization the edge.

So let’s break down the four stages of the model so you can use Tuckman’s insights to help your team.

1. Come Together: Forming Your Team

The basics of the forming phase should be familiar to any marketing team leader: defining the project goals for the team and learning about the other members of the team. One of the most important parts of team-forming is sharing how each team member works on a project, their objectives for the project, and anything else that might ultimately impact success.

Discuss potential conflicts or issues that might arise over the course of the project, and collaborate on how to handle those issues and how the team will negotiate with each other when conflicting opinions come into play and can continue moving forward.

2. Helter Skelter: Storming Builds Team Connections

The honeymoon phase of team building can’t last forever, and inevitably issues arise as team members move into the execution phase. That can mean anything from interpersonal challenges to missed deadlines. Tuckman refers to this stage as the storming phase.

As a team leader, you will need to find a way to help your team members work together effectively. Often storming issues are exacerbated by a lack of clarity over the scope of the project or assignment of responsibilities across the team.

Keeping your thumb on the pulse of your team will help you identify when confusion and miscommunication are impacting team performance and the overall team dynamic. View these challenges as opportunities to better align the team with your goals and vision. Consider checking in with each team member one-on-one to understand how best to facilitate resolving brewing conflicts.

Bring the team together by reiterating the mutual goals and vision you set forward and agreed upon in the forming stage. Then clarify individual responsibilities and how those roles are contributing to the the whole. Make sure the entire team understands what each person is bringing to the table and how it relates to those goals. Remember: it’s all about constructive communication, even if it’s difficult to navigate.

3. It’s Getting Better All the Time: Norming Into Best Practices

When you’re able to get all the members of your marketing team on the same page in the storming stage, you come out the other side with a strong understanding of how your team works together and, more importantly, relates to each other. That means you’re ready to figure out what best practices you need to put into place to keep things running smoothly (and apply to future projects).

The main goal of the norming stage is to make sure team members are setting reasonable expectations for each other and that roles are aligned with individual goals and responsibilities. It’s also where you can take lessons learned in the storming phase to cover potential challenges or issues and make contingency plans to make sure the team is covered.

The relative peace of the norming phase also means there are opportunities for team members to connect with each other on an interpersonal level. As a leader, you can help deepen the relationships on your team by finding common ground amongst team members or taking them out of the office for an offsite or other bonding activity.

Remember that teams often go through several storming-norming cycles, and new issues can arise (a team member leaves, an emergency arises). Be consistent in deploying strategies to keep communication flowing and add new learnings to your arsenal of team knowledge. A model that open attitude to the rest of your team consistently.

4. Here Comes the Sun: Performing Gets You to Peak Team

The performing stage is what every marketing team leader dreams of: smooth delegation of tasks, efficient execution of individual responsibilities, optimized workflows that play to each team members’ strengths. This is the stage in which innovation can occur.

But you can’t get there without going through the forming-storming-norming stages. That’s because your team needs to understand each other and collaborate on the best way to approach projects so they can make the most of their skills and be prepared to counteract foreseeable issues or limitations.

The performing stage doesn’t mean setbacks don’t happen, but that your team is prepared for those setbacks and able to absorb them and try to find solutions instead of blaming each other. Team members are open to constructive criticism and continued refinement of best practices. They know what to expect from their other team members and can hold each other accountable without resorting to blaming each other.

That also means, as the team leader, you are able to step back because the team is capable of making the best decisions for the team without as much direct management. But you should continue to pay attention to how the team is working together, keep an eye out for potential conflict, and provide guidance while empowering the team to work more independently.

Teams will cycle back to earlier stages in the ever-changing, fast-moving field of marketing as new initiatives, strategies, and technologies come into plan, but you can position your team to establish the right norms around communication and collective goal-setting to be able to better handle new problems. Reward successes, and give credit to team members for going above and beyond.

You’ll be ready for anything.

Check out our original research about the Anatomy of the Modern Content Team.

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