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Three steps you can take today to help you manage high-performing teams in a remote working world

The previous few months have been challenging for many of us, adapting to remote working while trying to ensure continuity of business in an uncertain time. Most of us have now adapted to this change, but in many cases collaboration and a sense of 'team work' has been been reduced. In this new world where many teams continue to work apart, team development and collaboration are more important than ever. 

Forming a high-performing team doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, commitment and some considerable effort. Structure helps in this process which is why I'm such an advocate of Tuckman's model of team development, which can help guide you through this progression.

Tuckman's four stages of team development

Forming (initial lockdown/establishing remote working) - at this stage, people are quite clearly working as a group of individuals. There's almost something quite unreal at this stage in the process, as people find out how each other are working.

This part of the formation will also have an emphasis on the establishment of 'ground rules' and procedures. It's perhaps at this stage that the issues of participation and involvement are at their most important. 

Storming (uncertainty) - observation and research has shown that teams generally need to pass through a stage of turbulence if they're going to achieve their potential as a team. Individual team members may assert their individual goals, and this may create hostility due to the range of goals within the team.

Dominant individuals may experience resistance. The team is likely to become more aggressive with each other and the outside environment. From a management point of view, it becomes important to give strong leadership in the resolution of these conflicts.

Norming (the day you wake up and realise this is the new form) - this is the stage where the team will consolidate. The team has learned to operate for itself having gone through the experimental storming stage. Team members will now begin to develop stronger working relationships. Roles are established during this stage, as are some of the norms and rules of working. In essence, the team's established what needs to be done and has formulated a plan and procedure itself for getting there.

Performing - now the team is working together towards a common goal. This area is all about getting the task or project done. This stage is characterised by openness and honesty. The 'mature' team has developed itself and is working efficiently towards the goals and objectives established earlier. The team challenges itself without any of the previous conflict and places a high emphasis on the development of individuals within it.

Tuckman later added a fifth stage: 'adjourning' or 'mourning' - perhaps not as relevant to this article, but a final stage illustrating the disbandment of project teams or when organisational restructuring occurs, but I'm sure this will be more relevant as we transition to going back into the office.

How can we best use this model to manage team performance and development in a remote world?

Join me, Chris Blackburn, Carbon60's Head of Learning & Development, for the third in our series of LUNCH & LEARN webinars on 23rd June, from 12pm. 

This interactive session will help you build confidence on using technology to manage remote teams successfully. You will learn to support high-performance working in this transitional period moving from traditional office-based environments to an increasingly blended workforce management model.

Reserve your place here.

I believe these stages are as relevant now to isolated working as they would be in a more traditional site-based or office environment.

If I am to compare this to my experience as a manager, following lockdown, the 'Norming' stage occurred for my team around three weeks ago. Once we worked out how to login and do our role remotely and were confident with that, we were able to turn our attention to speaking to our customers about their problems and brainstorming as a team how we can create new ways of working to support them in what is a really challenging time. But we didn't get there immediately, and we had to experience the 'Forming' and even 'Storming' stages before feeling like we were making real progress towards our goals.

What helped me to get my team to that stage was an understanding of Tuckman's model and an appreciation that 'Norming' and 'Performing' weren't going to happen immediately. Rather than feeling like the team wasn't making progress while working remotely, I was able to witness the evolution of the team members and understand that although a steady process, we were on track. We were transitioning through perfectly normal and necessary human/psychological reactions to a process. After all, Forming and Storming are prerequisites to Norming and Performing and are required to building a successful, productive team - whether based in the same location or remotely.

Naturally, the quicker we can progress to the Norming stage, the quicker we can begin to succeed and see results, but an understanding of the need to progress through each of the stages in turn to strengthen the basis of your team, is perhaps more important than the speed in which we transition through them.

Tips for developing your team

So, my advice would be to follow Tuckman's model, but remain adaptable, tweaking the stages as required for your specific team and scenario.

1. Identifying the stage your team's at currently.

Although my guidance is to work through them in order, it may that your team is already 'formed' and has already experienced a 'Storming' stage too. In this case, don't waste time going over old ground and move straight to the 'Norming' stage. If your team on the other hand, is not yet functioning as well as it could be, you may need to take a step back to revisit a level.

2. Invest your time in learning about your remote working tools.

As a business we already had access to some great tools, such as Microsoft Teams, but we just didn't know how to use them effectively enough. This time working remotely has forced me to understand the tools we have available and take the time in being an expert to use this technology to help us communicate effectively. This doesn't need to be complicated, something as simple as having a WhatsApp group video call once a day can let you see your team face-to-face, and better assess the stage they are at as a group. 

3. Have a plan in place for moving towards each of the remaining stages.

Write it down. Brainstorm how you'll get there. Establish processes and identify potential problems - how will you overcome them to ensure that you're moving your team through each part of Tuckman's model? This is where you'll need to bring together all of your people skills as a manager; relationship-building, conflict resolution, coaching etc. How will you communicate with and motivate your team - even when faced with modern challenges such as remote working?

My own experience of using Tuckman's model alongside my own leadership knowledge and experience has been nothing but positive and has helped through these recent turbulent times. Why not try making it part of your strategy for team development whilst working working remotely, and let me know how you find it!




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