Friday, October 15, 2010

Weather the Storm

Business Strategies

Project Managers often use a particular sequence of events to describe how teams form and begin to deliver value:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing
2010.10.15_Storm

There are many articles written about how these steps naturally occur in every project, even with people that work in the same company.  I won’t go into the details of each.

I prefer to talk about the mindset it takes to get past Storming.  First, let’s define storming.  Storming is when newly formed teams begin to discuss what expertise each person has, who will take on which responsibilities, and how the project should proceed.  Many times the various solution approaches to a business problem or project are discussed at this stage as well. 

As you can imagine, when people come together that have seldom or never worked together, they require a certain amount of time to get to know each other and build respect for one another.  However, there’s also a lot of posturing that takes place at this stage.  Often times, since members of the team don’t yet know how to best communicate with one another, they end up upsetting various or all members.  Members may think others’ questions about an approach are attacks on a person’s expertise or understanding. In other words, a lot of us tend to take comments or questions personally. 

What results is storming, a certain amount of turmoil that naturally occurs before the team settles and becomes comfortable with its members. Often times, team members don’t yet act as team members, but individuals who need to defend their ideas and establish their expertise.  This is necessary step that could last a long time or even breakup a team before they can deliver any value.

As a recent experience reminded me, there are a few factors that help get past this stage as quickly as possible so that a team can gel or Norm and begin to deliver value in the shortest amount of time possible.  There’s no way to avoid this stage.  You just have to get through it…and you will.  Here are the factors that will help shorten the storming stage:

  1. Be Patient
    This is the most important factor.  Patience here means waiting to hear people out.  Let them speak.  Let them complete their sentences.  If you disagree with ideas presented or have questions, jot them down in your notebook computer or notepad.  Everyone enjoys being heard and especially likes it when the chance to speak isn’t stolen through comment interjection or disruptions.  So, why not let everyone speak their mind?
  2. Listen
    This goes hand-in-hand with being patient.  Probably, we’ve all heard that hearing is not the same as listening.  Hearing is a passive act.  I hear noises when I sleep or when I work, but I listen to music or people I love.  Hearing is what we do when we’re impatient and can’t wait to get a word in during a discussion. Whereas listening is when we carefully analyze the sounds or expounded words and attempt to digest their full meaning.  Intently listening often leads to periods of silence as a person finishes a thought and others decipher the totality of what was said, while dissecting the meaning of each word uttered.  Listen with the full intent of understanding every word.  Before making any points of your own, ask questions if you didn’t understand an idea presented or even a word uttered. 
  3. Don’t Take it Personally
    If you’re the one speaking and hear questions or even criticism of your ideas, don’t take it personally.  This should only make you realize your audience is listening and needs clarification.  Give them just that.  Explain your ideas as best you can and realize sometimes it takes up to seven conversations about the same topic for it to sink in.  Until then, all comments or questions may sound like criticism, though they’re not.
  4. Give Credit Where it’s Due
    When you hear of a great idea or see a great design, make it known.  Let your team members know how highly you think of their contribution so that you can begin to build goodwill.  They shouldn’t just hear your questioning.  They’ve worked hard on creating a widget, formulating their thoughts, designing the next big thing. If the ideas are worthwhile, they deserve to know that.
  5. Don’t Critique; Suggest Instead
    Many of us often use criticism of an idea or approach as a way to express our intellectual superiority.  This is far from the truth.  It takes substantially more effort, thought, intellectual and will power to create something new than to criticize it.  This is as true for an idea, as it is for writing a book, building cabinets in your home, or designing and building a new car.  So, stop the criticism.  If you feel something can be done differently and better, suggest a new method rather than point the shortcomings of what’s before you.  Suggesting a new idea is constructive and a creative process that requires patience in understanding, active listening, and objective, selfless thinking, all of the traits covered above.

2010.10.15_RainbowThe crux of these steps is clear.  Treat the process of forming a team no different than starting a friendship.  Assume nothing and keep an open mind and ear.

So, now go and make the world a better place.

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