Thursday, October 7, 2010

Forming, Storming, and Norming

In my Palos Verdes High School AP US History class (1979),  I studied the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who observed American life and then wrote Democracy in America. Ask anyone what he said, and you'll hear some variation of "America is a nation of joiners."

In my career as an IT leader, I've convened many groups, governance bodies, and new organizations.    As new groups gather, everyone wants to participate to avoid being left out of the new, new thing.

The Forming is easy, but soon after, as issues such as governance, strategy, business/operations, and priorities are discussed, there's Storming.

Everyone wants to ensure their point of view, their authority, and their visibility is preserved.    In large, multi-stakeholder organizations, this can be challenging.

Eventually, a stable governance group emerges, priorities are developed by consensus, and relationships are fostered, creating a level of stability - the Norming of the greater good.

One everything is humming, the group begins Performing, embracing change and achieving its goals.

This Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing pattern is called Tuckman's Stages of Group Development.

Since it's Thursday, a day for my personal blogs, here's my advice on Tuckman's stages.

When you're forming or joining a new group, expect conflict.  Don't fear it and don't fight it.    Acknowledge it and work with it.  Conflict (the "Storming") can create a sense of urgency among participants to solve problems.   Conflict can lead to stronger relationships and catalyze change.

During the Storming phase, the only thing that can hurt your reputation is a public outburst of emotion.   As I've said many times before, for everything there is a process that will resolve today's problems.    A year from now, no one will even remember today's problems.

Our job as leaders is to navigate the conflict that comes with Storming, listen to the stakeholders, and steer the group toward Norming.   It takes time and energy.   It takes patience.

I recently talked to a colleague about a particularly emotional public meeting that had dozens of highly charged stakeholders.   My colleague did not remember the nature of the conflict, but did remember that I listened, acknowledged the speakers, and suggested a process to move us forward.

As long as you know to expect conflict whenever you form a group, you can remain unaffected by it.

Put another way - your adversaries only win if you let them get to you.

Go forward and Norm!
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