Never too early—rarely too often

We’ve got a rather large project going on at the moment and a shrinking window to get it done. The deeper we dig into this mound of work, the more and varied things we pull out. What started as a “you’re almost there already” project is now starting to look rather daunting.

My strategy? Limit the scope and focus solely on that scope. If it’s not in that scope, it gets left out and doesn’t get done.1

The steering committee has been meeting multiple times a week for some time now (and yet, not long enough) and I was reminded of something today as I was taking the temperature of the room:

It’s never too early to assess where in the stages of team development you find yourself and your team.

Where I found the first batch of meetings was met with a “can-do” attitude and a high-level of energy but mixed direction (“Forming”), today’s meeting saw low energy (we did have a dark, grey sky oppressing us from the conference room windows) and a bit more conflict (direction starting to clarify, but with competing bearings) as we struggled with the reality of the project and some of the inherent imprecision (“Storming”).

What struck me first was how quickly we wanted this working meeting over. One person proposed it, but we all very quickly agreed that we were done for the day. And yet, after it was over, a pair of us gave an additional 50% more time working through an organizational technique that could help us move forward faster. The two who stayed behind? We used to be office neighbors with a history of working together to solve problems and an even older history within a common company background.

In short, the two of us had already Formed, Stormed, Normed and Performed not a few times in our past together and were ready to transcend the team’s current stage in order to move the project forward. Shared history, shared experience, full relational bank balance. It’s a nice recipe.

And there’s a second part to this (re)discovery:

It’s rare that you assess your team development stages too often.

Perhaps it’s because we (as leaders) tend to wait so long to assess our team development that speeding up the tempo becomes useful. Or perhaps it’s because we’re out of practice. Or perhaps we’re used to things going our way and we forget how to provide propulsion and keep steerage.2 Whatever the reason, assessing the team from time to time is essential.

By gauging the temperature—assessing the team’s current stage in its process of becoming a performing team—the leader can help that team along. We “anticipate what a team is likely to go through at certain points in its development” and be aware that the conflict is coming (or has passed) and be prepared for it, either steering the team through or paddling to avoid or deflect.

  1. How’s that working for me? Let me get back to you.
  2. That little idea alone should be the subject of a complete post in itself.
    Steering (a canoe, for example) in a moving stream is difficult without the craft moving faster than the water.
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