Last month we look (looked)at the Team stage of Forming: When a team comes together for the first time, or when changes in the team mean that it needs to Re-form. Now we look at the next stage: Storming.

Storming is a natural part of the growth cycle of any team. It is not just for new teams. Any time a new member joins a team there will be a settling in period and then a degree of Storming. Sometimes It is a very smooth process and hardly noticeable. At other times, it can be a period of conflict that can disrupt the team. This can damage relationships and also importantly, have a negative impact on the achievement of organisational objectives.

What is Storming really?

It is the time when people start to flex their muscles – that can be their thinking or their power. Someone may see a new way to complete a task and put this idea forward which may cause resistance from others in the team who are more change averse. Other people who initially accepted their role in the team, may now feel that the task distribution is not correct. There could a feeling that they are being overworked and others are being underworked. Alternatively, that they are not given enough responsibility; that there is favouritism or at worst discrimination.

The conflict is normally about one of the following:

  • Roles – lack of clarity
  • Tasks/processes – different ideas and ways of working
  • Status – perceived or real
  • Relationships 
  • Different values or cultures 

If left to fester, Storming can turn into real conflict that will (can)potentially damage the team agreement that was initially made, and relationships will suffer. It is important to address issues as soon as they appear often (don’t understand the use of ‘often’ here)using the Team Agreement, we mentioned in the Forming stage, as point of reference.

But all is not gloom and doom! The great thing about Storming is that it can be positive as well as negative. It generally starts as a perception that something is not right or that things could or should be different. A team that does not question and debate is not going anywhere! A degree of Storming or challenge drives teams to greater success. If there is no challenge then there is a danger of stagnation for the team or a sign that what is actually happening is what Patrick Lencioni refers to as Artificial Harmony.

If this is sustained, over time it can lead to emotions suddenly boiling over at some inappropriate time or in an inappropriate way. Some good members may also leave the team silently rather than address the situation.

Issues that arise in the team should be viewed with curiosity rather than fear. Each person in the team represents a voice of the team, even the dissenting voices are trying to raise the alarm that something is not right or is out of balance.

The role of the coach is to assist the individuals or the team to identify what is happening and to encourage them to be able to give voice to whatever it is that is causing unease. This can be done by bringing the team together. Firstly, acknowledging and reminding everyone that it is natural to have some differences of opinions within the team and that it would be interesting to unpack what is happening and jointly look for solutions. It can be useful to frame the issue as a question or a problem to be solved. E.g. 

  • How do we solve the issue of the distribution of overtime? 
  • Let’s unpack what the concern is over the new system and see how best to move forward.
  • How do we solve the overlap between A and B?

Being solution focused rather than blaming brings out the creativity and unity of the team. It can be them against the problem rather than each other. The coach is then able to maintain the positive forward motion that is needed to get to a resolution and to keep the team on track. 

In the Storming stage the coach is a good observer of the dynamics that are playing out in the team. Spotting potential issues and behavioural changes can alert him/her to the fact that there is a need to create a space for the airing of thoughts, feelings and challenges. 

Coaching is about being able to open up the conversation and dialogue. It is also about reminding the individuals that they need to focus on what is best for the team. If they have not already done so, they can introduce the team chair. This provides a space for the team voice. Individuals can have their say and then someone can be invited to sit in the empty chair and speak from the team perspective. Their responsibility is to put aside their own view and to look at what is the best way forward for the team. It is surprising how well this actually works.

In summary, the coach has a responsibility to:

  • manage the safety of the team to encourage open and honest discussion
  • to allow all voices to be heard, including dissenting ones as they provide information too
  • to promote honest sharing and ensure that there is respect for each person’s view  
  • to keep the focus on what is best for the team

Handled properly storms blow over and bring learning and development for the whole team. 

Veronica Wantenaar