When heading up a team, it is normal to experience cycles that will challenge you as a leader and result in you having to adopt new styles of leadership. Any change to a team can cause a certain degree of turbulence, and very often this is when communications break down and conflict arises. This is why it is crucial that leaders are aware of the stages that might arise during periods of change and uncertainty so that they can best prepare for what lies ahead.
Turbulence in business can be caused by a number of factors, including managing conflicting demands, becoming a new leader or taking over as leader of an existing team, through to managing difficult people. It can also be fuelled by a substantial change in the business which brings about a period of uncertainty, an increase in communication demands to facilitate the change process, or the need to deal with unprecedented reactions to a proposed change. Such triggers include mergers, acquisitions, a radical change in company direction and significant organisational restructuring.
When considering how to effectively manage teams through turbulent times, I often refer to Tuckman’s model, which was initially developed to explain how teams typically approach tasks. It separates the various stages of team development and behaviour into 6 distinct phases; storming, forming, norming, performing, adjourning and mourning for guidance.
As a brief summary, the storming phase often consists of team members beginning to push boundaries, especially when it comes to areas such as agreements and goal setting. The forming period is where you typically find conflict can arise; during this time taking a more directive and hands on approach can help. Often at that stage, it is common to call in an external party to provide an independent outlook and identify behaviour styles, reduce conflict and help the leader remain positive and assertive during this difficult phase. When a team has moved through the towards the norming and performing phases, a leader can look to develop more of a mentoring and coaching role as the team starts to achieve its goals and work towards shared outcomes.
If you are experiencing a challenging time as a leader, here are a few quick tips to help you navigate this difficult period:
- Ensure there is a plan in place for the change and learn to delegate accordingly
- Break down the plan into clear, actionable steps
- Spend quality time actively communicating with your teams to efficiently lead through the change
- Allow extra time building trust by listening to employees concerns and offering support
- Focus on emphasising stability even if you do not know the extent of change. In a Google survey of 180 of their teams, they reported the top factor for team success was ‘psychological safety’.
- Demonstrate empathy and compassion by really listening to what is on your colleague’s or team’s mind – reflect back accurately what they have said to ensure you have understood.
- Praise and celebrate any successes, appreciate good work and build team morale.
As a leader, being aware of the stages and patterns that teams typically display during turbulent times will help to prepare you for the road that lies ahead. Effective leadership during periods of uncertainty requires a leader to be committed to effective and open communication, to maintain resilience and promote stability. Those who are able to succeed in these key areas will most certainly reap the rewards after the storm settles.
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