Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Grrrr, team dynamics

About six years ago I ran two kaizen events in different plants just a couple weeks apart.  They were almost identical events in terms of scope, process, department and team make up.  About the only difference was that one team was all new to kaizen events and the other were all seasoned participants.  After the events were over, I was left scratching my head.  One event went really well and one didn’t.

I put my six sigma hat on and did a reverse DOE analysis to isolate the variables and figure out the problem. 


After some investigation, I realized that it was the team dynamic that was so different.  There are always difficult personalities and situations to deal with, but this was different.  There wasn’t anyone on the team that was particularly tough and both teams knew each other and generally got along.  This really threw me for a loop and I’m not exactly an expert in soft skills so I started to do some research.


I started to study team dynamics, group effects, crowd behavior, collective behavior and anything else I could come up with.  There’s a ton of interesting information and theories out there and this is a great topic to blow an entire night till 3am chasing different threads.  Okay, so it was probably more like a week of nights.  I found some good information but I was looking for a simple explanation, a simple model that would not only explain what I experienced, but also help me plan for and prevent it from happening again.


I finally found what I was looking for, the Tuckman’s Model of Team Development or the Tuckman Stages of Team Development.  Bruce Tuckman, a Psychologist first presented his theory back in 1965.  In a nutshell, he proposes that there are 5 stages that a team will and must go through.  The stages are Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. 


The teams will go through these stages in this order and they can drop back to earlier stages, normally storming at anytime and multiple times.  The challenge of leading a group is to get through the Forming and Storming stages as quickly as possible so that you can get to the Norming and Performing stages.


If you understand the stages, you can plan your agenda and approach around these and use them to your advantage to have more effective kaizen events and other engagements.


So let’s look at the stages and understand them better in terms of a kaizen event and agenda.  I’ll cover the first one now and the rest in subsequent posts.


Forming:  Think of this as the first day of middle school.  No one knows anyone and everything is new.  When a team first convenes, it’s all new and a little uncomfortable.  They’re not sure what’s okay to say or not, they don’t want to offend anyone, they don’t know what roles everyone’s going to play and how they fit it.  So typically, they will be reserved, quieter than usual and well behaved. 


As the facilitator, start with some training where you are leading the presentation.  This directs their attention and focus to you.  So instead of them versus the whole room (multiple channels), they only have to worry about relating to you, one person (single channel).  They will warm up quicker, you can build trust (which you might need later) and they can converse with you directly.  While each team member is dealing with you, it gives the other team members a chance to assess the situation.  People can start to figure out where they fit in and what role their going to play and what the group’s boundaries are.  By directing the attention towards you, you can get the team warmed up and “Formed” quickly.



  1. looking forward to the rest in the series

  2. Insightful and helpful, especially considering I am often in situations where I am leading a group of volunteers that may each have their own ideas about the desired outcome of a project. The majority of this experience in forming groups has been for political causes which inherently are prone to disagreement and passionate discussion. Thanks, Bob!