So you want to build an effective team . . .

May 4, 2000
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In the October and November columns we discussed the advantages of using teams to get the best out of behavior-based safety. This month I want to review the four developmental stages of teams. Knowing how teams mature over time builds understanding and patience among team members and inspires effective team leadership.

In general, during the early stages (called "forming" and "storming") work groups need structure and a clear vision and mission statement. At this time, an autocratic leadership style is often most appropriate, although it's still best to get input from team members before the first group meeting. After group members become familiar with each other and start implementing their assignments (the "norming" and "performing" stages), a democratic leadership style is usually most effective.

Interpersonal trust (see my ISHN columns last March and April) is lowest during the first stage (forming) and highest during the fourth stage (performing). Understanding the stages of team-building enables leaders to set realistic expectations (teams do not really perform efficiently until the fourth stage), and allows team members to feel better about their meetings because they recognize the need to assume certain roles at each stage.

Stage 1 - Forming

Structure and assertive leadership are important in the beginning. Group members are getting to know each other, and leaders must size up each member's role and potential influence in achieving the team's mission. Members begin to evaluate how much they can trust each other (discussed in my April 1998 ISHN article).

Stage 2 - Storming

After a cordial beginning, the storming stage takes over. Team members now engage in debate, argument, conflict and basic power struggles. Interpersonal trust is questioned at this stage, as some members attempt to assert control or individual superiority. Some participants get frustrated and consider the meetings a waste of time. Strong leadership is needed at this stage to keep the group on track.

Stage 3 - Norming

Group members begin productive teamwork during the norming stage. They develop roles for working together, realize each others talents, and develop mutual trust and respect. Group cohesion grows as members begin to understand their own roles in the group process, and witness interdependency and synergy.

Stage 4 - Performing

Here a team realizes its most synergistic benefits. Team thinking, team behavior, and team loyalty are the norm. Individuals identify with the team and take pride in team accomplishments. Interdependency and interpersonal trust peaks during this stage, so much so that team members cover for one another even without request. Social loafing is not a problem, but 'burnout' is possible.


I need to explain one final stage of group dynamics -- adjourning. This occurs when the group achieves its mission, celebrates its achievements, and possibly disbands. It's important for groups to realize when it's time to change their operation or membership. Group members might enjoy their fellowship so much they will resist changing membership. At this point, a team leader can facilitate a healthy transition to a new team mission, to a new team with the same mission, or to complete termination.

This fifth stage is really about transforming, rather than adjourning, for most -- if not all -- of the various behavior-based safety teams. Circumstances might allow you to combine teams or team missions. With less need for a formal safety incentive program, for example, an incentive/reward team could combine with the celebration team. An ergonomics team could be combined with an incident analysis team.

Changing company policies, priorities, or personnel might also require teams to be reorganized. But there will always be a need for teamwork around three critical functions:

1. Overseeing and reviewing behavior-based safety programs and processes (a safety steering team),

2. Observing work practices and providing feedback and coaching (an observation and feedback team), and

3. Holding people accountable for substituting safe for at-risk behavior (an accountability/motivation team).

When it comes to industrial safety, the fifth stage of team development is much more likely to be renewal, reorganization or transformation than adjournment.

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