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Focus on Leadership: Leader Job #4: ARCHITECT - Working Together as a TEAM
By Kim McKinnon, PhD
Author's note: this is the fifth in a six-part series focusing on some of the latest things we know about effective leadership - recent research, best practices and a specific approach leaders can use to improve their own effectiveness.

The great American industrialist Henry Ford made the following comment about people coming together to work as a team:

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

Appropriately, our topic in this edition of "Focus on Leadership" is the responsibility the leader has to be an "Architect" - a person who brings people together to create a team. For those following along in our series, this is the fourth of five key leadership roles we've titled, "The Fundamental Five." We've previously described them as follows:
Guardian - establishing trust
Navigator - clarifying purpose
Coach - building engaged people
Architect - strengthening teams

Revolutionary - leading change
While the five roles of the leader can appropriately be viewed as five "jobs," each is also a building block to effective leadership. AFTER the leader has established trust, clarified purpose and worked to engage individuals, THEN comes the time to bring these individuals together to form a team (a group of people with a common goal). And as Mr. Ford observed, "coming together," and "keeping together" are nice - but "working together" is what is required for "success." Unfortunately, many "would-be" leaders do not take sufficient time or expend enough effort to ensure that their team really works together… and the result is, the team isn't a successful as it could and should be.

Often cited is the work of Dr. Bruce Tuckman (1965) regarding "Stages of Team Development." While each of the original four stages is easy to remember, taking time and making the effort to move through each is often (usually) neglected by the leader. The four stages refer to the natural progression that new teams move through on the way to becoming effective - or successful - teams.

The progression is:

Forming - little agreement on team goals other than that received from the leader. Individual roles and responsibilities are unclear. Team member behavior is very guarded and "over-polite." This is an okay place to be as a new collection of people are brought together - but not an okay place to stay.

Storming - decisions don't come easily within the group. Team members begin to vie for position as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members. Clarity of purpose increases but plenty of uncertainties persist. Cliques and factions begin to form and power struggles may emerge. This is an uncomfortable stage to experience - yet it is also a necessary part of the "growing" process. The effective leader recognizes that the group is experiencing this phase, teaches the team about it, assures them that they will move through it together - and then, takes appropriate time to establish the norms and understandings which will move the group through this stage toward "norming."

Norming - agreement and consensus is largely formed among the team and team members respond well to facilitation by the leader. Roles and responsibilities have been discussed and are now clear and accepted. Big decisions are made by group agreement; smaller decisions may be delegated to individuals or small teams within the group. Commitment and unity is strong. The team may engage in fun and social activities. The team discusses and develops its processes and work style. There is general respect for the leader and some leadership responsibilities are shared by the team. Unfortunately, this "things are going well" feeling is what often (usually) prevents the team from really challenging itself to go to the next level -- that of really performing (and what Mr. Ford referred to as real "success").

Performing - the team which achieves this level is more strategically aware; team members know clearly why they are doing what they are doing. The team has a shared vision and is able to stand on its own feet with no participation from the leader. There is a focus on over-achieving goals and the team makes most of the decisions against criteria agreed to by the leader. Team members have a high degree of autonomy; disagreements occur but now are resolved within the team positively. The team does not need to be instructed or assisted; the leader's role is to delegate and monitor overall performance.

While we'd like to think that most leaders are 'architects' and consciously and conscientiously guide their teams carefully through each of the four stages - the truth is, most do not. Even those who can quickly "rattle off" the titles of the four stages may have difficulty responding when asked what they have actually done to support the team as they've moved through them.

The result is that most of what we refer to "good" teams are really groups of people firmly entrenched in the "norming" phase - a place they are likely to stay. Becoming a truly high performing team takes extra effort by people committed to becoming better than the rest. And the truth is, most teams are not committed enough to go the 'rest of the way.' Those few groups which have chosen to pay the price to become 'much better than the others' are few in number and are to be congratulated.

If you have the courage to accept the challenge to become a high performing team, here are some things that will assist you to move through each of the phases:

What to Do to Move through the "Forming" Stage
Take time with a new team (or a team with new members) to get acquainted. One very appropriate activity to facilitate this 'getting to know each other better' process is just to go to lunch together. Even with no agenda, other than "to visit with each other," makes sense in this early phase of building a team. (Just a quick caution - relying on this very informal approach to building a team is often used by "lazy leaders" long after the team has been together. While this activity is a great way to get started, if it continues to be the main team development activity used, it typically indicates that very little work is really being done to help the team become more effective).
Conduct exercises to help team members learn more about each other. This is really just a more formalized version of the 'go to lunch together' strategy, yet it is more structured, can take place in more formal settings - staff meetings, etc. Engaging in such exercises sends a message to the team that working together really matters to the leader. Approaches used range from the "personal history" exercise to other simple "tell us four or five things about you that will help us work together better" discussions.
Success at moving through "forming" may not feel like success since the next step is to enter the uncomfortable "storming" stage - an era where people may demonstrate some of their worst behavior. Being prepared for this necessary and "important-for-growth" phase is one thing really good leaders do.

What to Do to Move through the "Storming" Stage
"Teaching" team members about the four phases - emphasizing especially the challenges and importance of experiencing the 'storming' phase -- is the single most important thing the leader can do. Explaining very clearly that four phases exist, and like crawling before walking, clearing the air and engaging in conflict through 'storming' is important - is what smart leaders do. Going further by arranging discussions about how we want to establish "our rules for working together" is what moves the team toward the 'norming' phase.
Conduct "style" exercises which allow team members to learn much more about other members of the team. Unlike the low key exercises used with 'forming,' these exercises should be very specific and provide new and enlightening information about the respective team members. Popular versions of this approach include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the DiSC Personal Profile system. These, and other similar survey approaches allow team members to learn things about themselves and others - how they prefer to communicate, the work environment that seems best to them, etc. - which provides information showing that maybe the other person isn't really ignorant or abrasive or …. maybe they just have a different approach to work.
Don't allow yourself to become discouraged with a storming team. Sometimes it takes longer than we'd like, but the passage of time makes a big difference. The leader's job is to support the team as they make their way along the path.

What to Do to Move through the "Norming" Stage
Anchor the "norms" established in the storming phase. As mentioned, a good way to move through storming is to decide how we'd like our team to operate - how should we make decisions, how will conflict to managed, will there to discussion guidelines in team meetings, etc. However, simply discussing and writing these 'rules' down is not enough. Taking time (and sometimes it takes a lot of time) to ensure that team members really follow the agreed-upon "culture" is what really moves us into the "norming" stage. The leader needs to enforce and re-enforce the agreed-to "norms" - whether they be called the norms, guidelines, rules or culture.
Achieve excellence using "internal measures." Consistently measuring progress by comparing the performance of the team to goals and targets established within the organization - i.e., are we doing as well or better than other teams like ours? - is a good way to ensure the team is fulfilling their mission. (Of course, the 'external measures' located in high performing teams is much better).
As mentioned earlier - yet an extremely important point that bears repeating - is that most teams do not leave the safe confines of the 'norming' phase. Having the courage to challenge self and others to do more than other teams like yours and more than is really expected is what really great teams - 'Performing Teams' - consciously chose to do. Much more effort is required -yet the rewards of experiencing a truly Performing team is an experience not to be forgotten (Lakers, 1988; Dolphins, 1972)…

What to Do to Move to the "Performing" Stage
Achieve excellence using 'external measures" is accomplished by going beyond the 'internal measures' of success typical of most teams. It is locating the high 'performing' teams - regardless of where they may be - and comparing our team with those recognized as the leaders. We find the best outsiders - role models, best in the industry, best practice teams - and use them as the basis of determining how well we are doing.
Celebrate true team success. When the time comes that the team genuinely has reached the performing phase - working together as well as the other great teams, it is time for team celebration and recognition. Be careful that recognition is given to all - the whole team - and not just key individuals.
(Those familiar with Tuckman's ideas will note that later versions of his model included a fifth phase - "adjourning." Partly in recognition that truly high performing teams often have a short life (individual team members are often tapped to lead other, less-effective teams) - closing out team relationships is worth learning more about. For now, I suggest focusing on moving through the four listed above.)

In Conclusion…

Becoming a great leader "architect" is about leading a group of people down a path of growth. The desired result is that individuals combine their efforts in unique ways so that amazing things can be accomplished - things which individuals cannot do. Although the journey is often rocky, it can be extremely rewarding as well.

The ideas shared in this article are only one element - probably the crucial element - of providing a firm foundation for the development of a genuinely effective team.

In the next newsletter, we will focus on the final role of the leader - the "Revolutionary", the person who leads change.

Kim McKinnon, PhD is a leadership development consultant and executive coach in the Phoenix area and has worked with a number of ACMA members. In addition to his consulting, he also is on the faculty at Arizona State University and the Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara. Kim has enjoyed the feedback he's received on these articles and can be reached at: McKinnonConsulting@Cox.Net or through his website: McKinnonConsulting.Net.
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