I spent part of my teaching career teaching experiential education. Pretty hardcore teaching assignment. Emotionally disturbed teenagers in a wilderness setting. More important than teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic we were trying to teach them to survive in the world despite their disabilities. To be part of a community. The lessons that I learned in those years follow me always. One in particular goal that we had in those classrooms was to get students to function as a team. We staged the process as forming, storming, norming and performing. As teenage boys needed to learn to live and work together, all groups of people need to learn these skills. And all groups that hope to perform at the highest levels must go through the stages.
I am thinking about these four stages as they apply to making changes in organizations. Most of us are given a group to lead. That group is already formed without our input. They know each other and have already established a hierarchy among themselves. The expectations have been established and their day to day lives are good if not extraordinary. The team has already gone through the stages and is performing.
At this point we have two choices as leaders. The easy choice is to be satisfied with OK. To not upset the proverbial apple cart. We are talking, after all, about a team that is doing “good enough.” The other choice is to expect more. To push the storm. To bring about a new norm. The first choice obviously shows a lack of courage. Choice number two, while more difficult, is the choice that a strong leader will make every time.
In my mind what is important is that the storm is the right storm and that the storm is worth the payoff in performance. You gotta be right! A group probably won’t survive too many storms. If you push a storm for the wrong reasons or you create the wrong storm you risk losing the people that will shine brightest in the new performance.
In my experience I have experienced examples of both types of leadership: people who have created bad storms and people who created no storms. Both instances I categorize as poor leadership. Neither one of them improves the performance. I have also experienced leaders who created storms that at the time seemed senseless but in the end produced a much more high functioning team. Effectively separating the wheat from the chaff. Expediting the new norm. Furthermore, I have seen teams that functioned at amazingly high levels despite the belief that the leadership appeared detached. In fact the leadership was trusting and challenging. Patiently waiting for the great performance.
So tomorrow I set out to create well informed storms. To create a new norm. To strive for a great performance. Please join me.