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The Team You Need

Whilst lawyers aren't unique in working together to achieve a common goal for a client, multi-skilled teams involving lawyers can present challenges which can lead to disagreements and power struggles in getting results and achieving the outcome sought, particularly when each member has a view and opinion which is different to another team members opinion.

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Healthy Performance Culture
29 March 2023
Natalie Truong
2 minutes

Whilst lawyers aren't unique in working together to achieve a common goal for a client, multi-skilled teams involving lawyers can present challenges which can lead to disagreements and power struggles in getting results and achieving the outcomes sought, particularly when each member has a different view and opinion.

Many have struggled with similar challenges in their working careers, joining a team can be likened to a 'social experiment' where the journey to high performance can be witnessed through a well-known model of group development.

Married at First Sight is an interesting case study of what happens when you throw together a group of strangers to participate in a social experiment.

it is not so different to the social experiment we call "the workplace", where we are paired together through circumstance and coincidence, with no guarantee of compatibility.

However, unlike MAFs, our professional roles require us to deliver important positive outcomes for our community, customers, government, and other stakeholders. To do this we need to work together despite our differences.

As discovered by the children stranded in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" - working together gives us a better chance of survival.

One useful framework for bringing together a diverse (and maybe at the outset not so compatible) team is the model of "forming, storming, norming and performing".


What is "forming, storming, norming and performing"?

The psychologist, Bruce Tuckman, came up with the phrase in 1965, to describe a team's journey to high performance. he later added a fifth phase "adjourning" to mark the end of a team's journey.

Each phase is an essential stop along the way, providing opportunities for individual and team growth, no matter what kind of team you land in or lead.

Phase 1 - Forming

The journey begins. The team comes together or starts a new project, not yet sure of their direction or purpose, or how they each fit in. They are curious and excited but nervous. The team are looking for and need direction, guidance, and leadership.

To move to the next phase, get the team to know and trust each other through team or social activities, set personal and shared goals, and establish shared values and behaviours.

Phase 2 - Storming

As roles are established, and plans implemented, the storm clouds may gather. Negative individual or group behaviours may surface. Boundaries are pushed, work preferences clash, cliques and factions may form. This is the phase when the team is most likely to fall apart. The team need coaching and to know that issues and conflicts will be dealt with quickly.

To move to the next phase, the team need to learn and practice how to deal with issues and conflict and give and receive constructive feedback. make space for all voices, through 1:1's or guided meeting discussions and encourage valuing differences.

Phase 3 - Norming

The stormy seas have now settled, and the team are working effectively and cohesively. They are building greater trust and respect for each other. They have the courage and the safe space to raise concerns and provide constructive feedback. The team need the support space and autonomy to grow and deliver.

To move to the next phase build on team social connections (in person and virtually), encourage people to advance on their goals and take ownership and accountability for them. Create a collaborative culture (through tools, project management templates, or trying a design thinking approach).

Phase 4 - Performing

The team are working to shared goals and vision.  They are high performing, achieving successes, and sharing learnings. The look after each other and adapt and negotiate when required. The team need only limited direction once delegated tasks.

Phase 5 - Adjourning

The project or team has come to an end. Some of the team may mourn the end of the working relationships that have been created. It is important to share learnings and jointly celebrate successes.


It is the journey that matters

Although we may dream of joining an already high performing team, it is the journey together that binds us and builds us. In the words of The Rolling Stones, although you can't always get what you want, if you try sometimes you might find, that you get what you need.

Ask yourself:

  • Where along the journey is your team?
  • What type of leadership does your team need to move to the next phase?
  • how will you adapt your leadership approach as the team moves through the phases?
  • How will you maintain your high performing team?
  • What will you do if there is a slip back to an earlier phase, or if there is a departure or entry of team members that have not been on the journey?
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