19 Aug 2021
As lockdown guidelines come to end and things start to return to normal, many small business owners are finding that the transition back into the office is less smooth than they expected, regardless of whether their teams are returning to work after furlough or periods of homeworking
Why’s this? It’s mainly due to the fact that the workplace we all left is different from the workspace we are re-entering – relationships have changed, along with ways of working and all of us need to re-establish ourselves within our workspace and recognise that the team’s dynamic has changed
In 1965, the psychologist Bruce Tuckman, introduced us to the phrase ‘forming, storming norming and performing’ which describes the route that teams follow when working their way up to high performance. He later added a final step – adjourning or mourning – to describe the end of the team’s journey along this path, but I don’t want to focus on this final step in this blog
So, what can you expect to see as your team moves along this path?
This is the first step in the process, when the team first forms or someone new joins the team for the first time or rejoins the team after a period away. There is excitement, as no-one knows what to expect ... and trepidation for the same reason. Conversation between team members is polite and safe as the team gets to know each other; everyone puts on their ‘best face’ as they find out more about each other ... but it’s surface stuff, not deep and meaningful
The second step in the process is the most volatile – it’s where team members test the boundaries and try to find their place within the team. The focus is on ‘me’ – what is my role? Where do I fit in? Am I the leader or is someone else? Are we going to do things my way or am I going to have to do things the way that others prefer? Do I welcome or resist this change?
There can be conflict and rebellion in this stage of the process, as team members also test your authority or management style ... they are trying to find out how much leeway they have and where your ‘no-line’ is. This is something that needs to happen before the next step can be taken and your actions, as the boss, can shorten or extend this period, depending on how you deal with it
In this step of the process, the team settles down as members establish how they will work together. They now know each other better and have identified where they fit in; they feel comfortable asking for help themselves or offering feedback and support to others within the team. The ground rules have been established that help the team work together and the team starts to look forward, setting goals and defining its purpose
This is where synergy occurs and the whole becomes greater than its individual parts. The team starts to work seamlessly together and starts consistently achieving. Members are flexible and adaptable, covering for and supporting each other – there is a strong and collective sense of satisfaction in a job well done
So, how can we use Tuckman’s theory to help us settle back into work after lockdown?
Each time a team changes – as new members join or old members leave, or as people return from lockdown – the members within the team have to retake this journey right from the beginning. This may not be what you expect to happen in a well established team, but any change to membership or team structure (such as promotion) changes the dynamic of the team and the team needs to find its new balance
As your team starts to come together again, following furlough or homeworking, they will need to reconnect and catch up on everything that has happened over the last 15 months or so (depending on how long it’s been since they were last together) – this is forming
They will then need to re-establish the pecking order. There may be some friction between those who have been in the office throughout lockdown and those who have been furloughed or homeworking. The part of the team that remained in the workplace needs to reconnect with the larger team and those re-entering the workspace have to re-learn what it’s like to come to work ... they may have acquired new pets or been used to always being in the house when parcels are delivered. The whole team will test the boundaries to see how much leeway you are willing to give them – this is storming
They will eventually settle down once the ground rules have been re-established (norming) and start performing again, but the speed at which this happens is up to you
If you want to reduce the impact of the storming phase, there are several things that you can do. The first is to accept that your team will ‘storm’ before it settles down – it’s nothing you or they have done wrong, it’s just a necessary step that needs to be taken before everyone can move on
You can plan activities to help the team to form, storm and norm, so they can then start performing, such as:
If your staff are storming and you need an external viewpoint, Able2 Consulting can help you set out new ways of working that soon have your team pulling in the same direction. We have on the ground expertise in bringing teams together and can help your business flourish and have lots of advice and information to share
For more information or assistance on transitioning your team back into the workplace, please get in touch on with me on 01530 835 568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image by Xuan Duong from Pixabay
Carol ... you have made my life so much easier and I would have no hesitation in recommending you to business owners looking for HR support