Coach’s Corner Blog

Managing Our Career: Part 1 – How a Team Development Model Can Guide Us

January 10, 2014 by 2 Comments

In my work as an executive coach, I find that I’ve had a lot of conversations with many of my clients about the arc of their careers and the logical next steps for them to consider. And through my career coaching work, I believe I have developed an important framework for you to use in analyzing where you stand in your career at any given moment.

Over the next four weeks I will be publishing a series of four posts that speak about this transitional framework which will consist of:

  • How groups form and organizations transform
  • The value of your relative competence in doing what you do at any given time
  • The importance of your passion to your work
  • Putting it all together in a useful framework for you to use in your career, especially as you contemplate or confront the inevitable transitions that we are presented with

In 1965, a psychologist named Bruce Tuckman developed a description of the path that high-performing teams follow in coming together and getting things done. He referred to this as Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Although Mr. Tuckman was primarily interested in temporary working groups, I believe that this framework is very helpful in understanding the development of “permanent” as well as newly formed teams. Here’s a brief definition of each of these stages.

Forming: This is when workgroups or teams come together about a particular project, goal, or purpose. Many people may be excited about working on the task ahead and others may have some trepidations or concerns. As a leader your job is to understand and communicate that goal or purpose and ensure that there is as much alignment as possible on everyone’s part in that direction.

Storming: In this phase, how the group will work together starts to jell. Issues of governance, problem solving, communication, and goal setting are all on the table. Different folks with different types of experiences and ideas all come together and, as can be expected the many differences of opinion can result in frictions large and small. A steady hand by the leader to guide everyone forward in setting the ground rules for how they will operate is essential.

Norming: This is the stage at which hierarchy becomes established, respect for the authority of the leader begins to solidify and roles and responsibilities are clarified. Although it depends on the task or focus of the work, wise leaders seek as much shared leadership as possible, especially so that the various key skills abilities and experiences of all members of the group can be brought into play. There is often a prolonged level of overlap between Storming and Norming behavior, especially as new tasks or challenges emerge. Hopefully, as the team learns to trust one another, this process becomes more natural and efficient.

Performing: this is where all the hard work of the previous three phases comes together in fulfilling the shared vision of executing towards the goal. The structures and processes that have been established are facilitated by the individuals in their roles with the right responsibilities, to get the job done. This becomes, in essence, the status quo.

Although Mr. Tuckman came up with this Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing Model (FSNP Model) for the development of high performing teams, I feel it is just as relevant in looking at any organizational structure and providing fresh eyes for new goals, processes or structures that need to be established and implemented. Our work world simply reflects the volatility of our current world situation and the inherent nature of the “creative destruction” that makes change our constant companion.

If leaders are not consistently reflecting upon how to incorporate new technology, people, systems and processes, they will ultimately hit a wall that they are unprepared for. Although no one should have any real confidence about their ability to predict how changes will influence what we are doing, it is important that you are always on the lookout and anticipating.

Here are some additional applications of the FSNP Model for you to consider as you anticipate next steps on a project, diagnose an organizational challenge or plan for a needed change:

Forming: Welcome, Integrate, Focus

  • Induction of new team members
  • Create focus and goals for new projects or initiatives
  • Embrace different ideas for how you are organized and use all the assembled talents
  • Keep it fresh, but don’t get sucked up into current fads.

Storming: Brainstorm, Debate, Create a Sense of Community / Connection

  • New situations are usually accompanied with unease and some friction; bring it to the light of day
  • Discuss how you will treat each other, communicate and reach decisions.
  • Keep the vision / goal in focus
  • Decide how you will measure success and how you keep everyone informed about it.

Norming: Clarify, Communicate, Do Not Assume Anyone “Gets It”

  • What has been decided about what?
  • Capture what has been decided about people, process and performance:  Publish and Proclaim it.  You can’t communicate too much about this.
  • Make time for “post mortems” on what you do so you can constantly improve processes

Performing: Execute, Reflect, Measure, Repeat

  • Celebrate success, confront failure constructively
  • Reinforce how your team’s efforts tie into the strategic direction of the firm to educate everyone.
  • Fine tune metrics, goals and tactics constantly – seek continuous improvement
  • Always “bring the outside in” to stay informed about the competition and best practices

From a career perspective, I think the FSNP Model is relevant to us throughout our career but essential especially once we have become established, mid-career and beyond. I think it’s always important for us to evaluate the impact of change on the following three constituencies.

  • You personally
  • Your team
  • The organization

If you join a new organization or venture, get a new job or assume new responsibilities in your current organization or you are asked to participate in a new initiative project or task force, each of the four phases of the team development come into play. It is a cycle that constantly repeats itself. I strongly encourage you to be appropriately “selfish” in your focus of the impact of all of these on you first. Secondly, what are the impacts – positive and negative – for your team? Lastly, ask the same question of the impact upon the overall organization. Hopefully there should be substantial pluses or advantages for you individually that serve as a motivator for you. There should ultimately be good alignment of the positive impacts for your team and the organization. I believe this is an excellent diagnostic model for you in considering the impact of any change personally or organizationally.

I’ll wrap up this discussion by reinforcing that it’s very valuable to always know where you stand in terms of the four stages of developing for you and your team. Given the very broad nature of many of our responsibilities, some elements of the work will be performing very well. But there will always be parts that call for ongoing improvement or where you anticipate substantial changes may be in the offing. Be prepared to use this diagnostic to break these challenges down and gain some insight about how to transform, improve, or evolve the work and the people who conduct it.

We will be exploring the impact of your current level of competence in your role, to be followed by the even more important question of how you maintain your passion for your work. I look forward to any comments or questions about this going forward.

Filed Under Careers


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    Naresh Dhiman January 10, 2014, 7:42 pm

    This is a great article. I enjoyed reading it. I think I can use FSNP model in different phases of the software development projects as well.


    Tom Dybro January 12, 2014, 1:13 pm

    Succinctly put. Thanks for making career connect on a well worn framework – nice!


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