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When Team ‘Storming’ Has Gone Too Far

When Team ‘Storming’ Has Gone Too Far

Working with Opposites: Focus on the Behaviour and not the Personality

storming phase of team development

A couple of years ago, I wrote about managing the ‘Storming’ phase of Team Development and to-date it has been one of my most popular posts so I have decided to address the topic again. In this post I discuss how to detect that storming has gone too far, hindering productive team growth and potentially causing lasting damage. I will also discuss leading your team out of unproductive storming.

[Related Post: Now, You’re Storming: Managing the Storming Phase of Team Development]

If you are not familiar with psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s popular theory on the stages of group development, i.e. Forming,  Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning, please read my previous post on the topic linked above.

Stages of Group-DevelopmentWhen to Step In…

The storming phase, when team members are no longer trying to just “fit in,” they are now trying to establish themselves within the group, is a natural progression that most teams go through. But can the ‘storming’ get out of control? Yes, absolutely.

Like a parent with two fighting kids, there comes a time when you need to step in before someone gets really hurt.

Stages of Group Development

Protecting values, defending options, resisting change and struggling to establish norms are all commonplace in the storming phase. Most adult groups with an effective leader can work through these issues without too much resentment, hurt feelings and lost productivity. In fact, weathering out the storming phase with little leader intervention usually makes the team closer, stronger and more trustworthy in the end.

Gone Too Far

Storming Phase

How can you tell when storming has gone too far and may be causing detrimental lasting damage to your team? Moreover, what can you do about it?

In the best case scenario, the team members will tell you it has gone too far. In the worst case, they will suffer in silence. Either way, if there is no intervention, team productivity will eventually grind to a halt, impeding forward progress and potentially causing team destruction.

If team members come to you emotionally distraught because of the actions of another team member and threaten to leave the team, clearly, the storming stage has gone too far. You, as a leader, need to step in and take control of the situation.

If you notice the deterioration of a team member’s work or they have altered typical mannerisms, it could be a sign that a conflict has become too big for them to cope with and they have started shutting down. Not only has their productivity plummeted but now they may feel unsafe in the group.

Ask Them to Alter Behaviours Not Personalities

sleeping at workIn this phase, there may come a point when you feel it is necessary to step in to prevent the complete destruction of the group. When managing conflict, it is imperative you focus on behavior changes that are needed to re-establish a positive team atmosphere. Often people want to “fix” other’s personalities when they actually mean behaviors. We can’t ask people to change their personalities, but we can ask them to alter their behaviors if they are having a negative effect on the team.

For example, if you generally find it easy to make quick decisions and work closely with someone who is more of an analytical thinker and needs to analyze all the information before making a decision, it is easy to get frustrated with their slow decision making. You may want to say, “will you just hurry up and make a decision” or “I need you to make quicker decisions”. But this is not the right approach. Their thought process is deeply ingrained in their personality type and has developed over their lifetime.

The more effective approach to managing this conflict would be to focus on the behavior and the outcome you would like to see. Instead of asking them to make decisions faster, ask them what decision making is like for them and how you can better facilitate their decision making and express the challenges you face when working with their decision-making style.

By understanding them better, you will be able to come up with a strategy to effectively work with their decision-making style. Those tactics could include building in time for them to make decisions, providing all the details, not just a summary, needed to make a decision or make more decisions on your own because they don’t want to be bogged down managing insignificant decisions.

As you watch your team enter Storming, remember, before you jump in to defuse any conflict, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Any team, big or small, must go through the Storming phase. As a leader, you need to know how to lead them through it and emerge stronger as a group, ready for the next phase: Performing. With your communication skills sharp and your team connected and trusting, you will all be ready to motivate and be motivated to reach the team’s goals.

Action: In any conflict, focus on behaviors you would like to see altered not the personality trait.

Until next time… Embrace the Adventure


Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author and Ironman competitor.

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