Leading Teams Through Adversity


Linda D. Henman, Ph.D., The Decision Catalyst ™

Most theorists agree that leaders need to be concerned with a team’s content, process, and output. B.W. Tuckman suggested teams mature in a predictable four stage process: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard suggested leaders consider the maturity of the group before deciding which of the four leadership styles they should use: telling, selling, participating, or delegating.


During the forming stage we try to determine if and how we will fit in with this team. At this point team members depend on the leader to coach and direct them, and they rely on authority to help them both build relationships and approach the task. Telling the members what to do is advisable since they are cautious and tentative. The group also requires clear definitions for roles, responsibilities, goals, and authority. Often telling takes the form of training in job skills and communication competency


The second stage of team development frequently involves the members becoming disillusioned with the task and one another. Unproductive behavior, arguing, defensiveness, and competition can be expected.  Selling team members on the idea of solving their problems is in order. Allowing team members to find their own answers and encouraging them to work out interpersonal differences will allow them to develop their personal roles within the group and may ultimately enhance cohesion. Working through the difficulties of the first two stages of development will help the team begin to develop the trust they will need to realize their goals. 


The norming stage involves getting organized, and the leader participating in this process will help the team’s progression.  The team’s confidence and competence grew during the norming stage, so this becomes a time to share data and to explore solutions. The controversies that were settled during the storming stage help this stage run more smoothly. By now members have begun to establish systematic approaches to decisions, and the ground rules for acceptable behavior have become more apparent.  The leader can become one of the team members rather than its supervisor or referee.  


A high-performance team is now possible. Because of the synergy that the team has developed, openness, trust, cooperation, and maturity characterize the team that is now ready to exhibit high flexibility and maximum use of energy.  Energy is high because the team utilizes of each member’s strengths, and competitiveness does not hamper participation. The team no longer needs the leader for direction, so delegating is more in order since leadership is now a shared function of the effective team.  Members feel motivated and focused, so the leader can relax and let the group function autonomously.


There is a saying:  “Treat a person as he is, and he will remain as he is.  Treat a person as if he were what he could be and should be, and he will become what he could be and should be.”  This notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy or Pygmalion effect has a message for team leaders. Under the direction of a competent leader, a successful team will evolve.  Anticipating each stage of development and allowing the team to evolve in predictable ways will increase the chances that the group will become what it should be.  

About the Author: For more than 35 years, senior leaders have relied on Linda Henman, PhD, to help them make tough calls. Known as The Decision Catalyst™, Linda advises senior leaders and boards of directors when they face essential decisions about strategy, succession planning, business growth, and mergers and acquisitions. Some of her major clients include Tyson Foods, Emerson Electric, Kraft Foods, Boeing Aircraft, Estee Lauder, and Merrill Lynch. Through thousands of hours of consulting with hundreds of corporate clients, Linda has seen what others haven’t seen, helped clients remove obstructions and influenced decision-makers to move from merely good to brilliant.