Sailing Your Team Through Stormy Weather

Written by Jacob Bloemberg

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve —designating them apostles— that they might be with him and that he might send them out… (Mk. 3:13-14 NIV)

Perhaps you find yourself in the same boat as I this early in the church program year. Many are back from summer break, you miss those who moved on, and try to work with who’s left while adding new members to the team. This process can be quite stormy and rock your boat. Not to worry, storms are actually good for team development and a natural part of the process. Even Jesus went through these stages with His apostles after he called them to join the team.

Having a better understanding of the team development process, and of the leader’s role in that process, will help you fare heavy weather. Below are listed the five stages of team development, with the name of the state’s first, then the name of the process during that stage, followed by a brief description of the role of the team leader during this stage.

1. Forming: Orientation

During this first stage, it is the responsibility of the leader to facilitate communication and interaction among the team members, and to establish initial guidelines.

2. Storming: Conflict

Conflict is a healthy part of team development and always happens when two or more people try to work together on a common goal. The leader needs to encourage participation of each member and find a common vision and values that the team can agree on. Especially in multi-cultural teams, this often is quite challenging and can be the breaking point for effective teamwork.

3. Norming: Emergence

It is important to come to this stage, otherwise the team will be stuck in the storming face until it is dissolved. The leader’s responsibility is to establish order and clarify team roles, values and expectations for each of the members. It is important that everyone is on the same page and has realistic expectations of one another.

4. Performing: Reinforcement

It takes a lot of time and effort to come to the performing stage. The leader is more hands off during this stage, needing to facilitate task performance and help the team to self-manage.

5. Adjourning: Evaluate

This stage is very vital in the process that often forgotten. It is important to bring closure to the team work, even if only a few of the team members leave and few new ones arrive. The leader needs to celebrate success and facilitate the transition to the new status, whether that is dissolving the team or establishing a new team.

Most books about teamwork and leadership will tell you that teams experience four stages of development. However, I found a free downloadable book about virtual teamwork at that added the very important stage five mentioned above: adjourning. With the high turnover we experience in international churches, almost all our teams at every level to go through this cycle at least once a year. Every summer when people leave and new ones arrive, we complete the cycle and start all over again. It is, therefore, helpful to understand these stages for greater team effectiveness.

Some questions to consider:

  • Can you identify at what stage your team is at now?
  • What will it take for you to lead the team to the next stage?
  • How was it like to experience teamwork that never got past stage two: storming?
  • What could you do different this or next time to sail through the storm?
  • How could you plan now to do the final stage, adjourning, well?

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