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Team Dynamics and Performance

The implementation of Lean and Six Sigma requires strong leadership abilities and support but also an ability to bring people together into fully functioning teams. Bruce Tuckman has identified four team development stages which are helpful to understand when embarking on process improvements efforts involving teams.
The four stages identified by Tuckman are:
  1. Forming: This is the "honey moon" period where team members may feel excitement or optimism about new goals. It is normal for team members to be on "best behavior" in order to gain acceptance within the group. Team members rely heavily on the team leaders during this phase. The team leaders must be very involved and provide guidance and structure to set a good foundation for the team's ultimate success.
  2. Storming: During this phase, team members start to become more comfortable and begin to challenge the team "status quo." The team may begin to realize the work that lies ahead and some may feel overwhelmed. This is the most difficult phase for the team to work through. Members may resist change, cling to their own opinions, or engage in unnecessary arguments. Discipline, good communication, and leadership skills are needed by team leaders to help guide the team through this phase.
  3. Norming: The norming phase is marked by the development of a sense of team cohesion. Team members commit to the project and are willing to invest time and energy to data collection and analysis. Team members begin to accept each other and develop more effective strategies to deal with conflicts. Norming is encouraged by routine, team-building events and regularly scheduled meetings. This stage may mark the impact of the so-called "Hawthorne effect." Leaders must continue to be attentive to the group development to help members transition to higher functioning stages without regressing back to forming and storming behaviors.
  4. Performing: This is the "pay off" phase. By now the group has developed relationships and purpose and becomes more effective and focused on its tasks. As synergy develops between team members, the team leaders can take a less active role and begin to delegate. Though this may be the most productive team phase, conflicts may still resurface from the storming phase. Thus the four phases can cycle, or team members may be in a storming state with some members, while a performing state with others. The team leader must be aware of team dynamics through the life of the project and work to return the team to the more productive norming and performing states.
The ultimate success of any Lean or Six Sigma improvement project rests on employee buy-in and an understanding of the value of Lean and Six Sigma to the organization and customers. Therefore, managers and others who are involved in leading improvement teams must be adept communicators and demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence to be able to build and sustain teams.