Conflict Resolution

Excerpt From The Art Of Managing: 4 Stages Of Group Development In Team Functioning

Jane Treber Macken asked:

Understanding the four stages of group development is important for effective team functioning.

In Stage One, team members are dependent and want to feel included. They will make mental notes of their first impressions of others. For example, Sam comes into a room and spreads papers all around a lot of space. Some people may see him as controlling and desiring a lot of space. Others may see him as a hard worker who really has it together; he has everything he needs. Depending on who you are, you are going to have different views or thoughts about each person.

As the group begins to know one another, Sam discloses that he spent two years in jail for robbing a bank. Immediately, your impression of him changes. You look at him and say, “He doesn’t look like a criminal.” Then, you think, but he did spend two years in prison. Your next thought is, “He’s not like me because my values are that I do not rob banks.” Then you find out that Sam was a teller in a bank and that he was framed by somebody who was caught after two years. Your impression changes again.

When forming a team, it is important to really look at what you see in other people. People who become members of a team are concerned with issues such as: personal safety; acceptance and inclusion; am I going to fit in; are you going to like me; are you going to treat me as an equal; and, am I going to be able to contribute with what I know. Our mind is continuously trying to determine if we are dominant or submissive or top or bottom so that we know how to play the role. Members of a new group fear rejection. Keep this in mind when you are in a new work group or team-based project. Everyone in the group experiences some or all of these elements.

In Stage One, members communicate in a polite manner and never get past being polite. Subgroups and coalitions are rare at this stage. Overt conflict is minimal. There may be some individuals who are vocal, but usually only a few. If you are a facilitator or the informal group leader, your main purpose is to get the group beyond this stage or the group will never perform.

During the first stage, roles and assignments are based on external status and first impressions rather than matching competencies with goals. During this stage, member compliance is high. Communication such as groupthink is centralized. Participation is limited to a few vocal members. The group lacks group structure. Member deviation from group norms is rare during this stage. Cohesion with the group is based on identification with the leader. Once the group begins to feel comfortable, it will move to Stage Two.

In Stage Two, the team members will begin to reveal their personal goals, assumptions, and expectations. This is the stage where you as the leader or facilitator state expectations and what will be measured. Members will express concerns with original group goals. Some will even challenge the leader. Subgroups and coalitions may form. At this point, conflicts will surface, and disagreements about goals and tasks will emerge. Conflict resolution, if successful, increases consensus about group goals and culture near the end of this stage. Conflict resolution also increases trust and cohesion and results in increased member participation.

During this stage, you begin to reveal some of their assumptions whether or not you are aware of it. You start to reveal something about yourself and learn that others see the world differently. Conflicts about values begin to surface. Have you ever been to a meeting where the steps you had to take to get to the end result were so clear? Then, all of a sudden, someone else came at it from another point of view (like Mars). You either thought to yourself or said, “Hello. That’s not going to work.” If you stay in this mode, it’s debilitating. You must be able to recognize when this happens and move on to the next stages because that’s where a lot of creativity begins.

Forming subgroups is detrimental to the group’s progress. Let’s say you have ten members working on a task and two members go off and talk on their own. They return saying, “We think…” The leader or facilitator needs to say, “Wait a minute. It’s not us against you; we want as a team to get you here.” You do not want alliances to form that interfere with the group’s progress. You want to move through this stage as fast as you can.

In Stage Three, trust and structure are evident due to increased goal clarity and consensus of what the group wants. The leader’s role becomes less directive and more consultative. For example, a group of fourteen team members were asked, “Do you want A or B?” The three members who were the most vocal said, B, and no one else spoke. The group waited for the leader to say B. After a few minutes of silence, the leader asked, “What about the rest of you?” He then waited as some folks started to fidget in their seats. The leader was inviting other opinions without saying that he’d like to hear from the others. One of the members finally said she wanted A. When that person spoke up, seven others said they would prefer A. If the leader had gone with the verbal people, he would not have had consensus on what the members really wanted. Not all of the team members are going to be vocal about their wants and desires. It’s up to the leader or informal leader to ask these members what their thoughts are to encourage participation.

In Stage Four, the work progresses because the members are clear about and agree with the goals. Members are also clear about their roles and assignments that match their abilities. This is the stage when the work gets done and results are measured and rewarded. The best performance is when the group is in sync. You can witness this level of performance in team sports. Some teams are out there playing the game with very little effort, whereas other teams are playing at high level and with great passion. Some might even say that the team experiences a group phenomenon at this level. It’s called “the zone” in team sports, but it can be the experience of any good, functioning team.

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