“Teamwork makes the dream work!”
Creating high performing teams who achieve great results is as crucial as having a compelling proposition, a clear go-to-market strategy and enough funds to develop your business. However, in the early stages of starting up a business with a tight budget, the latter is given most attention while the founder(s) assemble people with the necessary technical or marketing skills and experience to help create the business. Only when the startup is growing and scaling, more attention is given on having the necessary leadership skills and competencies on-board and time is spent on culture, team dynamics and effective teamwork.
However the question is whether that’s not too late, looking at the various stages of group development called Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing, a model first proposed by psychological researcher Bruce Tuckman in 1965. His theory, known as “Tuckman’s stages of group development” stated that all of these phases are necessary and inevitable in order for a team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results. And this is a continuous process as the team changes, each stage has new challenges to tackle, circumstances change and the organization grows. Similar to the various phases from startup to scale-up.
Stages of team and group development
In the Forming phase, when the team has just started, the focus is doing whatever task is necessary to be done and there is hardly time to divide roles and spend time on alignment. During the Storming phase, typically conflict and power struggles arise as team members challenge each other, resulting in a loss of performance and team effectiveness. In the Norming phase team members realize that they can achieve more together, adhere to roles and responsibilities and are committed to each other. In the Performing phase the team knows how to make optimal use of each other’s talents in order to achieve results, has a trusting atmosphere and ownership and agility is key.
As a Board Member it is important to realize that every team, whether it is a Founder’s team or a department within an organization, has to go through these phases and will fall back if team members join or leave; potentially impacting the overall performance. Moreover, the role and necessary leadership skills of the founder or team leader also differs per phase.
So what can you do as a board member?
Focus not only on the “hard” kpi’s like turnover, growth and capex but also on the “softer” elements like team dynamics, atmosphere and leadership competencies. Be a sounding board and coach the founder(s) in investing time in personal leadership development and the relationship with a co- founder, building trust and connection on a personal level and acting timely if conflict arises. Noam Wassermann has researched many start-ups for his book Founder’s Dilemmas and concluded that 65 % of start-ups fail due to problems within the management team. In many cases the conflict could have been avoided if the founders had confronted some of the issues early-on.
Secondly, if a founder is unable to lead the team successfully towards high performance, question if he or she is the right leader the team deserves. It is a tough call to make, however given the potential challenges ahead one which should rather be made sooner than later.
- “Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development”, 1965
Floor van Wingerden has a lengthy and esteemed career in strategy development and product & marketing innovation. After working in talent development and strategy at Philips Consumer Electronics, Floor became a partner at Perpetuum Organization Development in 2009. She uses her business and management experience to guide teams and organizations with their questions in the field of strategy and culture development, team effectiveness, leadership and changing a hierarchical set-up to agile teams. Her clientele includes multinationals such as NXP and DSM, NGOs such as Simavi and Stichting De Noordzee, TU Delft, Erasmus MC and start-ups & scale-ups. She recently became a certified ScaleUpBoard member in June 2022.
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