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The Orming Model And The Properties Of Change

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In 1965 Dr. Bruce Tuchman published what is known as the Orming model. The Orming model is designed for awareness of team behaviors in different phases of team development. The model explains that as a team matures so do attitudes, relationships, behaviors, and performance. It is also an excellent model to explain what happens to a team as its dynamics change and go through different stages. 

It is also a good model to understand where your team sees itself. As a new or experienced leader, this model can shed light on how you see team development and how the team sees its development. Sometimes these two views can be very different which opens the door to some healthy dialogue

Most types of changes cause disruptions in teams from a small process change to a realignment of roles. Understanding the properties of change and the stages of the Orming model might help you reduce the anxiety that comes with change.

The Orming model

The original model has four phases, the fifth phase was added years later as a way to close the loop for project-based work. 

Here are the five phases of the model.

  1. Forming stage
  2. Storming stage
  3. Norming stage
  4. Performing stage
  5. The adjourning stage was added in the 1970s

When used for team development, the model is not linear, it’s more of a cycle because teams are in constant flux. At any time the stage of the team can change because of situations that occur both inside and outside of the team’s sphere of influence. The goal is to reach the performing stage and maintain it as long as possible. When the team shifts to another stage the goal is to get the team back to the performing stage. 

A team that is in the norming stage can quickly go into the forming stage because of the loss of a team member. A larger team may not feel the effect and doesn’t shift to another stage after losing a member as much as a smaller team would. 

A high-performing team can go quickly onto a storming stage because of a sudden conflict within the team. It is easy for teams to shift back and forth between stages because of situations. 

What is helpful with this model is understanding the characteristics of each stage, the staff behaviors that are present, and what leadership style is needed to help build the team through the current stage to reach the preferred stage of performing. 

The characteristics of the Orming stages

The Forming stage

This stage is usually the primary development of a team. If you are a leader and have been charged with putting a team together you will be in the forming stage. If you are a new leader to an existing team your team will move to the forming stage. If a major change in the team happens as the loss of a key staff member, this can move the team into the forming stage. 

Forming Stage
In the forming stage, group members come together to define the team. Understand the purpose of the team, and individuals’ roles and responsibilities, and express excitement, anxiety, and uncertainties. People can be quiet and withdrawn trying to understand where they fit in. Staff is trying to get a sense of the leader and their style.
Issues and Challenges – Staff may test the leader’s authority, and the leader’s ability to build trust and respect. The leader’s ability to create inclusion, open communication, and collaboration is key.
Leadership approach – Empathy is crucial. Understand that everyone is trying to figure out where they fit especially if they are new to the team. Open communication and active listening are important.

The Storming stage

In this stage, the team has been developing for some time. The day-to-day work routine is starting to be established as well as everyone’s role on the team. Relationships between team members are developing and so are the social groups. Staff members talk amongst themselves and can start to incubate the perceived unfair distribution of work. 

Change can drive a team from other stages into this stage because of the disruptive nature of change if not managed in a way that makes sense to the team members.   

Storming Stage
In the storming stage, members begin to realize the amount of work that is required of them and can panic. They may begin to see the disparity between their hopes and the reality of the work. They will struggle to establish a work-life balance. Many teams can temporarily derail at this stage. 
Issues and Challenges – Power, control, and conflict struggles will occur as team members may have feelings of ineffectiveness and confusion. They may second guess their ability. Frustrations will emerge because of the amount of work and the perception of everyone doing or not doing their share of work. Situations may appear unfair.
Leadership approach – Stay focused on clarity of roles and expectations. Continue with open communication and active listening. Focus on honesty and the intent to understand what others see, empathy is still important. This stage can use a firm but fair leadership approach.

The Norming stage

In this stage the team is feeling more comfortable with each other, the relationships are healthy, and the members care for each other and can challenge each other to work better without hurt feelings. The leader becomes the coach leader to help support and further develop the skills of each member of the team as well as the team as a whole.

Norming Stage
Issues and Challenges – There still might be some challenges over shared responsibilities, continual support in building the team’s confidence in reaching goals and continuing working to support trust and respect for each other. 
Issues and Challenges – There still might be some challenges over shared responsibilities, continual support in building the team’s confidence in reaching goals, and continuing working to support trust and respect for each other. 
Leadership approach – Pulling back on the hands-on approach to more of an approach of trusting the team members to know what to do, empowering them, and supporting them. You are working as a coach leader, keeping an eye on them, giving them assistance where and when needed, and giving them the space to challenge themselves and each other. 

The Performing stage

This stage is when the team is running smoothly and you can give them a lot of room because you have developed trust in them as individuals and as a high-performing team. In this stage, you are still present for the team and you also have room for more leadership work for yourself, among other responsibilities. 

Performing Stage
In the performing stage, people are comfortable with each other, they can be their authentic selves without repercussions, judgments are suspended, and everyone is working from the same page. Team performance is growing and is focused on team success.
Issues and Challenges – Continued support from leadership including increased empowerment for the staff. Keeping focused on the team and department goals and results. Maintaining the momentum for future team growth and opportunities for the staff. 
Leadership approach – Being transformational, focusing on the people side of leadership. Giving credit where credit is due, rewards the team for their work. Don’t take credit for the team’s work unless you want to destroy the trust. Be on the lookout or develop team members who are ready to step up. Support them in their personal and professional development.   

As the leader, when change happens to a team, it is helpful for you to understand the dynamics of the change event. This will help you to determine how long a team will remain in a certain stage and will help you to adapt your leadership style to navigate the team through change. 

The four properties of change

When looking at change there is a simple way to look at the effect of change, especially with the health of your team. The lifespan of a change event is nothing more than a way to describe how long and how disruptive the change might be.

  1. The significance of the change – The significance of the change could be seen as how much of the organization is being affected. The change could be a process that affects a few people on your team to an outside regulatory change that affects an entire department or the whole organization.  
  2. The scale of the change – The scale of the change attempts to understand how much of the organization’s resources (e.g. human, financial, and facilities) will be affected by the change. A small process change could affect a few staff members and may result in some training time. A larger departmental change could involve IT, finance, leadership support, and time.
  3. The lifespan of the change – How long will the effects of the change last? A small process change may take two hours of training and a week to test. Where a departmental change could last for six months resulting from multiple training, process, and system overhauls. 
  4. The size of the change – The best way to look at the size of the change is to think about how far from normal the change will require one to deviate. If the process change affects a couple of people and will take a week or two to integrate into the existing overall process, the change could be considered small. If the change requires an entire department to retool how they do their daily work, that change is huge.

The recent continuous improvement group I worked with defined challenges or problems as pebbles, rocks, and boulders.

  1. Pebbles – These are small problems that can be solved by one or two people working together on the fix. This is like fixing a broken or ineffective process on the team.
  2. Rocks – These are larger problems that would require, time, staff, and a leader like a team lead or manager to help solve this size of challenge. A rock is a problem that affects the whole team and maybe several teams in a department.
  3. Boulders – These are much larger challenges that affect the entire department and can require staff, major time commitment, leadership, IT, and finance to resolve. 

When addressing change that will affect your team it is helpful to be able to present the change using the four properties as a source of dialogue. This will help to establish if a change is a pebble, rock, or boulder. This will help the team to understand what is about to happen. It will also help you as a leader to understand how the change will affect your team. As you discuss the change with your staff you will get a sense of where the team is going to shift. 

Exercise | Deliberate practice

In the past when working with leaders on how to manage change I would introduce them to the Orming model for the simple reason that it’s fairly simple. Change is complicated enough why add to it? It is a good tool to do a temperature check to understand where your team is at and how they are responding to the current situation. 

The deliberate practice I would give to the leaders for the next three weeks is to watch your team’s behaviors and determine what stage you believe your team is in and why and be specific with your observations, no guessing.

Here is what I would hear.

  • Customer service teams – Leaders would almost always say their teams were constantly in the forming stage because people were constantly leaving teams for various reasons and the leaders would be constantly involved in hiring and training. Team dynamics were always changing.
  • Analytical and leadership teams – Most of the leaders would say their teams were in the norming or performing stage because the teams stayed together for a longer period resulting in developing good work environments and relationships. 
  • Internal support teams – Teams like IT, facilities, and administrative to name a few would see their teams in different stages because of the nature of the work the teams did.

One day, the manager of the internal audit and compliance team shared where he saw his team. He felt his team was in the norming stage because they had been together for a while and seemed to work well together. He then said during a team meeting he presented the Orming model to his team, discussed with them all the characteristics of each stage including the issues and challenges, and asked the team what they thought.

To his surprise, the team came to the agreement that they saw themselves in the storming stage. The manager said, in his head, what don’t I know? He asked the team to elaborate on what they saw. After listening to them be began to understand where they were coming from and what was causing the challenges.

He said two things were learned in that meeting. 

  1. He thought he was helping the team by being a hands-off manager. The team identified several areas where they needed him to be more involved and supportive.
  2. The team agreed this exercise was very helpful because looking at the stages they could see where they were as a team and what behaviors were causing problems and wanted to work on using better behaviors to improve themselves and the team.

Your turn

Use the Orming model to observe your team. From your perspective, at what stage do you think your team is in? Then get your team together, and make sure the space is safe for them to be honest and transparent. Present the model to them and ask them what they think and what they need from you.

This is an opportunity to get a different view of your team. It is an opportunity for them to share their observations with you. You will need to practice active listening and prepare yourself to hear something you might not like. This is not a personal attack, even though it might feel like it, you will be learning something about yourself and a chance to model effective leadership behavior by accepting feedback graciously.

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.     

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