"Things are out in the open , processes are in place, and people ”even those I once had doubts about ”have stepped out of their silo and become fully cross-functional team members .... There's a feeling that we're moving together to conquer the next hill."
”Joe Campinell, president, L'Oral Consumer Products Division
It's party time, and the guests stream in, sporting their best party manners. Some are happy to be there; others are some-what apprehensive about being in a social situation; still others would prefer to be elsewhere. But everyone smiles and tells the host he looks great, although there are telltale signs that he could benefit from serious bed rest. The host shows newcomers where things are and makes the necessary introductions . Soon, guest dependency on the host gives way to socializing. Initial conversation is overly polite and wary, as new acquaintances evaluate one another: What do they do for a living? Where did they go to school? Are they single or married? How did they meet the host?
The first meeting of a cross-functional team is not much different. The team members may not be certain why they were invited and may not want to be there, but they could not refuse the invitation from their boss. They may know few, if any, of the other team members, who come from different functions, different facilities, and maybe even different countries . They too are overly polite, somewhat wary, and dependent on the host ”in this case, the team leader ”to get them going. This is stage one on the team-development wheel.
As the party gets into full swing, people gravitate toward like-minded guests. Some wind up in the kitchen, others in the living room, still others outside on the deck. Alcohol flows, and people begin to let down their hair. They start to voice opinions and quickly learn who agrees with them and who does not. The result is either terrific dialogue or an uncomfortable standoff. The host steps in to smooth over the differences.
By now, other partygoers have begun to form cohesive units: One group may be glued to the television set, another dancing , a third setting up the game board. When one of the television viewers walks past the dancers to get a drink, there is mild razzing: "Hey, why don't you guys get off your duff and onto the dance floor?" Most of the party has entered stage two, although the folks standing around checking their watches are still very much in stage one.
A stage-two team exhibits many of the same characteristics. Some members are stuck in stage one, either feeling that they have nothing to contribute or afraid that if they speak up they'll be put down by the others. They sit silently, waiting for the agony to end. Most of the team members, however, have begun to find kindred spirits and choose sides. Voices are raised, and barbs may be traded. At this point, many team leaders feel as though they are losing control, as though the team is being torn apart by its differences. In fact, the opposite is true: The emergence of different points of view is a sign of growth, of deepening relationships between team members. But, just as a good host needs to intervene to reduce the tension at the party, a good leader needs to manage the conflict that emerges during stage two.
At some point, the host may feel that the party has become too splintered, and it is time to get the group back on the same track. "Hey, everybody, listen up," shouts the host, and off goes the television, the dancing stops, the deck is cleared, and everyone gathers around. "It's time to sing 'Happy Birthday' to our guest of honor ." It is a moment that creates a common experience and brings the party to stage three. For a while, the group is united around a common purpose. Afterward, people may go back to their individual groups, but they go back with a new perspective, a new feeling of cohesiveness.
The same transformation occurs in stage-three teams , under the guidance of a skilled team leader. By helping the team members to manage the differences that came to the surface in stage two, the leader can demonstrate that it is possible to honor one another's point of view and still come to a positive conclusion. Once its members have successfully resolved their differences, the team begins to view conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem. Having passed through the wariness and the open combat together, they feel the same sense of cohesiveness that unites the partygoers. And they too remain changed when they return to their individual groups, or functions.
Stage three is exhilarating for any group. There is definitely a feel of oneness that prevails at these moments. But how do you keep it going? How do you keep your "guests" from retreating to the previous stages? And how do you progress to stage four, where performance expectations are high and the sense of common purpose permanent?
For the partygoers, you must provide a deeper bonding experience than a group rendition of "Happy Birthday." I once attended a party where the television watchers, the game players, the dancers, and the crowd around the buffet came together not only for a few minutes but for a couple of very special hours. Two of the guests happened to be musicians , and on the spur of the moment they went out to their cars and brought in their guitars. They started playing on the patio, and before long, everyone wandered out to join in a sing-along. If parties had a stage four, this one was in it.
In stage three, the team got organized: Its members aligned themselves around individual and group goals, responsibilities, rules of engagement, and business relationships. This gave them a solid foundation on which to build future interactions. Next, they learned to voice their differences and reach agreement on how to deal with them. As with any new learning experience, success is the best reinforcer, and each time they worked through a conflict situation successfully, the stage three team became more pumped.
In stage four, all the learning has been internalized ” depersonalizing conflict and dealing with it as a business issue has become second nature. Differences of opinion are no longer a major deal ”they are voiced and dealt with as a matter of course. Stage four is known for breakthroughs, not only in relationships but also in the degree of innovation and productivity that the team exhibits. All the energy that was previously diverted into power struggles, animosity, triangulation, and subterfuge has now been freed up and can be channeled into achieving business results, which is what stage four teams excel at.