Getting Team to Function Like a Team is Critical for Lean Operations Management

Posted by Rock LaManna


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Your staff is a diverse group of people, and I’m not talking about economics, ethnicity or education.  I’m talking about mindsets.  People think differently, which is why a critical part of lean operations management is getting your team to function like a team.

To help you, LaManna Alliance Lean Operations Advisor Ed Klaczak suggested using a tactic called Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.  

Ed recalled a particular assignment where this practice was put to use.  The company wanted to implement a radical shift in a manufacturing procedure, so they compiled a team consisting of people from manufacturing, purchasing and various other departments impacted by the changes.

Throwing this diverse group together resulted in chaos, so the employer brought in a team facilitator, who implemented Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.  This model of group development was created by Bruce Tuckman in 1965.  Tuckman believed a group had to pass through each of the phases (Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing) in unison, to work effectively as a team and ultimately achieve consensus.

Achieving consensus with people from various backgrounds isn’t necessarily easy.  People have different agendas, different viewpoints and different working styles.  Everyone wants to do the right thing – or what they consider to be the right thing, but might not consider the impact on others.  Often, that can lead to gridlock or changes that won’t be fully accepted after implementation, especially if team members have strong personalities.

The true goal of consensus building is to get team buy-in, so when implementation occurs there is a high probability of acceptance.  If an operations department is looking to implement a new ERP system, for example, you need all affected parties to buy in to the decision, otherwise there will be team members who don’t use the system once it’s implemented.

“Consensus doesn’t mean I agree 100 percent,” Ed said.  “But I do agree it’s the best fit for our needs.”

In each step of the process, you need buy-in from every team member before you can proceed with the project.  A typical issue is when 1-2 team members are jumping to a conclusion and other team members are still venting about the problem being addressed. Everyone must be synchronized; as the team moves through the various phases.

If the project being pursued is straightforward and your team is like-minded, the entire Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing process can be accomplished in as little as 2 hours.  If it’s not, it can take much longer:


1. Forming

The first stage of the group development process, Forming involves identifying the requirements of what you want the project to accomplish, and involving every member of the team in that process.  A team leader (reverent or appointed) needs to be determined, to keep the process moving through the various phases.

The process of how the team will work together is determined in this phase.  It’s essentially laying out the ground rules.  It’s about information gathering, and most team members will be happy to offer up their thoughts. Everyone is on their best behavior during Forming, and conflict is avoided.


2. Storming

Now the kid gloves come off, and it’s time to hammer through the issue.  Ed notes that on the project mentioned earlier, his team started out with 12 choices on a spreadsheet, and whittled their options down to three during the storming phases.  Then they sought out price and performance quotes on the final three options, reconvened with the group, and stormed their way to a final choice.

In this stage, things get feisty.  Team members will challenge each other, the leader, even the project as a whole.  It’s important at this point to keep focused on the big issues.  Don’t get caught up in the minutiae or personality conflicts.  

Lean, Six Sigma problem-solving tools might be needed to move everyone along and keep the team cohesive.  This is a tough stage, but it’s essential.  And it’s also important to remember that no one can be left stuck in this stage.


3. Norming

If you’ve made it through the Storming phase, you’ve got consensus, a team vision for the solution and hopefully a newfound enthusiasm for the project.  A sense of trust should be established on the team, and with the global buy-in, you’re ready for rollout.

Now you can assign tasks to different members of the group, and expect they’ll follow through.  A sense of independence will grow among the team, and individuals will start to champion and perform the important tasks in their own way.  

At this point, everyone should feel like they’re part of the solution.


4. Performing

You’re now in full rollout stage, and by this point, you’re relying less on opinions and more on data.  This is the critical point we mentioned in an earlier post on decision-making.  The decision has been made.  Now you’re focused on doing the things to ensure that the improvement is properly implemented and that metrics are in place to measure the success of the improvement.

The leader of the group is more a facilitator at this point because some actions might need to be assigned to individuals that were not part of the process.  The time of mediation has passed, now there is a need for good data so adjustment can be made.  

Making it through Tuckman’s four stages is no easy task.  You can expect conflict, sure, but with this consensus-building process in place, you can deal with those natural objections and find ways to make the project better.


We all know how disruptive a dysfunctional organization can be.  One look at Washington D.C. shows how desperately consensus-building is needed for an organization (or country) to move forward.  Using a methodology like Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing can provide you with the framework you need to get your organization aligned and moving into high gear.

Photo by: lumaxart


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