Let Them Fight WT540

I find it really interesting that themes seem to emerge from time to time.

The past few weeks I have had discussions with my legends about the challenging times they are experiencing with their management teams.

“We are not aligned Shirl.” “We’re not on the same page.” “All we seem to do is fight.”

My reaction is to get excited.

“Let them fight.” “Get excited when your teams are fighting.”


“Because, number one, it means they are engaged and number two, you can’t get to be a high performing team unless you go through what we call The Team Development Wheel.”

The Team Development Wheel is based on a model that was originally put forward by Psychologist Bruce Tuckman, in 1965, as the 4 Stages of Team Formation. You might know the stages as “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing”. Later he added a 5th stage called “Adjourning or Mourning”.

We use a sailing analogy with 4 quadrants in a circle. The first quadrant is “Becalmed”. In this stage, the team is just forming or you have new members joining. At this stage people are polite and minding their manners. They are watching and waiting. They are working out who’s in charge and where are we going.

The second stage is “Squalling”. To get the boat sailing you need to have wind and harness it. This is the “fighting” stage, where team members start to fight over roles, different personalities and different ways of doing things. They can also fight because they are feeling overwhelmed or they may be engaged in power plays for the leadership position. The most important thing you can do here is to “let them fight”.  Rather than stopping your team members from asserting themselves, encourage them, however give them the tools to fight clean. Teach them how to construct a Confronting I Message and Conflict Resolution skills as well as Active Listening. It’s so important to help the team move through this stage because you can’t get to the third and fourth stages without going through this stage.

Stage three is “Sailing”. In this stage, team members are working together and working on refining and improving systems and processes. They are getting to know each other better and finding ways to resolve their differences.

The fourth stage is the “Spinnaker Run”. In this stage team members become what we call “interdependent”. This means they can rely on you to do your job and do it well; they trust you. They also trust you that if they fall overboard, you will bring the boat around to save them. In other words, you have each other’s backs. There is mutual support and respect and productivity is high.

The fifth stage, “Adjourning or Mourning” is when the team disbands. This could be because a project has completed or the team is no longer needed or team members leave. There is usually a period of adjustment at this time.

The important thing to take away from this week’s thought is to not get upset when team members are fighting (not physically fighting, of course). Rather, give them the skills to fight fair and to fight clean. One of my beliefs is that “there is nothing that can’t be cleared up in conversation”. If you won’t have the conversation, you’ve got no hope of resolving the conflict.

If you’re up for it, this week I encourage you to share the model of Team Development and ask your team members where they would place your team on The Team Development Wheel. Draw a circle. Divide it into 4 sections and, like a clock face, ask them to write their initials on the outside of the wheel for where they think the team sits and then discuss the differences in scores.

You might be surprised at what you all learn about each other.

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