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Managing the 4 stages that teams go through when they face change


joshuabrusse.jpgBy Joshua Brusse, Chief Architect, Asia Pacific and Japan, HP Software Professional Services


In my last blog post I wrote about the emotional change curve that individuals go through when faced with change. Teams also go through change when significant events occur, such as a change in membership or a change in objectives and tasks. But the team change curve is about group dynamics: establishing roles and responsibilities, figuring out what people are doing, establishing and questioning leadership, and so on.


Managing the change curve for teams is important for two reasons:

  • Team performance is determined in large part, by the quality of the relationships among the people involved
  • After a significant change it takes time to connect and re-establish a productive team

My approach to managing team change curve is based on work by a number of researchers (Bruce Tuckman, Will Schutz, Herbert Modlin and Mildred Faris, James Whittaker, M. Scott Peck and many others). But I’ve integrated their work along with my own experience into this model.


team change curve.JPG




















Stage 1: Orientation

A major purpose of this first phase is to establish primary purpose, structure, roles & responsibilities, leader, tasks, relationships and boundaries of the team. During this stage the group asks questions like:


  • What is our primary purpose?
  • What roles does every team-member have?
  • Who is the leader?
  • How will we work together?
  • What are the boundaries of the team?
  • How do we structure the team?

In this phase people are not sure if they want to be part of the team or not; they are looking around to other teams and (and perhaps other companies) to see if the current team is the best. In most new team formations the first thing people are searching for is a leader: someone who tells them what to do. Members also create a rather superficial sort of team spirit; there is an “enemy” that all members have and that bonds them. Together they avoid facing the difficulties that come up in the next phase: Exploration.


Stage 2: Exploration

Exploration starts when teams have passed through the stage of being nice to each other. In this new stage team members will voice more of their own individual concerns. The team is still spending a lot of time worrying about the effect of the change instead of considering how best to organize work. Issues around power and authority and where people sit in the pecking order may happen in this phase. This can lead to conflicts between the manager and the rest of the team as well as conflicts between team members. Alliances may shift as team members pair up: This feels safe for them (and helps with what Maslow calls “Belonging” needs).


The team is working on structure, roles and responsibilities and relationships; however there is a risk at this stage that the team is creating something unreal as a defense against actually doing something practical. Still, this is a natural and important part of the process. If this phase is done well it will answer fundamental questions such as


  • Is this what we should be doing?
  • What are the gray areas in our individual accountabilities and why are there a lot of them?
  • Why was he/she appointed as a team leader? Is he/she the right person for this?
  • Can I work with all those other people?

Stage 3: Aspiration

The third phase occurs when the team starts getting ready to work. Usually there’s some alternation between Exploration and Aspiration as the team continues to work out the questions raised in the previous phase.


In Aspiration, the team members are more and more accepting of the team tasks, roles and responsibilities, and members. Team dynamics are settling down, The team (and members) are more aware what they need to be doing, the gray areas in their individual accountabilities are getting clearer, they start to accept the manager, and the members realize more and more that they can work with other teams.


Stage 4: Integration

In this phase the team now has clarity around its purpose, its structure and its roles. It is now ready to focus on tasks and starts taking action towards achieving objectives. Team norms and values have been established and institutionalized. Last but not least the team must integrate themselves with other teams in the organization to achieve the company objectives.


The team change curve is completed when:

  • Team purpose and structure has been fully accepted
  • The team is ready to focus on task,
  • The team is taking action towards team objectives
  • The team is clear about team and individual roles, and commitment and engagement towards those roles and responsibilities is achieved
  • The team is clear about the role of the team in the organization

Team change curves are important, because if your teams are not ready to work when you start your transformation, your organization will not be able to move through its change curve. That’s the subject of my next post.


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