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Coming Together

It takes time for any new team to get its act together. In this stage, there's lots of exploration as group members get to know one another. There's a focus on similarities and differences and first impressions are key as people try to figure out the similarities and differences. Because everything is new there is a fair amount of confusion and anxiety as people try to put their best foot forward. As a result, productivity will be lower. Issues that arise are questions of whether each person feels like they belong to the group, whether members can be trusted and who is in charge.

The individual tends to wonder whether he or she will be accepted and is careful and polite in order to make that happen. The leader's task is directing, so that the group can get coordinated in their efforts. Orientation is an important task in the forming stage.

This is also a good time to look at how the group is organized. Because the group has not yet molded into a strong, effective unit, it's still relatively easy to reorganize, get people trained in new skills and look at how the processes in the group work. It's also helpful to set group ground rules, which are expectations about how work will be done, decisions will be made, and how people will treat each other. In short, the supervisor has a wonderful opportunity to be sure that the right people are in the right place using the right process.

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Characteristics of the Forming Stage

  • Exploration
  • Focus on similarities and differences
  • First impressions are key
  • Confusion/anxiety
  • Lower productivity
  • Issues of inclusion, leadership, developing trust
  • Open communication is a must

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Tips for the Forming Stage

Setting Team Ground Rules 

As a manager, you are concerned with not only on getting the work done, but on how the work gets done. Ground rules are an important tool for helping individuals function together as a team. They reflect what is important to the members about how they work together. Ideally, the rules are set at the first meeting, allowing them to become second nature to the team. Discussing ground rules after problems arise is much more difficult. Ground rules should focus on three elements:

  • Tasks – Expected activities and deliverables for the team.
  • Process – How the activities will be carried out.
  • Norms – Ways in which team members will interact with each other.

Steps in Setting Ground Rules

  1. Set aside time at a team meeting to discuss ground rules. All team members should have a chance to provide input.
  2. Ask team members to discuss prior group experiences. What worked well? What created problems?
  3. As a group, describe what you’d like to happen when you work together.
  4. Write down the ground rules to which the team has agreed. Each member should have a copy.
  5. Ground rules should be reviewed periodically.

Questions to Ask

Ground rules for tasks

  • What are the expectations and deliverables for the team? (Review the team charter.)
  • What does each member bring to the table?
  • How will tasks be assigned?

Ground rules for processes

  • What are the standards for meeting attendance, promptness, and participation?
  • What roles need to be filled (time keeper, note taker, facilitator) and how will they be assigned?
  • How will the group gather data and feedback from team members and other stakeholders?
  • What is the flow of communication?
  • How will team members be held accountable?

Ground rules for norms

  • How will we make decisions?
  • How will we problem-solve?
  • How will we handle conflicts?
  • How does the team define respectful behavior?
  • How will people be held accountable?
  • How do we communicate with each other (voice mail, e-mail, etc.)?

Sample ground rules–Team A

  • Everyone will participate and take ownership of group projects.
  • When appropriate, sub-groups will be assigned to work on specific activities.
  • Team members will complete assignments on time.
  • Meetings will start and end on time – no backtracking if someone is late.
  • Each meeting will have a note taker (rotating task) who will distribute notes and record decisions and assignments.
  • Anyone who is absent from a meeting is responsible for finding out what they missed.
  • Respect the value of each individual’s contribution.
  • Resolution of differences will typically be by majority decision, but on key issues the group will reach consensus.

Sample ground rules–Team B

  • Members will be at all meetings (except for illness and emergencies). If you can’t attend, notify the facilitator in advance.
  • Agendas will be distributed before each meeting.
  • Meetings will start and end on time.
  • The group will listen respectfully to the opinions of all team members by:
    • Using active listening.
    • Not using “killer phrases” or negative body language.
    • Brainstorming without editing.
  • Information from the meetings is public and should be shared with other stakeholders, but confidentiality will be respected when requested.
  • The team owns all ideas and concepts – do not talk disrespectfully about team activities in public.

Defining Norms (pdf) can help you plan how the norms for your group will be defined.

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