Are all of your reindeer pulling in the same direction?

13th November 2017

Gavin Preston

Business Growth


We are hurtling through November.  The topic of conversation for my four year old has already turned to what Father Christmas is going to bring him and his choices of Paw Patrol episodes now include Santa and his Reindeer.

Santa needs all of his reindeer to be pulling in the same direction in order to meet his short delivery window.  Are the members of your senior team working together and all pulling towards the business’ goals?

Take a peek into most businesses and you will see people busy getting on with their own jobs.  Appropriately, they are focused on achieving their own targets.  So far so good.  But what happens when individual or departmental focus is blinkered to what else is going on in the business, blindsided to the interdependencies or potential synergies across the whole business?

Departmental focus and communication is drawn inwards at the expense of cross company communication and working.  When people are working hard to achieve their own targets/agendas, tensions can arise across the business such as the common tension between sales and production.

Whenever new people join a business/team it changes the team dynamic.

You may have heard of the stages of the development of a team: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing (Tuckman). When a team comes together initially, or new people are added to the team, everyone is typically polite as they meet and start to get to know each other. They tentatively start working out what part/role each person will play in the team. This is called the ‘Forming’ phase.

Over time tensions can emerge. Individuals will become increasingly vocal with their opinions, preferences, suggestions on how things should be done.  There is posturing for position.  Debates can get a little uncomfortable, if not heated at time.  This is known as the ‘Storming’ phase.  When you push the team hard, for example due to the pace of growth of the business, that team will go into the Storming phase sooner.  Whilst it can feel uncomfortable it is an important stage to go through.

If the candid conversations that need to happen at this stage are avoided then that will lead to separate factions pulling in their own direction and people apparently agreeing on the course of action at a team meeting but then go off and do their own things outside of the meeting.

The goal is to create the safe space for open, honest and candid conversation on key issues so that they can be sorted out and a way forward agreed.  Often during the storming phase there can be the misconception of personality clashes when in fact tensions are usually down to one team member misunderstanding where another is coming from.   Open and honest discussions can surface these issues and lead to team members realising that they are in fact trying to achieve the same objective but going about it in different ways.

When you see some tensions between key members of your team that is an indication that some storming might be taking place.  The best thing you can do is to book some time off site for the team and discuss the key issues the business/team is grappling with, including team members sharing their frustrations about what is holding them back and with each other.

An experienced and competent facilitator is key for the success of this process to ensure frustrations are channelled into insightful conversation, new understandings and agreement on the way forward.  I have had the privilege of navigating many such conversations with clients and whilst not every moment of the process is comfortable, the results can be powerful and very positive for the business.   This paves the way for the next two stages of the development of a team: Norming and then Performing.

If you see some tensions emerging between members of your team, see it as positive progression in the development of your team.  Create the time and opportunity for frank conversations to deepen understanding of others’ perspective and agree a way forward.

For more on Tuckman’s stages of Team Development click here.

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