Monday, August 05, 2013

The Four Stages of Healthy Group Development

First published on Facebook on Friday, July 12, 2013.

Churches with healthy DNA are as rare as reindeer in Reno. Most church leaders will never experience it. But there is no reason you can’t be one of the few, the proud, the Marines. And while respecting one another, having fun together, and pouring fuel on each other’s fire is essential, how you choreograph the interactions of the people in your group is vital. The first two blogs address that issue, and I’ll share more wisdom down the road.

Hang this on a hook inside your brain: A team can only be healthy when the individual team members are healthy. Read that again. And make sure you get it. If the leader of leaders is emotionally and spiritually healthy, he/she will attract healthy people - or people who want to be healthy. Unhealthy people don’t last long on a healthy team; they either become healthy or they leave. No one is perfectly healthy emotionally and spiritually, so a healthy team, when necessary, is patient, grace-filled, and affirming to someone whose habits are trending in the right direction and whose heart is right.

Of course the opposite is true: If the leader is unhealthy, you’re in trouble. Expect an ongoing storm that demoralizes people and sends creativity, productivity, and joy into a death spiral (and that assures a pathetic church as opposed to a prevailing church). If the leader and most of the team are healthy but a particular individual is a walking, talking head case and emotional drain on everyone, healthy leaders draw boundaries around them and help them find another place to serve. Remember what Patrick Lencioni says: “The biggest challenge in creating and maintaining healthy culture is the ability of the leader to have uncomfortable conversations in a healthy way.” 

Now that we’re all heathy, let’s talk about the Forming - Storming - Norming - Performing model of group development. It was first proposed in 1965 by a guy named Bruce Tuckman who maintained that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results. Since these don’t need a lot of explaining, I will do a little explaining.

Forming: It takes a while to get to know each person’s personality, quirks, stress threshold, hot buttons, and gifts. When people start working together, they are often surprised that she is opposed to my brilliant idea (how can you not be in favor of lamb-shaped communion bread?) or that he has to consider every conceivable outcome - twice - before pulling the trigger on anything. Like a newly-married couple debating whether to spend Christmas with his parents or hers, it takes some time to know how to process things and work together toward the common goal. Add to this the challenge of determining roles and agreeing on the vision, and forming takes time.

Storming: Suddenly the marriage analogy fully comes to life! This is the stage in which different ideas compete for consideration. The team addresses issues such as how they will function independently and together. Team members open up to each other and confront each other's ideas and perspectives. It can feel contentious, unpleasant, and even painful to people who are averse to conflict. Without respect and patience, the team will sink into a pattern of hurt feelings and ever-deepening frustration. On the flip side, when each person is committed to healthy conflict and a God-honoring outcome (and is conscious of the fact that the team is in the Storming stage), respect and patience eventually pay off. The team is poised to enter the next stage. 

Norming: The team settles in. They have learned what fires her up, what sets him off, what dials forward the creativity of the entire team. They have learned that he blossoms when he is affirmed, that she actually craves corrective feedback if it will help the team. In this stage, all team members take the responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team's goals.

Performing: Yes, it is possible to arrive at this holiest-of-stages. Teams that perform are able to function as a unit as they get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict. They are motivated and knowledgeable. Dissent is expected and encouraged as long as it happens within the climate of respect and with the goal of maximum kingdom impact. Team members leave meetings feeling proud of the organization and delighted that they get to work with one another. 

At Epikos Church in Vancouver, we’re in the performing stage. It doesn’t mean we are the perfect model or that we have “arrived,” but we’ve ridden the roller coaster and come through in pretty good shape. Our staff meetings have become our small group. We share stories, chide one another, laugh, cry, and pray together. We love each other. We get it. We know that our friendship with each other is the foundation on which everything we do to save the world is built. We do our best to create a healthy balance between the “soft” side of being together and the “hard” side of tackling the task of leading the church to become everything God hopes it will be. It might sound weird (it shouldn’t), but we look forward to hanging out with each other at staff meetings. Really!

In my next blog, I will share how we conduct our staff meetings each week. 

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