Theory Explains Aussie Test Team Issues

Mention the word ‘theory’ and people go scurrying like cockroaches in the kitchen when the lights are turned on!

“Theories aren’t relevant” you might say. Hmmm, that reads like a theory to me!

Seriously, we use theories all the time. The problem is that many of them aren’t grounded in research. But here’s one that is. Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development which was first proposed in 1965.

“Gee, that’s too long ago!” others of you might say. Well, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was developed between 1907 – 1915. The issue with theories is not when they were developed but whether or not they are useful.

Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development is useful in explaining the current challenges facing the Australian Cricket Test Team and the challenges faced by the leaders of the team. To keep a complex issue as simple as possible to understand, the team is stuck between the first two stages of team development. These stages are Forming and Storming.

The characteristics of the Forming stage are:

  • People are leaving the team;
  • New people are being added to the team; and
  • Individuals have a high desire to focus on routines and to not generate conflict.

Rotation policies and team member retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have seen the the membership of the Australian Test Squad constantly changing over the past year.

While new members to the squad will behave in alignment with the Forming Stage of Team Development, more experienced team members are unlikely to realise that the team has gone ‘back’ to the Forming Stage and will therefore try to behave in alignment with the Norming and/or Performing Stages of Team Development. This means that the team then finds itself constantly in a state of flux which in turn means that the team is stuck in the Storming Stage.

The characteristics of the Storming Stage of Team Development are:

  • Team members are unsure of their role;
  • Team members are unsure of their security;
  • Team members are unsure of the leadership;
  • Trust is low throughout the team; and
  • Problems are surfaced.

The Storming Stage is a healthy stage for teams to go through, but it isn’t a healthy stage to stay in

I read with interest in The Age this morning that Michael Hussey revealed that he kept his intentions to retire private because he didn’t trust that he wouldn’t be replaced by a more junior player if he revealed his intentions to retire. This is a classic Storming Stage behaviour. Coming from such a senior player in the team it is indicative of what was really going on for the whole team.

The characteristics of the Norming Stage are:

  • The problems surfaced during the Storming Stage have been identified and resolved;
  • The team’s goals and understood, agreed upon and come first;
  • Some team members will have accepted that they must put their own desires behind those of the teams; and
  • The team works as one to achieve it’s shared goals.

 The characteristics of the Performing Stage of Team Development are:

  • The team members have a fluid approach to how they work with and support each other;
  • Their is both individual and collective responsibility and accountability for the team;
  • Team members compliment each other and compensate for any flaws; and
  • Results are achieved.

How to use this theory to help the Australian Cricket Test Team
Many people don’t understand that when a team changes it’s membership, even if only by one person it goes back to the Forming Stage of Team Development. So moving through the stages is iterative rather than linear, depending on what is happening with the team. The Stages of Team Development can be moved through very quickly when people understand them.

In this context the Australian Test Squad needs to be stabilised. If a player becomes injured and therefore needs replacing, team management need to quickly help the whole team move through the Forming and Storming Stages of Team Development.

Secondly the Norming Stage needs to be focused upon so that the team has a chance to move into the Performing Stage. Due to the iterative nature of the Stages of Team Development, movement through the Stages of Team Development is not linear. You may move from Forming to Storming, but get stuck at Storming. You may move from Storming to Norming, but get ‘stuck’ at Norming. Your team membership may then change, moving back from Norming to Forming. ‘Progress’ through the stages does follow a linear pathway. Storming represents progress from Forming. Norming represents progress from Storming and ultimately Performing represents progress from Norming. This means that teams don’t ‘leap-frog’ a stage going ‘up’ the Stages, but they can ‘tumble’ down the Stages and leap-frog them on the way down. In this respect it is possible to go from the Performing Stage to the Forming Stage literally overnight.

What is fascinating to watch is that when people don’t understand how this theory works, who do you think they tend to blame for a team ‘not being the same’ when it’s membership changes? Yes, you got it right. The last person to join the team.

While I have focused on the Australian Cricket Test Team for this article, the same can be said for any team. What Stage of Team Development is your team in? What are the signs that you are seeing that are providing the evidence for your answer. With this understanding, what can/should you do about it?

Gary Ryan is the founder of the Teams That Matter® approach to high performing teams.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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