Ep 43: Building Resilient Teams


In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine explain the four stages of team development and what is most required from a leader at each stage.



Don’t forget to check out Irvine’s You Tube channel with new videos every Wednesday on emotional intelligence, resilience, and leadership.

Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.

Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources some of which are mentioned in each episode. 


Irvine Nugent [00:00:03]:


Well, welcome, everyone, to the Resilient Leadership podcast, where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity and conviction, even in anxious times. My name is Irvine Nugent, and today, as always, I am joined by my good friend and co host Bridgette Theurer. Bridgette, how you doing today?


Bridgette Theurer [00:00:24]:


I am doing well, Irvine. Thank you for asking. It’s great to be here with you, as always. We are recording today on a Monday, as we often do. It was a very busy weekend, full of a lot of things, some work, family commitments, all good, but very, very busy. So it doesn’t feel like a Monday, it feels like a Friday.


Irvine Nugent [00:00:48]:


Don’t you love those heavy Mondays?


Bridgette Theurer [00:00:49]:


Yeah, but I always, always look forward to this time because not only is it just fun, but I always find I learn something from our conversation. I’m excited to dive in. So without further ado, why don’t you tell listeners what’s on tap?


Irvine Nugent [00:01:09]:


Sure. So today’s topic is called building resilient teams. And I think the reality is many of us are on teams. And when you think about this, it’s a curious thing. Teams has become the focus of a lot of our work, and yet we really have very little education around being on teams. We’ve been thrown on teams ever since childhood. We had rugby teams when I was going to school, or soccer teams, or football teams, project teams, work teams. And even though we’ve got a lot of experience, when you think about it, what advice was it ever kind of been given? And it’s kind of like I go back to my mother who used to say to me, be nice to other people, play well in the sand and be a good team person, that’s fine, and it goes a certain way. But what happens if people don’t play nice? What happens if you’re politicking and posturing? And what happens if you can’t agree on something? Or what happens if someone’s just really looking out for themselves? So there has to be something more than just playing nice. And so today, that’s what we’re going to talk about and we’re going to use a model. Every team is different, and yet when we look at teams, they tend to go through different stages. We’re going to look at four potential stages of a team and we’re really going to focus in at that stage. What’s really required of a leader, and how does a systems approach impact the behavior that’s required of that leader? Bridgette, I’m just curious, what are some of your earliest memories of being on a team?


Bridgette Theurer [00:02:45]:


Well, you know, growing up, I wasn’t as fortunate as my daughters, who grew up after Title IX and played sports their whole life, and they were on teams and some good, some bad, some in between. So I really didn’t get a chance to have a lot of experience with teams, quite frankly, until one of my first jobs, second job when I was working for the Marriott Corporation. So I become part of this team and I’m all excited, like you said, let’s play nicely in the sandbox and everybody’s going to say kumbaya and we’re going to all pull together. Well, it wasn’t. So there was somebody on the team that didn’t like me and I don’t really know why. And then there was somebody else who wasn’t carrying their weight. And then the manager who I loved was still a little bit overwhelmed by these difficult personalities. And we had a team building off site and I thought it went great, but it really didn’t. So you can see I was a novice, right. Ever since then, I’ve longed to be part of a truly exceptional team, which I think is a longing as human beings we all share. Do you agree?


Irvine Nugent [00:03:58]:


Yes, absolutely. It gets into that whole kind of we’re social beings and part of that is collaboration and cooperation and to be part of a team that is doing exactly that.


Bridgette Theurer [00:04:09]:


Yeah. So you mentioned those four stages and I do recall those from a while ago, but what is so interesting is was a little rusty about them and also I love this idea of what is required of a leader at each of these stages. So, Irvine, why don’t you share with listeners? Let’s get started. What are those four stages?


Irvine Nugent [00:04:30]:


Yeah, just a little before, you know, I’m curious. One thing I didn’t mention before we jump in is why even have a team? And I think one of the things that teams can bring out is that sometimes a performance of more than people and your performance of a whole group of people is better than individuals. And so when we’re part of that, there’s a commitment, there’s a synergy and we’re able to perform at a higher level. So teams have been researched a lot. And the 1960s started and there was a gentleman there called bruce Tuckman. And what he noticed is that many teams, as they mature and I love that teams know it’s kind of like we’re getting to know each other phase, like a relationship. And then as the relationship goes on, we go through different phases. Well, teams are kind of like that. They mature in a certain way. And the four stages that he said most teams go through are forming storming norming and performing. So let’s just briefly describe them. And as I describe them, I’d love for our listeners, like, think of the teams you’re on and think, where are my team at? Like, what stage are they at? And see does any of this resonate with the team that you’re on? So the first one is forming and we call this the polite stage. This is where a team is. First meeting everyone is really polite. It’s like your description of Marriott, everyone’s positive and this is part of a great team. We’re kind of figuring out how is this team going to operate? There’s a feeling of attachment. You come away from that first meeting, you kind of feel attached to the team. Leaders begin to emerge. What’s really important in teams here is there is a person that may be called the team lead, but there’s other people who have influence as well. And sometimes the person with the most influence isn’t necessarily the person with the title. All of that begins to happen as people defer to different people. And importantly here, no one’s really being offended yet. We haven’t really stepped in each other’s toes, we’re trying to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. All very polite.


Bridgette Theurer [00:06:28]:


Kind of like dating, right?


Irvine Nugent [00:06:30]:


It is, it’s totally like dating. Of course, absolutely. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, et cetera. And stages can last a month, two months, it depends. There’s no real set time. And then the next stage then is Storming. And this is when honeymoon is over. We’re no longer that polite and we’ve begun to clash with each other because we’re getting to know each other, we’re getting to know our personalities, how we deal with information, et cetera. And we begin to perhaps rub each other the wrong way. You begin to see disagreement, you begin to see blame. This is how in this stage, how do we deal with blame is there and very often now the leader is resolve this, help us in our conflict. So the leader is called upon at times in this stage. This stage can be very painful because it can lead to very defensive behavior, know, kind of overcompetitiveness people are competing with each so and that’s why this is called Storming. The Storming stage sounds a bit uncomfortable. It is a bit uncomfortable. I’ve been there a few times. Yes, and I’m sure our listeners have. That just describes the team I’m on. But Bridgette, what about the final two stages? Introduce them to us.


Bridgette Theurer [00:07:45]:


Yeah, well, so hopefully you get beyond the storming phase, although there is no guarantee some of that has to do with how skillful the leader is.


Irvine Nugent [00:07:52]:


Right, that’s very true, very true.


Bridgette Theurer [00:07:54]:


Let’s assume the leader is pretty skillful and is moving this team along and let’s assume a decent level of maturity among the individuals that helps then.


Irvine Nugent [00:08:04]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:08:05]:


The next phase, right, is norming. And so now the team is starting to gel. They’re emerging out of that Storming phase where there was maybe a little bit more conflict, a little bit more suspicion, hesitation, rubbing each other the wrong way, they’re kind of learning how to get along and maybe some norms, because that’s why we call it norming are starting to emerge. And those norms, I mean, every team, every relationship system has norms, whether explicitly agreed upon or implicitly developed as the team goes. So norms are starting to emerge and things are just looking a little bit better in terms of cohesion and collaboration. Right. So that’s norming. And then there’s still yet another stage, another phase, and that’s called performing. And here’s where a team kicks into yet another gear and the ability to achieve results collectively is magnified to where they’re greater than the sum of their parts and the leader doesn’t have to be in there constantly working with the team. They can kind of hum along without a lot of oversight and they’re committed to the purpose of the team and to the project and the work that they’re on. And there’s a strong sense of, yeah. Now, Irvine, I’m wondering, in your experience with either leading teams or being on teams, like, does a team come to mind and what stage was that team at when you were part of it?


Irvine Nugent [00:09:43]:


So what comes to mind is actually, I’m actually part of an association on the board and we are so much in the forming stage. It’s new. A lot of the board, there’s only one new board member, one member that’s carried over. So it’s practically a new team. And we had a meeting a few weeks ago and it was really quite hilarious because it was so obvious that conflict was being avoided or anything. Any tension was being everyone was tripping over each other in the desire to be polite.


Bridgette Theurer [00:10:16]:


I love it.


Irvine Nugent [00:10:17]:


And it was so funny. There was one issue about a kind of role confusion about was it should be this committee did this or this committee did that, and you could see there was a little bit of tension gathering and then the leader just jumps in and she goes, well, you know, we don’t have to solve this now. The other two, everyone wanted to play with that. There was no one willing to have the conflict yet. And he said, yeah, that’s fine, we can talk about it later. So it was kind of punted further down in this desire to keep things happy and tranquil, et cetera. So the team was so much in that forming stage.


Bridgette Theurer [00:10:52]:


Yeah. And you know what that makes me think about is some people think that sounds lovely, and other people are like, oh, my God, can we talk about the real issues here? Let’s stop pretending. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:11:06]:


Yeah, absolutely. We talked about this at the beginning is that each stage, in order for there to be maturity, in order there to be growth, there has to be certain actions taken. And I think let’s just revisit them and really the four stages and then think about what can a leader best do to help the team mature and really prepare to move to this next. So, Bridgette, any thoughts around kind of this forming stage, which I just talked about and what a leader could you.


Bridgette Theurer [00:11:41]:


Know, what I want to connect to very briefly with what you said is, again, the leader’s job is to mature the team. And one of the things that Ed Friedman I think it was Ed friedman. It could have been Murray Bowen, but I think it was Ed Friedman who said a leader’s job is to mature the relationship system. And so we’re just piggybacking on that and saying a leader’s job is to help mature the team. They’re not going to ripen, shall we say, all by themselves. Right. So here you’ve got this relatively new team, or a team that has been reconstructed or given a new mission. It’s in that forming stage as a leader, I think there are two things that are most essential here. One is to establish a foundation of trust. Because we know that without trust nothing gets done. So this is where the leader needs to be particularly mindful of creating a safe space for the team to be able to say what they need to say and to do so without feeling like they’re going to be judged or experience consequences. So safety trust is a really important modeling trust, extending trust. If you don’t extend trust as a leader, then you can’t expect it. And the other one is clarity. We’ve talked about this before, but in the norming stage, the leader’s job is to help the team get clear about what their purpose is, what their roles and responsibilities are as team members, what the leader’s expectations are, and what are these emerging norms or what do you want them to be. The norms can be another way of saying that is kind of what are our ground rules for how we’re going to behave towards one another as part of this team without trust. So trust equals safety, right. And without clarity, the team will not mature. Probably what they’ll do is they’ll get into storming and they might stay stuck. Does that resonate?


Irvine Nugent [00:13:46]:


Yes, very much so. It brings to mind, I think, a very skilled leader that I was observing as part of a team development process. And I really felt that they modeled trust so well. And whenever an issue came up, they were always the first ones say I got it wrong, or even like, I need help. Sometimes we think that trust is the big issues and yet sometimes the most difficult things are these simple things I got something wrong, I need help, et cetera, all of that. And to normalize that behavior is so freeing for a team. And then there were various stood at really picking up conversations that could have been tense but really at their heart were about lack of clarity and was able to say, you know, I’m feeling a lack of clarity here. Do we have clarity? Let’s just stop and discuss this. And I think constantly monitor that. Again, I think this really helps in moving the team along.


Bridgette Theurer [00:14:53]:


Yeah, because one of the things we’ve said before is a lack of clarity in the rational system provokes reactivity in the emotional system, right? Yes. So important.


Irvine Nugent [00:15:04]:


Well, this brings us to the second stage because sometimes can we just skip the conflict. And unfortunately you can skip the conflict because when you bring a group of human beings together, there is conflict. And the reality is conflict is inherently interesting because it’s difference and difference is interesting. It’s the type of conflict that really gets us into trouble. And at this stage as well, I think the team is really struggling between this zone of having a conflict, really about an issue and an important debate, and having a conflict that gets a little nasty, unpersonalized, and people feel attacked. And of course when that latter happens, when we feel a little hurt or something or not listened to or the conflict, et cetera, what do we do? We turn around and we want to share our grievance with someone else. And so there’s many patterns that this can happen. We’ve talked a few of them before. It’s our old friend triangles. Because what happens is that we want to bring someone in when there is anxiety. And conflict is all about anxiety. And so that may be either. Not when there’s a problem with the team lead, not going directly to the team lead, but rather talking to other people on the team to one another about it, or to kind of relieve some of that stress at this stage, then the leader then really has to be aware of that, and the leader has to avoid the temptation of taking sides. Every now and again in a team, what will happen? Two people that are in conflict will come to the team lead and they’ll want the team lead to suck the team lead in to solve the problem. And here what the team lead really needs to do if the team is to mature, is to keep out and to say you need to solve this among yourselves. Yeah, and I think that becomes really important. And then to really keep conflict around the issues, what are the issues we need to discuss? And then again, another revisiting of roles and responsibilities, you see, because this again is a conversation that’s never a one and done. So you initially start a team, you think you’ve got all the roles worked out and then you go, you do it, and inevitably people start stepping on each other’s toes and this is where some of the conflict and then it’s another invitation, let’s have another conversation. Have we got the roles and responsibilities right? And maybe we need to nuance them here. And that’s another great conversation to have.


Bridgette Theurer [00:17:37]:


Oh, absolutely, I see that happening all the time. And the whole thing about taking things personally and the grievances, that storming phase can get pretty hot.


Irvine Nugent [00:17:51]:


Very much so. Very much so. Yeah. So that leads us then to this third stage, which is norming. Bridgette, what’s really required of a leader when it comes to that norming stage?


Bridgette Theurer [00:18:05]:


Well, I think one of the key things here now is modeling and teaching the team about accountability and there’s two kinds. It’s where the leader holds the team and individuals in the team accountable. For what? For commitments and for those norms. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:18:28]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:18:28]:


But there’s also peer to peer accountability. That one’s a lot harder.


Irvine Nugent [00:18:32]:


Oh yeah.


Bridgette Theurer [00:18:33]:


I don’t know about you Irvine, but I haven’t seen a lot of teams get really good at that. Do you agree?


Irvine Nugent [00:18:38]:


No, absolutely. I think it is one of the more elusive skills and evades a lot of teams because people are just afraid to go there.


Bridgette Theurer [00:18:49]:


So, I don’t know, it makes me wonder, is it even possible? But I think it is. I just think it requires a different level of maturity and a leader who is willing to hang in there long enough because people will stumble. Now, let’s be really clear, we are not saying the leader abdicates their role in holding the team accountable. I once worked with a leader who so loved the idea of peer to peer accountability because he didn’t want to hold anybody accountable. And I’m like, no, you still have to do that. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:19:20]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:19:21]:


So what would that look like? Let’s say there’s a team meeting and a really important issue starts to get debated and people become passionate and heated and then somebody gets offended and she slams somebody on the team and then there’s this dead silence and nobody says anything. Well, let me tell you that’s on the team leader because it is first and foremost the team leader’s responsibility to hold people and the team accountable for agreed upon norms and commitments. And it’s also on the team because there’s nothing stopping a colleague from saying, hey, listen, I appreciate what you’re saying. I know you care a lot about this, but let’s remember that we also agreed to voice our differences with respect. And I just putting that on the table and reminding us all so we can all remember it, right? Yeah. I think that is one of the most important things is to keep the accountability consistent and high, modeling it and teaching peers that yeah, you can have those conversations as know.


Irvine Nugent [00:20:35]:


And it also strikes me, Bridgette, that in order to have peer accountability, the thing that we were talking about just before roles and clarity around roles is so and responsibility is so important because if people haven’t really have clarity around what they’ve committed to do, if there isn’t buy in there, it’s very hard to hold people accountable. And so once you have those conversations, then accountability becomes possible because there is clarity and there is commitment and there is buy in.


Bridgette Theurer [00:21:03]:


Oh, Irvine, I’m so glad you mentioned that. If you aren’t as part of your regular team practices at every meeting saying what have we agreed to, what have we committed to? Then you can be sure you’re going to have breakdowns in accountability in the norming stage, if not in the storming phase, right? Yeah. What about that fourth stage? It would seem like maybe the leader could go on vacation now.


Irvine Nugent [00:21:28]:


And sometimes they do, and they kind of go back because you can go back. It isn’t always progressive. I think what’s important here is you’ve got a well oiled machine, matima is doing very well, and then all of a sudden, what we’re seeing is results. And I think it’s a gentle reminder, especially from the leader. Sometimes there is a tension between individual results and collective results. And ultimately where a team really performs its best is when everyone comes together and this creates a greater outcome than the individual. And so sometimes you have people who still have a little bit of that competitive edge and are out for themselves. And I think it’s a gentle reminder that the leaders always said, hey, we are about the collective, this is the team’s results, and collectively we produce the win. And I think the best performing teams are always keeping in mind the importance of the collective results. And I think a good leader as well is able to help the team understand their role within the wider organization and the key that they play to even the wider organizational results as well.


Bridgette Theurer [00:22:37]:


That really resonates if you are on and speaking directly to our listeners, if you’re on a senior team, people have worked very hard to get to that level, and they are typically ambitious people. You are probably ambitious yourself and competitive. And so I tell you, those senior teams, they can have a lot of friction around individual needs and successes and team needs and successes. That is just to be expected. And how you modulate that and negotiate that, I mean, that’s just going to be a challenge. But it’s the leader’s job to bring everybody back to what is our collective purpose here? What’s at stake if we devolve into a group of individuals as opposed to, commit to and produce as a team? Good stuff, no easy thing. No wonder the leaders want to go on vacation, but they got to come back. Okay, so we always want to end with the practice. And Irvine, I can’t wait to hear what you have in mind.


Irvine Nugent [00:23:50]:


So this is a little practice which is really taken from the world of facilitation sometimes when work is being done with teams that are in the process of trying to clarify roles or trying to clarify next steps, et cetera. And it’s a little exercise called what I need from you. And I think at times one of the things that are overlooked in a team is really clearly articulating what you need from other people and clearly stating it so they know it and how we ask for it. I’m always amazed that people don’t ask for what they need. And so this is what I need from you. And so basically, say you’re working on a project and everyone has a role in that project. You just take some time and then you go round the room, and each person asks each one else, the other person on the team, here’s what I need from you. This is what I need from you. At this stage, you use the words what I need from you is and the only possible answers you can get back are yes, no, or too vague. And so basically the person says, yes, I can give you that or no. And then it’s like, here’s why I can’t give you that. And then too vague. I love this one because so often we’re afraid to ask for what we really need, and it’s like, it’s too vague. I don’t know what you’re looking for. I don’t understand it. And if I don’t understand it, I can’t deliver it. I’ve used this with a few teams, and teams just loved it. I think it was a skill building and a reminder that at times we forget to really ask for what we need.


Bridgette Theurer [00:25:23]:


Love it. Got a clarifying question for you. When you’ve used this with teams, does each person let’s say there’s nine people on the team does each person ask the other eight individuals or not ask them, but says to each individual, here’s what I need from you, or do they say yes? They do.


Irvine Nugent [00:25:43]:


They do. It takes quite a while, and that’s why it’s part of a facilitation exercise. But I think it really because what comes out in this, Bridgette, is that the person’s really comfortable with four of those nine people or five or six of those nine people, and there’s three that they’re not. And it just really brings it out. It does take a while, but you can nuance this. I think it’s just a great even if you’ve just got another person, one other person. At times we forget to ask, what do I need from you? What is it I’m looking for?


Bridgette Theurer [00:26:16]:


Yeah, and you know what? I just had this thought. What if the team leader says to the team at the end of a meeting, okay, folks, you got some homework. Between now and the next time we meet, I want you to have three conversations with three people on this team in which you share with them what you need. And here are the three answers. And then I want to hear back from y’all what you learn. That could be another way to slice, right?


Irvine Nugent [00:26:41]:


Yeah, absolutely. Yep. There are many different ways you can.


Bridgette Theurer [00:26:43]:


Go with oh, that’s wonderful. Well, Irvine, as usual, this has been such a great conversation, and I love this notion that a leader’s job is to mature a team. And this is why you get paid the big bucks, because it isn’t easy. And those phases, those stages of forming storming norming and performing are just really helpful reminders that there’s a natural progression, a natural process, but that a leader who’s being resilient is doing things at each stage that supports the team getting to the next stage. Right? Yeah. And then notices when there’s been some slippage backwards and encourages them along the path. Thank you, as always, for your ideas and thoughts and the conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Irvine Nugent [00:27:36]:


Likewise. Loved it, too.


Bridgette Theurer [00:27:38]:


We don’t know yet what is on tap for our next episode. We’re working off of our list of wonderful ideas and it’s always hard to pick because we want to do them all simultaneously, but we’ll be recording again soon and we look forward to those conversations as well. Thank you to our listeners, as always, for being here with us and keep spreading the word. We love doing this and we love the great feedback we’re getting.


Irvine Nugent [00:28:05]:


Great. Thanks, everyone. I appreciate, Bridgette. Such a great conversation.


Bridgette Theurer [00:28:09]:


Take care, folks.


Irvine Nugent [00:28:10]:


Bye, now.

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