Forming, storming, norming, performing creates a well-oiled machine
By Lt. Col. William Kale III, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Commander
/ Published May 29, 2010
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- When I took command of the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron as part of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed location here in late November 2009, our top priority was to execute a complex and expedited construction project for an upgraded model of the R-Q4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial systems with a wider wingspan to replace our current RQ-4s here . This beddown for the new aircraft systems was Central Command's number one priority - a joint operational urgent need.
We were concerned because at the time we did not have a project programmed, design complete, material ordered or equipment rented. While any one of these issues can derail a project; our biggest fear was the construction team was sourced from five different bases consisting of seven different career fields with very little construction experience.
For some strange reason, I had a flashback to when I attended a professional military education course and remembered a lecture on effective teambuilding and leadership. I specifically recalled the four stages of team development: "forming, storming, norming and performing" (developed by Bruce Tuckman - yes, I had to look this up).
Every team starts off in the "forming" stage by meeting each other and determining their purpose - this typically is the shortest and easiest phase.
Then the team moves into the "storming" stage where they start working together but usually question their methods or tasks and sometimes their leaders - this is definitely the most painful stage and hopefully not the longest if you effectively address issues confronting the team.
After that, most teams will move in the "norming" stage because they developed relationships with teammates and a strong commitment to their goals so you start seeing some progress.
Finally, teams reach the "performing" stage when hard work directly leads to achieving goals and processes are in place instilling a successful culture.
When our construction team showed up in March, they flew through the "forming" stage like any military unit because of proper customs and courtesies along with strong leadership from Capt. Timothy "TJ" Fryar and Senior Master Sgt. Max Babbitt - their mission was very clear: complete the beddown construction.
The construction team hit the "storming" stage really hard due to construction rework, material delays, equipment breakdowns, vehicle accidents, safety incidents and several other issues. The construction team could have accepted "status quo" or even failed, but they worked together and addressed every single issue until it was properly resolved.
After this, they moved into the "norming" stage once each member truly found their roles and developed a strong commitment to the team's goals as they started progressing.
Now the construction team is clearly operating in the "performing" stage - they are an award winning team who continues to work extremely hard while accomplishing major goals. I am sure there will be times when a new task pops ups causing the team to slip back into the "storming" or "norming" stages, but I am confident they will overcome these challenges and excel at the task at hand.
They still have a long journey ahead of them to complete the Global Hawk beddown construction, but I have no doubts they will succeed and I would definitely take this team anywhere with me to accomplish any task.
After looking back at our construction team's experience I realized how much these stages of team development apply to every organization, especially during Air Expeditionary Force rotations or overseas deployments. I remember during our last AEF transition how our programs, operations, fire emergency services, emergency management, and EOD flights initially struggled and then worked through their challenges to become effective and productive teams. The one constant was smart leadership involvement always enabled teams to quickly work through the stages of team development and ultimately led to increased productivity.
As we come to our next AEF rotation, I ask leaders to take time to think about the stages of team development. Try to understand where your team fits into this spectrum and adapt your leadership style to help them become more productive. I know this is not easy for most leaders to do, but I guarantee you will see improvement, find better ways to accomplish the mission and manage the never-ending transitional life at our base.
The the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing is home to the KC-10 Extender, U-2 Dragon Lady, E-3 Sentry and RQ-4 Global Hawk weapons systems and is comprised of four groups and 12 squadrons. The wing's deployed mission includes air refueling, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance in support of overseas contingency operations in Southwest Asia. The 380th AEW supports operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.