Stormy Weather Ahead

Stormy Weather Ahead

Project teams are different from other teams you have experienced.  They constantly change as the project schedule progresses.  Team members leave and others join.  There is no consistency and that creates challenges and sometimes negative team dynamics.

It is the responsibility of the project manager to develop their team and promote an environment of good teamwork.  We all know that.  But what does that mean in terms of actionable tasks and skills?

In the mid-1960’s, psychologist Bruce Tuckman developed his team development model that described the path teams follow as they mature to becoming a high performance team.  It is broken into four phases: forming, storming, norming and performing.  The first phase, forming is sometimes referred to as a pseudo-community because when you are looking at them from a distance it appears that they are a unified team.  However, looks can be deceiving.  Yes.  Everyone is polite because they are strangers to each other.  The team is excited to have been selected but a bit nervous because they don’t have a clear direction yet.  This phase tends to be short and then the team moves quickly to the second phase: Storming.

Storming is characterized by high levels of conflict.  The team may question your authority over them.  They argue amongst themselves trying to determine who has seniority over whom.  There is disagreement about roles and responsibilities.  They are so focused on working out their relationships with each other that the project suffers.  No one is focusing on their tasks.  Some teams never leave this phase.  It is emotionally draining and productivity is at its lowest point during Storming.

Sounds familiar?  What is a project manager to do?

There are several actions a project manager can and should take.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Document your project authority over your team.  It may be through a Project Charter document.  It should also be made clear to your team by the project sponsor.  A short email from the sponsor or having the sponsor give a brief pep talk at the project kick off meeting is sometimes all that it takes.
  • Create a team charter that establishes expectations in terms of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
  • Provide formal (or informal) training on conflict resolution techniques to provide the team with tools they need to positively and effectively deal with the inevitable conflicts.
  • Modify your own leadership style to provide the team with what they need from you.  Are they looking for support? Direction? Do they need you to be hands-off or hands-on?
  • A primary source of conflict is ambiguous roles and responsibilities.  You can create a RACI chart that clarifies who is responsible for what.
  • Think about your schedule.  Teams will be thrown back into Storming every time a new team member is added.  Can you group work efforts that require the same person altogether on the schedule so that the person rolls on and off the project only once?  The alternative is to have the person join and leave the project multiple times over the next few months which can create additional Storming opportunities.
  • Provide multiple team building sessions or activities throughout the entire duration of the project.  Team building is not something that is done only once and then checked off your list of to-do items.  The team composition changes many times over the course of the project.  The team may need a little reminder via an exercise of their team responsibilities to each other.


Some teams remain in Storming for the entire duration of the project.  Why? Because the leader (project manager) did not provided their team with the structure, direction or leadership they needed to navigate the stormy weather.  Recognize what team development phase the team is in and provide them with the tools required.  Storming can be damaging to relationships and detrimental to project goals.  However, successfully navigating these turbulent times matures the team and their relationships with each other.  The team will be stronger which paves the way to the next phase: Norming.

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