August 2013 saw three new top bosses start their roles with three separate major UK companies. All of which are competing for the same prize. Their roles are also of an equivalent status. Their marketplace is highly commercial and attracts hefty investment year, after year, after year.
The main challenge of which the Managers face is change. Three new Managers, in three new positions, with three very different teams. It is this team diversity that may determine the success they have in the future week and months ahead.
Bruce Tuckmann carried out his research into team dynamics back in 1965. His much respected theory explores the journey a team takes to the required levels of maturity and ability to perform successfully. This theory is underpinned by adaptability of the leader or manager adapting his or her style accordingly to deliver high performance consistently.
According to the Tuckman’s Teamwork Theory there are 4 main phases: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
Team Red has a great recent history of success, with the same Manager at the top for the best part of 20 plus years. This team has over the majority of this time period had a very settled level of dependence on each other, even though many of the employees change year after year. As an outsider it could be fairly accurately assumed that there has and almost always been a very close and supportive atmosphere within the team. This has been greatly credited both publically and privately to the ‘man management’ skills of the Red team Manager. As a team they have been cohesive and they understand what they and each other are doing and why. The team has a sense of identity and purpose and can when needed operate without the participation of the Manager.
So what may happen when the Red Manager retires and a new Red arrives? What might happen if the new leader vision is different from that of the previous incumbent? What if one of the key players in that success decide they no longer want to play ball and desire to ply their trade within the Blue company? Would this be tackled and resolved within the team? Or will this see the team flirt with storming such is the influence this employee has on others within the team. This new Manager will certainly desire to go full steam ahead and pick up the baton where the last Manager left off. He does have in his favour the bulk of the Performing team still in place. Therefore keeping the team within a state of performance will require Mr Red to tackle any animosity swiftly. He certainly has more than a few challenges to keep this team at the consistent levels of performance their shareholders have become accustomed too.
Over at Blue PLC they also have a new Manager. Mr Blue has his own set of challenges. Most of which is looking back retrospectively as opposed to looking forward to success. In comparison to the Red’s having over 20 years of stability, the Blues have had three new Managers over the last twelve months. With so many Managers having so many alternate norms you could be forgiven for thinking success or high performance would be unattainable. Yet the Blue team did achieve much in the face of the climate.
Surely another new Manager would only add to the turmoil of an ever revolving door at the top. But what if the Manager had led the business before? How might it affect performance if some of the team from their last highly successful tenure were still prominent players in the business? What if this Manager was special?
The Blue team in some regards established their own norms to drive performance with being in a constant flux of change. Last year was not unique in many ways. They also started the previous trading year in a state of conflict. 2012 had erratic leadership above them and sporadic episodes of rebellion from within them, the team moved from Storm to Norm and rare episodes of Perform over a challenging 12 months.
Mr Blue will need to build on strengths and ensure he builds commitment to the common cause, and fast. He must confirm or change individual roles within the team. If the Blue team are to repeat or better the success of the past he will need to provide space for growth and demonstrate a willingness to experiment. He could of course attempt to just buy success. This strategy may indeed bring quick wins but is unlikely to result in a high performing team such is required tempo to accelerate team progression.
The Sky Blue Manager has never led a business in the UK before. He has no experience of his new employers. His team has a glut of new people whom have never worked together before. Its likely high indications of forming will be present. Team mates may test out reactions to each other and to the new situation. There will be a high dependency on the leader for guidance and direction. Mr Sky Blue may need to answer many early questions about the team’s purpose, objectives and relationships from inside and outside the team.
High performance was achieved here as recently as 14 months ago, albeit with a different Manager. The Sky Blue Manager of 2012 went from perform to storm and almost forgot the norms existed so public were the battles. Strong personality differences emerged over this period often causing challenge to the leader. This in-fighting caused tension in the group, with many of the issues remaining unresolved. Had he channelled their energies into the task facing them we may be looking today to a very different Blue Sky.
All of these teams and Managers could learn an invaluable lesson from the history of high performance from within their same industry.
Mr White arrived at a High Performing team; in fact the most powerful team of their generation, with a much respected record of successful management. The previous Manager had been in place with the bulk of the team for the last 11 years. During his early meetings with the team, on what should have been the day of dependence on the leader he chose to blow the polite conversation of forming out the water. Instead he tells the team to discard the many honours they have won, accusing them of gamesmanship and winning ugly. The result the team gets off to a disastrous string of results, their worst in 15 years, leading ultimately to Mr White leaving, just 44 days after he joined.
Mr White famously said of being new to the job “you don’t get to know where the local butcher is in 7 weeks never mind build a team.” Building a team takes time. Tuckman noted that there are three issues which determine how well teams perform: content, process and feelings. In short, content relates to what the team does, process relates to how the team works towards its objectives and feelings applies to how team members relate to one another. Rome wasn’t built in a day but then again Mr White wasn’t on that job.