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  • Writer's pictureValentina Zanetti

Weathering Team Storming and Beyond

Updated: Apr 2

How to successfully weather the team storming phase without falling into traps of dysfunction, and how to foster a collaborative team!

Team Storming

In the previous post, we discussed psychological safety and diversity, as a foundation for a high-functioning team and as preparation for constructive conflict and quality team storming.

This week, we dive into the team storming phase and how to avoid the pitfalls of team dysfunction to grow a high-performing team, and breed innovation.

Per Patrick Lencioni's pyramid of dysfunction, the pyramid consists of five layers. If one layer is corrupt, the layers on top will also crumble.

Patrick Lencioni's Pyramid of Team Dysfunction
Patrick Lencioni's Pyramid of Team Dysfunction

We'll discuss each layer in more depth, starting with...

Lack of Trust

Trust rests heavily on psychological safety in the environment in which your team is working and the ability speak freely. Team members need to know that they can rely on you and the rest of the team with their vulnerabilities, for help and guidance. Trust is difficult to build and it takes time, but it's nearly impossible to restore once deeply broken.

Building trust will require an effort from the whole team, but some helpful tips that you use to help your team along are:

🔸Be open and honest and encourage your team to do the same

🔸Don't talk negatively about your team members behind their backs, if there are issues, address them with the person in question, and discourage your team members from gossiping as well

🔸Talk about things other than just work and tasks ahead, take an interest in people's lives, encourage sharing and familiarization

🔸Show vulnerability and humanity's inherent proneness to mistakes

🔸Follow through on your commitments, don't make empty promises and encourage your team to do the same, and hold them accountable when they don't

🔸Acknowledge and celebrate the team's successes and show gratitude

🔸Don't criticize your team member's character, provide constructive criticism on their actions and behaviors, not personality traits

🔸Don't provide vague feedback that isn't actionable

🔸Model a trusting and trustworthy attitude and encourage your team members to do the same

🔸Trust that everyone is doing their best within the given circumstances and their abilities

And be patient. Again, trust takes a long time to build, and one must foster a trusting and trustworthy attitude day-in and day-out. Broken trust, however, is much much harder or impossible to rebuild.

Fear of Conflict

The second team dysfunction in Patrick Lencioni's pyramid is Fear of Conflict. Still, a lot of managers and executives love when there's no conflict within their teams and organizations and strive for a conflict-free environment. And yet, it's one of the biggest dysfunctions and most glaring symptoms of an unhealthy team. 

Conflict can be incendiary and escalate, of course. But it can be managed to remain in the 'creative differences' domain and breed innovation. You just have to stay vigilant and learn how to navigate conflict. 

But, what does healthy conflict on a team look like? And how to manage conflict in a healthy way?

First, learn to identify the level of conflict your team is currently in. According to Speed Leas and his conflict escalation path model, there are five main levels of conflict:

🔶 Level 1: Problem to Solve

This is different opinions, misunderstandings, conflicting goals or values, but the team remains focused on solving the problem. The language is clear, specific and factual, it remains in the now without dredging up the past. This is healthy conflict.

How to deal:

🔹Encourage collaboration

🔹Seek win-win scenarios

🔹Reach a consensus

🔶 Level 2: Disagreement

This is a deeper level of conflict, where an individual's need to self-protect becomes as important as the problem at hand. In this level, team members start distancing themselves, talking to other people about their grievances, and get defensive. The language moves from the specific to general, sharing knowledge is hesitant, and interpretations become as relevant as facts.

How to deal:

🔹Acknowledge emotions

🔹Restore a sense of safety

🔹Encourage the whole team be supportive

🔶 Level 3: Contest

Level 3 is a compounding effect that occurs as prior conflicts remain unresolved, creating a "cause" that needs "fighting for", that shifts the focus from actual problems. Fractions and cliques emerge, language is distorted, overgeneralized ('they', 'always' and 'never' phrases) and over-glorifying one fraction over the other.

How to deal:

🔹Call out and discourage ad-hominem attacks

🔹Use the Socrates' method to get an understanding of different views

🔹Go back to the facts and problem at hand

🔹Negotiate with the team

🔶 Level 4: Crusade

At level 4, all focus on the problem has been lost and resolving the situation is no longer enough. Fractions are deeply set and people don't believe the "other side" will change. The language turns to discussing affiliations and principles rather than problems, with little to no facts. This is where people start to leave or force others out.

How to deal:

🔹Re-establish a sense of safety

🔹Use "shuttle" diplomacy until you de-escalate to a point where the fractions can discuss the issue together

🔶 Level 5: World War

The most unhealthy level of conflict where devaluation, aggression, covert or overt sabotage happen. There is no good outcome to be had here. The only course of action is to distance people and prevent them from hurting each other.

Learn to identify the level of conflict your team is in and act accordingly. Take preventive care, so you don't slip into the lower levels that are hard or impossible to get out of!

Lack of Commitment

Once you've established trust on your teams and a healthy way of dealing with conflict, the next step is to gain their commitment to a common goal or vision. Teamwork and grouping is inherent to all human beings. Our need for belonging is one of our core needs, and teamwork is a manifestation of this need. However, in order for a team to be truly a Team, there has to be a shared purpose, a clear goal and a reason for them to commit to each other and to the goal.

What does it look like when there's a lack of commitment within a team?

🔻 Failing to deliver

🔻 Low-quality work

🔻 Cherry-picking tasks

🔻 Team members getting caught up in other assignments

🔻 Lack of participation from all team members

🔻 Lack of enthusiasm about the work being done

🔻 Poor and superficial communication, no creativity

🔻 Lack of accountability and blaming external factors

🔻 And ultimately, high turnover

What can you do to improve commitment within a team?

🔸 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐭𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐦 and their goal from external influences, coach external stakeholders and remove obstacles that might endanger the goal.

🔸 𝐁𝐮𝐢𝐥𝐝 𝐭𝐫𝐮𝐬𝐭, as this is the foundation for all efficient teams, and as mentioned in the earlier posts - an every day effort

🔸 𝐅𝐨𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐡𝐲 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐟𝐥𝐢𝐜𝐭 and allow your team members' voices to be heard, even if they don't align with the popular consensus. Don't force anyone to agree, and look for win-win scenarios.

🔸 𝐀𝐥𝐢𝐠𝐧 𝐨𝐧 𝐚 𝐯𝐢𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧 that the team shares and is trying to bring to life. It doesn't have to be something ostentatious, but the whole team has to be aligned around the vision and agree with it.

🔸 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐦𝐨𝐭𝐞 𝐠𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐩 𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐭𝐲 as well as individual identity, give them a name, allow them to develop their own style of communication, and give them recognition

🔸 𝐀𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐟𝐚𝐢𝐥𝐮𝐫𝐞. Make it clear that setbacks can be planned for, learned from, and overcome. Teach the team to help each other when they do fail, and to call out potential pitfalls if they see them.

🔸 𝐂𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐟𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐫𝐨𝐥𝐞𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐩𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐢𝐛𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐬 of each team member, who is committing to what, and make sure they know who to turn to when they have a problem with something.

🔸 𝐀𝐬𝐤 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐢𝐭𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭. A simple, yet, often overlooked step. Ask the team for commitment and accept what they're able to commit to as well.

🔸 𝐑𝐞𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐠𝐨𝐨𝐝 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤. Show your team that you're seeing them and the good work they do, and be generous with rewards.

Aligning on a common vision and committing to a common goal will take your team one step closer to achieving greatness. Don't underestimate its relevance.

Avoidance of Accountability

The fourth layer in Lencioni's pyramid is the Avoidance of Accountability.

Taking responsibility and accountability for one's actions (or lack thereof) is the first stepping stone to improvement. When we refuse to call out and acknowledge our own and each other's mistakes and shortcomings we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn from them, to better ourselves and to grow as human beings, as well as a team.

We're all pretty familiar with what lack of accountability looks like, and oftentimes the symptoms are obvious, such as:

🔻 Not delivering the work committed to in the agreed upon timeframe

🔻 Rushed and low-quality outputs

🔻 Playing the blame-game and finger-pointing

🔻 Argumentative and defensive stance

🔻 Lack of faith in the team and the team goals and visions

🔻 No improvement in work quality and attitude

🔻 Stalled progress of the entire team

But how to improve accountability on your team?

Here are some of the steps you can take:

🔸 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐞𝐱𝐚𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐞. By far the most effective tool to foster accountability is to demonstrate it yourself. It'll show your team members that it's OK to make mistakes, as long as you take responsibility and learn from them.

🔸𝐒𝐞𝐭 𝐜𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐚𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐞𝐯𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐠𝐨𝐚𝐥𝐬 for your team and make sure everyone is confident they can achieve what is set out for them.

🔸𝐄𝐧𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐠𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐦 𝐭𝐨 𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 for achieving what they've committed to, coach them to offer assistance to those who need it.

🔸 𝐓𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐬. It doesn't have to be an elaborate complex system, it can be as simple as a 'X days since I missed my commitment' type of thing.

🔸 𝐅𝐨𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐚 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐨𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐞𝐧𝐯𝐢𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 in which you give your team members the tools to improve their performance and an environment of knowledge sharing

🔸 𝐃𝐨𝐧'𝐭 𝐢𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐟𝐞𝐚𝐫. Instead, create an environment where it's safe to fail, as long as you learn from your failures.

🔸 𝐇𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐨𝐧𝐞-𝐨𝐧-𝐨𝐧𝐞𝐬 with your team members. Maybe there's a reason why they're not able to accept accountability, some problems in their personal lives that they're not comfortable discussing with the team.

🔸 𝐂𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐦'𝐬 𝐬𝐮𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐞𝐬. Remember, for a good relationship it takes 5 positive events to outweigh a negative one, so take every opportunity to make your team members feel welcomed and appreciated.

🔸𝐁𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐭. Not all your team members will be accustomed to the same level of autonomy, and this takes time to train. Remember to also be patient with your team members.

Inattention to Results

When discussing the last block in Lencioni's dysfunction pyramid, it's good to remind ourselves that the point of the whole exercise is to 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐮𝐥𝐭𝐬.

Let's say you've tackled the first four dysfunctions in the pyramid. Your team is working great together, delivering on time and they're very efficient. But the business results just aren't there.

This is actually the point where the development team's efforts overlap with business objectives, organization and strategy. One of the most troublesome areas in product delivery and where most enterprises have bottlenecks.

There's a whole myriad of solutions that address this very problem: how to turn efficiency into efficacy. But, there are three main questions you need to ask yourself at this point:

🔶 𝐀𝐫𝐞 𝐰𝐞 𝐛𝐮𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠?

Is your solution something that addresses a market need? Do you expect it to have an impact on user behavior? Will it bring value to the end user? And how will that translate into a benefit for the business? What is the return on investment here?

🔶 𝐀𝐫𝐞 𝐰𝐞 𝐛𝐮𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭?

Are you making sure to build the solution optimally? Are you looking for new ways to approach solving this problem? Are you validating your hypotheses incrementally to make sure you're on the right track? Are you reviewing your code quality and testing your solution? Is your solution stable? Usable? Scalable?

🔶 𝐀𝐫𝐞 𝐰𝐞 𝐛𝐮𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐞𝐝?

Are you overengineering? Are you focused exclusively on what will bring value, or are you gold-plating and aiming for perfection? Or building for 'good enough'? Is your team cooperating and self-organizing to reduce wait times? Are your team's goals and objectives clear?

In any case, there are always things you can do to improve your team's results, and here are just some of them:

🔸 Maintain your backlog, keep it free of obsolete or low-value items

🔸 Map your User Stories to strategic initiatives

🔸 Check your hypotheses regularly against newly emerged knowledge

🔸 Coach and empower your Product Owner to make the tough calls

🔸 Prioritize by business value first

🔸 Build only what is valuable and build it so it's just good enough

🔸 Allow yourself and your team the time to simplify the solution

🔸 Let your team self-organize and find their own best way of working

🔸 Don't focus on vanity metrics and utilization, keep your focus on the goal and how to best achieve it

🔸 Invest in automated testing and having high-quality Sprint Reviews

🔸 Deliver to the end user and gather insights as soon as possible

Expectations and goals need to clear for attention to results to emerge. And they need to be constantly clarified. Don't save time on working with your organization and team to improve goal clarity.

Cooperation vs. Collaboration

Now that we've discussed all five of Lencioni's team dysfunctions and addressed how they affect the team environment and out, we take it one step further - how to get your teams to truly collaborate.

But first, let's clarify the difference between cooperation and collaboration.

A cooperative team is one where each member delivers their part of the commitment, nobody is a bottleneck and nobody blocks anyone else. The results are there and they are oftentimes more than satisfactory. But they're not groundbreaking.

A collaborative team is a step beyond just cooperation. A collaborative team is one where emergent properties, ideas and processes appear. It is the ability of your team to function as more than the sum of its parts. It's a team that's creative and inventive and pushes its own boundaries.

So, how to get from cooperation to collaboration?

🔸 Coach your individual team members to collaborate, encourage them to share their voice, to show curiosity, to handle conflict constructively, and to demonstrate commitment and responsibility towards their team members and the goals they're trying to achieve

🔸 Ensure time and availability for active collaboration on a regular cadence, give your team the space, tools and infrastructure to collaborate

🔸 Inspire your team to be completely outrageous with their ideas and model this behavior yourself, allow yourself to look ridiculous

🔸 Create a playful, relaxed and safe environment with lots of laughs, where everyone can be themselves and there are no stupid ideas

🔸 Always ask for a surplus of ideas, there is no such thing as too many

🔸 Push your team to build up on the ideas, instead of finding reasons why they wouldn't work. You can use the stage improv exercise here, 'Yes, and' or a mind-map.

🔸 Demonstrate your own personal faith in emergence and allow your team the time to build that faith themselves

🔸 Call out uncollaborative behavior, such as blaming others, being defensive, black and white thinking, not accepting feedback, etc...

🔸 Help your team get unstuck when they hit a rut, try out new exercises, new ways to get inspired, provide your team with learning materials that might jog their creativity

And don't forget to have patience with your team. Collaboration is something that has to happen organically, it cannot be forced. You can only point your team in the right direction and hope they get there fast. But some teams will take more time to start to effectively collaborate than others, due to their own personalities, past experiences and fears. All you can do is provide a safe environment, encouragement and support, and have patience. The results will follow.

Conclusions on Team Storming

Team Storming is an inevitable and very crucial stage in team formation. How well it's handled will resonate throughout the team's lifecycle and determine how quickly they improve, self-organize, achieve results and innovate. It's an ongoing effort, and conflicts will keep arising. There will be mini-storms each time a new team member is onboarded or roles changes. This is natural. The two main takeaways here is to provide clarity and have patience. Keep an eye on your team and help them along through these tumultuous waters, and they will reward you and your organization with amazing results!

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