Earlier this summer, as the pandemic continued and summer plans were canceled, my children (ages 9 and 6), entered into a team project–building Manchester United’s stadium, out of Legos.  This kit was designed for ages 16+ and included nearly 4,000 pieces. They saved their own money, so my husband and I needed to be supportive. Much to my surprise, their construction month was a lesson in group dynamics and management. 

In my coaching and consulting practice, I often turn to psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s Five Stages of team dynamics: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. These stages present an evolution for project teams, even for my children. Furthermore, managers play an essential role as teams work through these stages.

Forming. The people stage when roles, responsibilities, and goals are articulated/defined.

The Lego set arrived and the kids were in awe–over 650 steps in an instruction book that was close to 500 pages long. They were excited, full of energy and curious about how this was going to come together. As co-project managers, my husband and I helped the kids define their goals (how many steps a day), clarify how they would build (one bag at a time of over 20 in the kit), determine when to build (when both kids could participate), and acknowledge when the project managers needed to be involved. They jumped in and started building–the project managers were pleasantly surprised by their dedication of five hours of build time for each of the first two days. 

The takeaway for managers for the forming stage:

  • Create a clear structure
  • Clarify goals
  • Understand group roles
  • Develop and implement a strong kick-off process, sharing mission and goals
  • Set team expectations

Storming. The stage where disagreements and flaws arise.

By day three, tensions started to arise. The novelty of the build wore off and the kids were frustrated with each other. They were disagreeing about mostly everything and they weren’t being friendly about it. The project managers encouraged them to take a break and revisit the project in a few days. Unfortunately, the tensions were still high even a few days later. My husband and I realized we needed to help them get some early wins and guide them forward.  Along with the kids, we decided that each person would take a turn building one step at a time and that they would build over shorter periods. The project managers would participate when they could, especially during complicated sections.

The takeaway for managers for the storming stage:

  • Use this as an opportunity to refocus
  • Get some wins (break it down)
  • Redefine tasks
  • Deal with the conflict—name it, not avoid it

Norming.  The flow stage.

Over the next several days, the kids hit their groove. They were communicating well, asking for help when needed, and showing appreciation toward each other, even to the project managers.  As the project managers, we continued to check-in and support their goals.

The takeaway for managers for the norming stage:

  • Focus on the team’s goals
  • Help increase productivity (individually and collectively)

Performing. You are on your way to the finish line stage!

During this stage, we became experts in certain parts of the build. The kids were more willing to do more than one step at a time and they welcomed the participation of the project managers.  The kids were very satisfied and proud of what they were building. We were getting close to that finish line and productivity was increasing from all of us. As the project managers, our role was easy–we encouraged them to keep going and celebrated as the larger pieces attached.

The takeaway for managers for the performing stage:

  • Help make progress toward goals
  • Identify areas of high competency and track
  • Celebrate moments

Adjourning.  The end

After nearly four weeks of building, we were down to our final steps. The full team came together to complete the build. We were so excited to finish but were also beginning to think about what would come next…another large lego build? The youngest team member’s productivity decreased–he was happy to be there for the final few steps but was happy to have us do the work. As the final pieces came together, the project managers couldn’t have been prouder.

The takeaway for managers for the adjourning stage:

  • Encourage all team members to complete tasks/deliverables
  • Conduct an evaluation of the process with the team
  • Continue to celebrate

This incredible project in our home brought to life the important roles that managers play during these stages. Help your teams understand these stages and I encourage you to remember to lean into your role as manager.