Trust in the Team. How trust develops.

Trust in the Team. How trust develops.

Let’s have a look at Tuckman's stages of group development and find out how trust should form within a team. What should a manager in order to go through this process faster and more efficiently?
Let’s have a look at Tuckman's stages of group development and find out how trust should form within a team. What should a manager in order to go through this process faster and more efficiently?


Stage one is Team Forming. Joining a new team, every person has an initial credit of trust. It could be either high or low, depending on the various factors that we discussed above. But the initial period of team formation is very short and usually needed to determine what level of trust team members have on you and position yourself within the team. Actually this is the first impression which people make, and at this stage there’s a high risk of making a mistake that may lead to the disintegration of the team or some members leaving it. Therefore the team lead should quickly start to establish rules. It is important to strike a balance – too many rules will make the team member believe that they are not trusted at all.

On the other hand, if there are very few formal rules (formulated and documented), people will have too much freedom. A very high level of freedom granted to the team in the initial stage will be viewed as a lack of consistent management, which can also lead to loss of control. The main sets of rules that should be established by the manager are professional (who is responsible for certain areas in terms of technology and competences) and organizational (rules for escalation), as well as rules related to office routine, interpersonal and customer communications.

Stage two is Storming. So the rules have been established, documented, and announced. Now you should monitor if they are respected and observe them yourself. At this stage it is important to demonstrate to the team that the rules you have established are to be observed by everyone. Any deviation from the rules, selecting favorites or unfair assessment should be treated as actions undermining the manager’s credibility. Therefore the main thing at this stage is to ensure a strict control over communicating, explaining and observing the rules. It is not yet desirable to make significant corrections to the rules elaborated at the first stage. You can listen to and collect people’s wishes.

Why am I so strongly against changing the rules, especially when requested by some team member? Because the team has not yet been stabilized, and any changes required by some team member may lead to favoritism, which will result in erosion of trust. Only when it is extremely necessary and acceptable, you may correct the rules. And only subject to consent of the entire team. Ideally, such correction should be initiated by you as improving (actually improving) the work of all team members. As for adding new rules, at the Storming stage it should also be subject to consent of all team members. The focus of this stage should be on changes that lead to stabilization, anything potentially destabilizing must be put off.

Stage three is Norming. Team members are starting to understand their positions. At this stage you can sum up all wishes of corrections (collected earlier), identify points to be corrected in work (even if it refers to the work of only one or several team members), and start implementing it in a more relaxed mode. At this stage team members start to understand the “team competency matrix.” To whom they should address their questions, who has the necessary competencies, who can support or motivate them, etc.

Actually, this is a matrix of trust. We address our questions only to people who we believe are experts in a relevant field. For example, we never ask a person who has no required communication competency to give advice on dealing with a customer in certain situation. Neither shall we ask a developer for advice on selecting an architecture solution. Why? Because we just don't believe them.

And the final stage is Performing. If you managed to arrive at this stage without losing your team, I congratulate you – you have properly gone through the three preceding stages. At this stage you have already achieved a rather high level of trust, which enables your team to efficiently solve most tasks by themselves, and you can interfere in the process only to make corrections or set goals. Mistakes made at this stage do not usually lead to a radical change of the trust level.

Vadim Kachurovsky
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