The Unspoken Stage; Mourning; How To Move Your Team On

Home Articles The Unspoken Stage; Mourning; How To Move Your Team On

Two monks are walking along a country path. They soon are met by a caravan, a group of attendants carrying their wealthy and not-so-kindly mistress and her possessions.

They come to a muddy river, and cannot cross with both mistress and packages - they must put one down and cannot figure out how to do so. So the elder monk volunteers to carry the woman across the river, on his back, allowing the attendants to carry her things, and then all can go on their way. The woman does not thank him, and rudely pushes him aside to get back to her caravan.

After traveling some way on their own, the younger monk turns to his master, and says, "I cannot believe that old woman! You kindly carried her across the muddy river, on your very own back, and not only did she not offer thanks, but she actually was quite rude to you!" The elder monk calmly replied: "I put the women down some time ago. Why are you still carrying her?"

Have you ever met a team/team member that holds onto the past - the way things were (whether good or bad)?
Team members, 'mourning' the loss of the team, can often prevent (or actively block) change/development and or their personal growth. As a leader/team member who intends to create development opportunities, can, often at times, be difficult to understand their motivation, be difficult to get them on board, and/ or be difficult to communicate in general.

Though understandable, it often can be a mistaken perspective to think of them as simply negative people. The issue is that the previous leader/team never successfully traversed through the final stage of team development and adjourned or 'closed the loop'.

For a brief recap: the 5 Stages of team development; (See article here if you would like more information on the Stages of team Development: How to manage each level to ensure success).

Forming: when the team comes to together and the goal/vision is outlined. People are generally polite.
Storming: when the team generates ideas to create a plan of action. This is where sub groups can be formed and it's the leaders role and responsibility that agreements are in place for team members to disagree and handle feedback agreeable. Some teams or individuals can be stuck here and never really create a sense of belonging for themselves. They are in the 'storm clouds at work and at home'.
Norming: when the team is organising themselves and working out the finer details of operation/implementation.
Performing: when the team is in synergy, and the plan for action is being implemented smoothly (some teams may never reach this stage due to not successfully traversing the first 3 stages). Everyone is on the bus heading for the same destination or playing the grand final ? where personal issues are put aside and the energy and focus is on outcomes and achievements.
And Finally...
Adjourning: this will either be a celebration or mourning.

It is interesting to note that team morale is affected enormously if this stage is not handled well when a project closes or the make- up of the group changes. It can have a life-long impact on the individual and the workgroup.

So, two key questions:

  1. How can a leader recognise if there team is in mourning?
  2. How can a leader move their team/team member from mourning to celebration to begin anew?
The way to get the team/team member on the bus and move on is not an easy road, though can be done successfully. First step is to uncover what is missing for them, what did not happen for them that they are still 'carrying the lady on their back'?

I was facilitating a group of 15 and the topic was dealing with customers and the internal sales and marketing team. When I was discussing team development, as we always do in our workshops, I noticed the group went silent. I asked them to describe the culture of communication and meetings in general in their workplace. It was at this point of the conversation that I realised the group was in mourning. They described the continual revolving door of managers and how the communication is non-existent. We all know and understand 'change fatigue' however this was clearly the next step past this point. They shared their upsets as we moved through the mourning process. This resonated so deeply with the participants that the customer focus became themselves as customers of themselves. What needed to be in place so they could feel ok about who they were? It was a truly memorable 'ah ha!' moment.

So, how do I prevent my team from mourning?
The key to have your team in celebration, is to have each team member involved in the decision making process at the beginning of Formation and Storming. This validates the team/team member's expertise as well as ensuring a sense of ownership and responsibility for the project/team's success. When getting the team involved in the decision making process, is providing the opportunity for everyone to share ideas (which can only produce positive results and a more innovative solution). Though involving the team in the decision making process is more than offering the floor ideas to flow, it is reaching an agreement for the plan of action in moving forward. It does not mean that ideas have to be adopted and included in the plan, it means that all team members agree to the plan and are provided with a specific role and responsibility, so each team member is included and understands what is required in moving forward.

As the plan is being implemented ? remember, as the leader to check in with the team to gain their input for continued success; is this plan working? How can things be improved? And provide feedback along the way to reinforce good performance: I appreciated how you..., thank you for..., excellent work on...

How do I move my team out of mourning to celebration?
This can be difficult and may take time and patience. Though can be done, which will result in increased productivity and standard of work. What is missing for most people was in the adjourning stage, the chance to debrief - which is round up the project/team in a meaningful way ? either to learn a lesson to move forward, or have some resolution as to why things are changing and what their role will be. Give them the floor to speak, though, it is important keep the conversation on task and bring them into the solution stage rather than just venting. Ask them these four questions to begin the process:

a) What do you notice about where you and the team are thinking / feeling right now?
b) What would you like to see / hear to be comfortable to work with this same team again?
c) What is missing for you right now?
d) Overall what three areas could have been done things differently?

It is critical to keep it positive and acknowledge what has been, and end each conversation with the 'here and now' and where, as a team, you are all heading.

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