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Team Development in Contact Centres

To help us better understand how conflict arises within the team, we need to look at how teams are formed and the stages they go through in moving from a group of individuals to a cohesive team. It is generally recognised that teams go through 4 or 5 stages in their formation and that some of these stages inevitably include varying elements of conflict:-Which stage is your team at?

Bruce Tuckman developed a model in 1965 that illustrates the stages if team development:

Forming –

This is the first stage of a team’s development  when members are concerned with finding out about the task & it’s objectives/where they fit in – not wishing to be too radical etc, exploring other members’ attitudes and abilities, assessing and relying on the leader for direction, vision, guidance, clarifying rules and establishing group culture

Storming –

The second stage during which; conflict can develop over the task/the task is resisted at an emotional level/degrees of depression might set in/the group may drift without a clear sense of purpose and there is the possibility of some power struggles occurring

Norming –

The third stage in which conflict is resolved/cooperation begins, views are exchanged, new standards or norms are developed, trust develops, people speak and listen to one another.

Performing –

This stage can only be arrived at after the first 3 stages have been worked through. At this stage people belong, teamwork is achieved, roles are flexible, solutions are found and ideas implemented, with team members working towards a common goal.

Mourning –

This final stage occurs when a team disbands, for example on completion of a project, or when a team member leaves. The team can experience a sense of loss and in the case of project teams disbanding and members returning to their normal duties, some may feel disorientated and removed from their normal work team. For permanent teams that lose a team member, in addition to the sense of loss, productivity may drop while the remaining team members adjust and are temporarily distracted by considering the implications of the changes.

NB: The team can go backwards as well as forward. For example, when a new person joins the team or an existing member leaves, the group will go back to the forming stage. This is often referred to as the ‘group dynamics changing’.

Occasionally, a team can skip a stage, for example going straight from forming to norming. This will depend on the interests of the individuals and their backgrounds.

We can see from team formation model that conflict is most likely to occur in the team’s forming & storming stages. However, this is not an absolute. Conflict can occur at any point when differences arise and may actually occur when the team has achieved the performing stage some time ago.

Understanding what stage the team is at in its development is useful in helping to determine when intervention is appropriate and when it may be less appropriate. For instance, to totally deny a team the opportunity to exchange differing views and opinions on issues by intervening when it is not necessary to do so, could hinder or slow down the team’s natural progression towards the norming and performing stages.

It’s important therefore to recognise that not all conflict is negative and to be avoided. The exchange of ideas and differing opinions is not only okay, but desirable if the team is to mature and accept each member’s role and contribution within the team.

However, conflict that deteriorates to include personal insult, intolerance or bullying is clearly not acceptable and requires the quick intervention of the Team Leader/Manager. Similarly, in the event of the team becoming completely gridlocked on a particular issue, intervention may be necessary.

The skill lies therefore in monitoring the team’s development and performance and recognising the early signals of the type of conflict that needs to be resolved with the involvement of the Team Leader/Manager.

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