When I joined Harappa Education in 2018, the company was as new as I was to it. Over the past two years, I’ve seen our team grow from just six members to 89 people today. 

Looking back, I realize that so much has happened: New people have joined, some have left, we’ve accomplished big projects, met deadlines, missed some deadlines, and learned many lessons. The team has stood strong through it all.

Now, working from home in the middle of a pandemic, I am filled with wonder at how this team continues to stand strong, even virtually. I believe that our journey of becoming a strong team has helped us adjust to this new reality quite efficiently.

My journey with Harappa is a perfect example of a team development model developed by American psychologist Bruce Tuckman: the Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model. Tuckman, who worked extensively on group dynamics, said all teams go through these stages as they grow and develop. 

Here’s a quick summary of the four stages. You can learn more about it in Harappa’s Managing Teamwork course:

Team Evolution Stage

What happens? 

What can you do?

Forming

– Teams are newly formed 

– Team members are  excited and confused

– Ask questions to understand your role 

– Invest in getting to know your team 

– Avoid over-committing to tasks 

Storming

– Challenges begin

– Conflicts and tensions arise

– Team members struggle to work together

– Listen to others 

– Trust your colleagues

– Stay confident

Norming

– Processes and norms fall in place

– Conflicts begin to be resolved 

– Help to develop team processes 

– Follow processes and norms

– Assess your workload 

Performing

– Teams are highly productive

– Everybody works well with each other

– Balance work with play 

– Start coaching junior members 

– Ask for feedback and act on it

Here’s my journey through these stages.

Stage 1: Forming

The first stage is when the team is still Forming. This stage is exciting and confusing, as the roles are unclear and members are still getting to know each other. When I first joined Harappa, there were no clear departments. Everyone was new and trying to figure out their roles and responsibilities. We collaborated on all the tasks and brought our expertise and experience wherever relevant. 

This was my first job, and that added to my nervousness and excitement. I actively spent time with my colleagues, asking lots of questions to understand the various aspects of how a company works. Our conversations would also flow outside of work because we were keen to know each other better. 

For over a month now, the pandemic has forced us to work from our homes, and our team has almost had to form once again, this time on Zoom! We are getting to know each other all over again, quirks that we didn’t bring to the office: our pets, our favorite recipes, our creative virtual backgrounds. Our roles are changing constantly to fit with new projects during the lockdown, creating the same excitement that we experienced when we began.

Stage 2: Storming

The second stage of the Tuckman model is Storming. This is where many teams begin to grapple with the challenge of adapting their style of working to their colleagues’ styles, and there’s potential for conflict. Sub-groups get formed as people with similar values or styles gravitate towards one another. Deadlines, performance evaluations, and office politics also enter the picture. 

In my experience, I found that after the initial months of getting to know each other, there came a time when my team and I seemed to be struggling with our styles of work. Some insisted on using WhatsApp for work coordination while others were vehemently against it. Some preferred team meetings in the morning; others thought it hampered their productivity. 

There were arguments and occasionally some tension. This was a particularly testing time for me because I was extremely uncomfortable with conflict. What helped in this stage was to not personalize anything, and remember that it’s normal for a team to go through this. It also became immensely important to learn to trust each other and listen well. 

The virtual journey has been similar. We have had to struggle with unreliable internet connections and adjust to each other’s work-from-home styles as different people preferred different times for team meetings The new projects also led to newer teams, pushing us to work outside of our comfort zone. 

Stage 3: Norming

The third stage of Norming is when team members begin to resolve differences and take a problem-solving approach. At Harappa too, by this stage, we had set up processes and norms for the team to follow. We agreed on communication methods, work hours, and how best to accommodate each others’ work styles. 

This stage required us to support each other by helping anyone who had too much on their plate, offering to conduct workshops on skills we could all learn from each other, and so on. As a team, we also became more comfortable asking for help and raising red flags when needed. 

This process carried on seamlessly for our now virtual team too. We quickly came up with processes and norms to be able to work effectively during this lockdown. 

The Organizational Excellence team at Harappa has played a pivotal role in ensuring a smooth transition for all employees. They have one-on-one chats with us to understand where we’re struggling and take initiatives to make virtual meetings more productive.

Stage 4: Performing

The last one in Tuckman’s stages of team evolution is Performing. Every team aspires to reach here as quickly as possible. This is when the team has picked up a steady pace, distractions are minimal, members are highly productive, and everyone is focused on delivering on their goals. Members also balance work with play to avoid burning out.

For Harappa, this was the most fun stage! People had more autonomy in their job, everyone had a clear idea of what was going on within their teams and in the company as a whole. This was also when I took charge of my own growth, stepped up for more responsibility, and started to feel confident in my job. As a team too, we had adapted to each others’ styles of working, had figured out the best ways to communicate with each other, learned to give and receive feedback, and focused on learning and growing together. 

With the pandemic hovering over us, this stage seemed impossible to achieve again; and yet, here we are. We’ve found our steady rhythm again and are continuing to perform as a strong team. In fact, we have found a way to shift our fun online too; so now we play Antakshari and have quizzes virtually, bring our own chai to virtual chai parties, and sing loud and completely off-key “happy birthdays” to smiling faces on screens. 

It’s certainly been a fun journey so far. Norming. Forming. Storming. And Performing. I can’t wait to experience the next stage of my professional journey.

Manisha Koppala is an Associate Specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. The literature graduate from Ashoka University loves a cup of good coffee and happens to be a free-hugs dispenser.


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