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Why ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ is your secret weapon to better brainstorms 

by | Oct 23, 2023

  • We need to collaborate better.
  • We need more ideas.
  • Our brainstorms are a bit rubbish.

Any of this sound familiar? When we run our creative thinking training we often hear from clients that their brainstorming or creative process is not working brilliantly. 

And recently I was a guest on the the Highly Relational podcast, with Robert Digings, a former attendee on one our courses. He asked me to talk about how to build a high performing creative team. 

I talked about one of my favourite and easily accessible models to think about how you can help your team to develop and generate better ideas in a brainstorm, or any other setting. 

You can’t expect a new team to perform exceptionally from the very outset. Team formation takes time, and usually follows some easily recognizable stages, as the team journeys from being a group of strangers to becoming a united team with a common goal. 

I’ve written about the topic of psychological safety before, and it’s a key part of high performing teams, and building collaborative teams who trust each other and feel confident to share their ideas. 

In order to nurture your creative team – actually, any team – so that it becomes a high-performing group, a whole load of magic (and science) needs to happen en route. 

If you facilitate creative sessions or workshops of any kind then it’s good to understand a bit about team dynamics and how to successfully navigate everyone through the different stages of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

A quick run-through the Forming, Storming, Norming & Performing process

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing are what psychologist Bruce Tuckman identified in the 60s as the ‘developmental sequence in small groups.’

Here’s each stage at a glance:

What’s the forming stage?

Remember those awkward first-time encounters between strangers in a new team group or in a group of people brought together for a meeting or a brainstorm? This is part of the forming stage where each person isn’t quite sure of where they fit in or what the other people in the team are really like.

They will all have different agendas, too. Some will be totally up for it, while others will be reluctant participants. Who will emerge as a team leader? Who will tap into a vat of extra strength when the going gets tough?

What’s the storming stage?

This is the phase that many teams never quite get out of – especially if they don’t meet regularly. It’s when everybody is jockeying for position, and people often struggle with each other’s boundaries or working style.

If left unchecked, this kind of team can derail the whole process or a brainstorm as participants question the value of the brief, the team leader and the mission as a whole. Getting through this phase is an essential part of the process. If you have to facilitate at either of the above stages it can be challenging, as essentially you’re thrown into the mix too! 

When do we know when we’re norming?

As the name suggests, this is where things normalise somewhat. People get into the rhythm of the group, they find their place, and a certain kind of harmony tends to develop.

With your team members more comfortable around each other, they become better at challenging problems, asking for help, receiving and giving feedback and so on. Trust is key and people feel confident and safe about sharing their ideas. It’s not about groupthink though; where the group feel the need to get to a consensus and harmony, it’s about feeling you can debate, discuss and challenge without feeling threated. 

Now we’re performing

Obviously, reaching this stage doesn’t happen overnight, but a functioning team that has been through the norming phase usually passes onto the Performing phase – with the right guidance.

Your goal isn’t necessarily to get the team from Forming to Performing in the shortest possible time; the trick is to get them to the Performing stage at all!

After all, we’ve all been in groups of co-workers who simply never gelled, and conflict remained a constant issue. I’ve been part of working groups where the thinking was siloed and people did not want to listen or debate ‘their way or the highway.’ 

How you can use the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing method to accelerate your creative thinking

Now that you know the four stages, it shouldn’t be too hard to identify where your group or team is at.

If it is one of the first three, your move should be to try and shift them to the next stage. 

How do you do this? You can address:

Build trust: If you do one thing, do thisSet ground rules for engagement and make it clear through your own words and actions if you’re facilitating that everyone’s voice is equal. Make sure that team conflict does not go unresolved.

The dreaded ice-breaker – whatever works for you here as you’ll set the tone as the facilitator – help people to get to know each other better. Personal favourites:

  • What’s your theme tune today?
  • What did you want to do for a job when you were little?
  • Tell a story one sentence at a time (everyone says one line)

Individual performance. One-to-one feedback with participants could help to nudge them in the right direction.

Your own leadership or facilitation style. Are you playing the role of a capable captain – or a foundering junior officer steering the ship onto the rocks? Do you actively listen and offer people different ways to participate? Are you finding ways to bring the introverts as well as the extraverts along with you?

So if you want to get to better ideas and improve your facilitation skills, consider the model and see where you can add something to build your skills. Let me know how you get on!

You can listen to my contribution to the Highly Relational podcast here.

And if you want help with your creative thinking at any stage of the process, we have a brainstorm facilitation course for that. Drop me a line for more info.

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

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