We’ve Formed, So Now We Storm

By Mairead Kiernan

For those of us who have taken a theories class, we’ve heard about Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development.  If you’re just headed into grad school, don’t fret! You’ll become familiar with this model shortly.  According to Tuckman, there are four stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, and performingForming, as it sounds, is when the group first comes together and requires a good amount of leadership. As ideas start to clash a group will enter the storming phase, and it’s possible for a team to never leave this stage.  This storming is essential to the team dynamic, and if the team can move through their differences, they’ll enter the norming phase, which happens when one goal is identified and worked towards. Finally, a team can reach performing, where they work as a cohesive unit who has balanced the individual ideas and “group-think” and are working with little need for external supervision.

Let me backtrack a bit. As I’ve been looking at my staff over the last two weeks, I’ve been beyond impressed with the way my 22 Community Advisors (CA) have come together and started working as a unit almost immediately. There are three of us who supervise the CAs, and while we do so as team, we have to break them down for direct supervision. With that being said, we run our group as a large team. I don’t consider myself a pessimist but seeing our team come together so quickly has made me question when the storming phase is going to start.
It’s hard to predict where our team might start to storm, but if I had to venture a guess, I would say it’s going to surround differences in personality. We have 22 very large, very different personalities in our students. We have more extroverts than introverts, and as anyone who’s been around a group of extroverts can confirm, that can get a bit tiring (I’m an über-extrovert so I can say that!). Extroverts or introverts aside, with this many cooks in the kitchen, it’s almost inevitable that personalities are going to clash.

As a supervisor, a part of me wants to try to prevent this within my team. I’ve been on a staff in my undergrad that couldn’t get through storming and it made for one hell of a year. Instead, I know it’s critical that we let them work through their own issues, but being in only my second year of supervising, it’s hard to not want to intervene.

While I prevent myself from intervening, I do talk to my students about staff dynamics in every one on one. If the opportunity presents itself—I say that because I think it’s imperative to always make the one on one about the student, not me—I’ll talk about the challenges of being in-hall both as a student and a professional staff. Some students really benefit from knowing that, as professional staff, we struggle with the same issues they have, just at a different level.

Like I said before, I can’t predict where my team is going to storm. I also can’t stop their storming from happening, as much as I might want to. All I can do as a supervisor is support individual team members through the storming and hopefully help them move into performing without impeding their development. For those who are new to supervising, I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is going to happen in any team, regardless of size and while it’s a challenge, do your best to let it run its course—it’s what is best for your team in the long run.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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