Product Team Motivation: How to get a product innovation team past the storming stage

Product Team Motivation: How to get a product innovation team past the storming stage

Product Team Motivation: How to get a product innovation team past the storming stage

By Rose Klimovich

kHUB Post Date: May 28, 2024

Read Time: 7 Minutes

Teamwork is very important in most innovative product organizations. According to a study by Stanford University, teams that work well together are 50% more productive. When team members collaborate effectively, they can accomplish more tasks and projects in less time.

But sometimes teams get stuck and have problems moving forward. What do you do about this?

People brainstorming at a table

First to understand how teams operate, let’s look at a team model. Teams are known to go thru stages of development. The stages of team development, as outlined by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, are:

  1. Forming: In this initial stage, team members come together, get to know each other, and start to understand the goals and objectives of the team. They may be polite and somewhat reserved as they try to figure out their roles and how they fit into the team.
  2. Storming: During this stage, conflicts and disagreements may arise as team members start to express their opinions and assert themselves. This can be a challenging phase as individuals vie for influence and may resist authority or guidelines. It's crucial for the team to navigate through these conflicts constructively to move forward. The team leader has a key role in helping the team get back on track.
  3. Norming: As the team begins to resolve their differences, they establish norms or guidelines for working together. Team members start to understand each other's strengths and weaknesses and develop trust and cohesion. Communication improves, and a sense of unity begins to emerge.
  4. Performing: In the performing stage, the team operates at its highest level of productivity. Individuals work together smoothly, leveraging each other's strengths, and the focus is on achieving the team's goals. There's a high degree of autonomy, and decision-making is efficient. The team is cohesive and works effectively as a unit.
  5. Adjourning: This stage is where the team completes its task and prepares to disband. This can evoke feelings of sadness or loss as team members say goodbye and move on to other projects.

Note: that all teams do not go thru this process in the same fashion, but this does give you an idea of how teams develop.

People arguing at a table in an office

To perform well teams, need to get past the storming stage. This stage can be very frustrating and difficult for the team. How do you help a team move past this stage?

  1. Acknowledge that the team is having problems. Understand what is happening so problems can be addressed. This might involve meeting with team members to understand their concerns. What problems do they see? Have the team help develop solutions. What do they think can be done?
  2. Personal Dynamics: Have the team get to know each other on a personal level to understand why team members are here, what their goals are, how they like to work. This might involve team building activities like team lunches or other ice breakers.
  3. Address the conflicts. It is important to note that high performance teams will have conflicts. What is important here is how these conflicts get resolved in a positive way. Focus on the problem and not personalities. Graph showing the Thomas-Kilmann Model on an x and y axis of cooperative and assertive
    1. You may need to talk to each person separately to understand the conflict. Understand the team dynamics and how they are working together.
    2. Bring the team together to help resolve this.
    3. Use tools like the Thomas Kilmann Model (TKI) of conflict resolution to help. The Thomas-Kilmann Model describes five strategies for addressing conflict. The five strategies lie on two axes: assertive and cooperative. Each of the strategies ranges between assertiveness and unassertiveness and cooperative and uncooperative. No strategy is right or wrong, there's an appropriate time to use each one. Developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, the TKI identifies five primary conflict resolution modes:
      • Competing (Assertive, Uncooperative): In this mode, individuals pursue their own agenda and concerns at the expense of others. They may use power, authority, or persuasive tactics to win the conflict.
      • Collaborating (Assertive, Cooperative): This mode emphasizes finding solutions that satisfy the concerns of all parties involved. Collaborators seek to understand the perspectives of others and work together to find outcomes that are positives for both sides. Collaborators take a leadership role in moving a team towards a solution.
      • Compromising (Intermediate Assertiveness, Cooperation): Individuals in this mode seek to find a middle ground where each party gives up something to reach a solution. Compromisers prioritize reaching an agreement quickly, even if it means sacrificing some of their goals. This may cause problems later if the solution is not best in the long term.
      • Avoiding (Unassertive, Uncooperative): In the avoiding mode, individuals choose to ignore or sidestep the conflict altogether. They may withdraw from the situation, postpone dealing with the conflict, or remain neutral to maintain peace. They may leave the problem for others to resolve.
      • Accommodating (Unassertive, Cooperative): Accommodators prioritize preserving relationships and satisfying the needs of others over their own concerns. They may yield to the preferences of others to maintain harmony, even if it means sacrificing their own goals.
      Each mode has its strengths and weaknesses, and individuals may gravitate towards different modes depending on the context of the conflict and their personal preferences. The TKI helps individuals and teams understand their conflict resolution styles and provides insights into how they can adapt their approaches to manage conflicts more effectively.

      To use this with your team, you first need to know the style of each team member. You can use assessment tools like those from Kilmann Diagnostics to determine this for each person. What you do next depends on the people involved and where they fall in the model. For example, if the team members generally fall in the accommodating area use this style to get to a solution.

    4. Another idea to consider is using mediation. If the team has a conflict that they cannot resolve have someone the team thinks highly of try to mediate and get to a solution. You can also use a trained facilitator to help.
  4. Collaboration. Foster a collaborative environment where team members feel empowered to work together towards common goals. Emphasize the importance of teamwork and mutual support.

Illustration of people overlapping their hands together in a circle

  1. Develop team norms. Norms are about how the team will operate. This will help the team understand how to work together.
    1. The team needs some ways to reward good performance and meeting milestones. What you do here will differ by company but can include giving kudos, branded team swag, gift cards, outings, thanks you notes, bonuses, etc.
    2. Establish clear goals and roles: Although this should be done when the team is formed, sometimes establishing goals and roles lags behind so team members are not sure why they are here and what the goal is. Ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities and how they contribute to the team's objectives. Clarify goals, timelines, and expectations to minimize confusion. Make sure people understand the linkage between goals and rewards. Write down the goals and norms. Get the team members to agree to these.
    3. Create a team culture of honesty, open communications, and transparency. It is sometimes tough to be honest with people you do not know well and are not sure of their reaction. But the team should agree that one of the norms of the team is to be honest with each other.
    4. Create a positive work environment where people want to contribute and get to the team goal. Make sure the team has the resources it needs to succeed. Foster a supportive and inclusive workplace where team members feel valued and respected. A positive atmosphere enhances motivation and productivity.
  2. Individual Motivation. Not all people are motived by the same things. Understand your team members and what is important to each of them. Offer individual feedback and support if a team member is continuing to struggle. Sometimes a team member needs more training or direction. In the end if a team member cannot contribute to the team, that team member needs to be replaced. Leaders have much better success motivating their employees when they take the employees’ perspective and invite them to generate their own ideas of how they want to be motivated. This can be difficult in a team setting but may generate better results.

Motivating people to do their best is a complex process and equally difficult to do right. However, teams are critical to successful product innovation. To succeed team members, need to be fully engaged and performing at a high level.


About the author

Rose Klimovich

Rose Klimovich

Rose Klimovich is Visiting Professor of Marketing and Management at Manhattan College in New York. She is also a Digital Marketing and Strategy consultant to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Formerly, as the Vice President – Product Management and Product Marketing for Telx, Rose Klimovich created the Telx business strategy and developed the investment plan for new products and services in areas including colocation, cloud, Ethernet, and video conferencing. Rose’s team supported vertical markets including Financial Services, Media and Service Providers.

Prior to this, Rose was the Vice President of Business Strategy for AT&T, responsible for strategy development and investment decisions in new markets and technologies. Rose has more than 20 years of experience and achievement in designing, scaling and managing Internet, VPN and data businesses. Rose led AT&T to the #1 share position in VPN and to a leadership position in Internet Services.

Rose has an MBA and a BS in Math/Economics from Carnegie-Mellon University. Rose is Joint Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Women’s Venture Fund.

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