A Recipe For Team Building

By Robert Jones
EAP Trainer, The Village Business Institute
I worked for about 20 years in the restaurant industry. There, I learned a great deal about food, customer service and, most importantly, team building. As the director of food service for a large church, I came to recognize that cooking a dish is very similar to building a team.

You might be wondering what I am talking about or thinking I spent too much time in a hot kitchen, but take a moment and follow me. In the late 1960s, psychologist Bruce Tuckman developed what has become known as the Tuckman Model for Group Development. This model consists of five stages—forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning—that each group or team has to go through in order to be successful. Now at this point you may be questioning what this has to do with cooking.

The first stage of Tuckman’s model is forming. This is the stage when people come together with a shared purpose. In this stage of cooking, the chef has a vision of what he or she is going to create, maybe an amazing soufflé, a saucy pasta, or a magnificent 24-ounce ribeye, and he begins to collect the ingredients. Just as the chef gathers ingredients, a team leader has to gather the people that are going to play a role in successfully reaching the team’s goals. At this stage, the leader is the primary decision maker and the members of the group look to the leader for guidance and direction.

Once the members (or ingredients) are gathered, it is time to start working on creating a team (or a delicious treat). This second stage of the development model is known as storming. Here, team members are beginning to establish themselves, display their personalities, and form opinions, all of which, often times, will lead to conflict. The parallel in the cooking world is the chef searching for the right mixture of ingredients. Too much salt will ruin the dish, but just enough salt will properly enhance the flavor. Just as too much salt can be a downfall for a chef, too much conflict can ruin a team. This is why it is important for a leader to understand what each person contributes to the group and how that person can influence the growth of the organization.

The process of recipe development may take days, weeks, and even months to discover a way to bring together the right ingredients in the proper manner to create a new dish that will dazzle and amaze. Working through the storming stage of the development model, also takes time. For the leader, there is going to be some trial and error in trying to discover the best ways to address the conflicts and shortcomings of the group.

However, once the team has worked through any discord and the members understand their roles, they can begin to establish norms, which is the third stage of the group development model—norming. These norms are the expectations placed on the members of the group to successfully achieve the goals of the group. In cooking, this is when the chef comes up with the perfect amount of balsamic reduction to enhance the flavor of the steak while bringing the other components of the plate together without overpowering the taste buds!

Now that the chef has identified the ingredients and the portions to create the perfect entrée, it is time to unveil this delectable dish to the public. This is the fourth stage of the development model—performing. For the organization, the team has worked through the storming phase to establish the norms and expectations of the members. It is time to unveil the group and its expectations to the public. Although unknowns may materialize, the expectations of the group are being met and the organization is moving forward.

The final stage of Tuckman’s Model is known as adjourning. This occurs when a group has reached its expectations and completed the desired tasks. A change in the group, such as one person moving on to another opportunity, will also signal the adjourning stage. For instance, a change in personnel will inject a new set of skills and experience into the current team, which means that roles (actual and perceived) may change. The adjourning phase for a chef may be that the dish was prepared for a themed event, like Mardi Gras. While jambalaya loaded with shrimp, peppers, and Andouille sausage might work for that celebration, it doesn’t fit for a night of Norwegian specialties at the local community center.

The development of a team is an ongoing evolution, despite how long the group has been together. There will be changes in personnel, goals, and trends. If you (as the chef of your organization) can find ways to work through the forming, storming, norming, preforming, and adjourning phases of team development, you will have a recipe to develop a strong group that will flourish.

Robert Jones, Employee Assistance Program Trainer at The Village Business Institute

About the author
Robert Jones is an Employee Assistance Program Trainer with The Village Business Institute. Robert has a Bachelor’s degree in History and a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis in counseling and leadership. He also has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, and recently began working on his Educational Doctorate in Leadership.  Robert has nearly 20 years of experience in the hospitality field and has been doing freelance training for almost 10 years.