Stage 2: Storming

This is the phase where instructors might first encounter team conflict.  During this phase, the team makes its first attempt at working on the assignment.  At this time, team members might disagree on roles for each team member, especially if multiple team members want to be the project leader or another sought-after position.  Another disagreement might arise when team members can’t agree on an approach or process to complete the assignment.

This is another time to remind them of the brainstorming process, and to try and combine ideas that members might find valuable. Depending on the size and scope of the project, the instructor might want to provide the students with brainstorming strategies. Brainstorming is not a science, but several researchers (Osborn 1957, Gallupe, Bastianutti & Cooper 1991, Bao, Gerber, Gergle & Hoffman 2010, etc)  have outlined strategies to help groups brainstorm such as:

  • Identify and document as many ideas as possible. No idea is a bad idea.
  • Combine various elements of different ideas.
  • Use tools to help visually organize ideas. Different colored Post-It notes, scratch paper and whiteboards can all be helpful tools in organizing and quickly re-arranging ideas.
  • Brainstorm in a comfortable place.
  • Do not get too attached to a single idea (your own idea or another team member’s idea).

Remember, if the instructor has to intervene at this point, it is a good time to revert back to the team’s contract.  The team should document how they will deal with conflict, and you can use their own team contract to help facilitate them through the conflict.

Various assignments can be used to help facilitate the Storming phase of the teaming process. One example is a design document, that captures the team’s ideas and proposes how the team is going to put that idea into action throughout the rest of the team assignment.

Example Game Design Document

Another assignment that fits with the Storming stage of team development is a project plan. This is a document that outlines, specifically, all the tasks necessary to complete the assignment, often illustrating links between tasks and which member of a team is responsible for each task. Sometimes these also come in the form of timelines, identifying the tasks in a gantt chart that also illustrates how long each task will take and when the project will reach completion.

A timeline created in Microsoft Project

Two important things to point out that often relate to the Storming phase of team development:
1. Not all conflict is bad.  Content conflict can be a good thing, where team members do not agree on a certain aspect of how to approach a project or answer a large question posed by the professor.  If the conflict turns to personal conflict, that is bad.  Team members should never verbally attack one another or disagree with someone based on personality or other reasons not related to the ideas being discussed.  As an instructor, you may need to meet with the team and ask them leading questions to try and sort out if the conflict is content-related or personal-related.  Depending on which type of conflict you are dealing with, you will likely need to take different approaches for resolution.

In many instances, a team might be in conflict but you (and the team) can’t figure out why. To help identify possible reasons for conflict, several diagnostic tools exist. Below are two tools you can modify to help diagnose why a team might be in conflict.

TeamSTEPPS – Created in collaboration by the Department of Defense and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Team Diagnostic Survey – created by researchers from Harvard University.

2. Divide and conquer.  In many team projects that are large in scope, the team may take a divide and conquer approach. This involves the team breaking up each part of the assignment, retreating to their individual work areas, completing work in solitude, then returning to the team near the end of the assignment to simply paste sections of a document together.  Remember, this style of work reflects the work of a group, not necessarily the work of a team.

But in some instances, such as multi-disciplinary team projects, each team member might work specifically on an aspect of the assignment that fits with her expertise. Even so, the team should still be in constant communication, updating one another on progress and sharing their work frequently. This helps ensure cohesion, and that each team member stays on the same page as everyone else, leading to a better outcome. Also, this might be a key part of the learning process, as experts in certain disciplines share knowledge with less experienced students.

One assignment to help give you clues to what approach a team is taking is to have a team status meeting.  Bring each team into your office or class individually, and ask them 3-5 questions about the process they are taking to complete the assignment.  Another assignment I often use in this phase is the project plan, requiring the team to outline the process they plan on taking to complete the assignment in a document.  This document can be as detailed or as broad you prefer.  Googling “project plan templates” provides many examples of project plans.