All my life group and team dynamics have fascinated me. As a psychology major at Sweet Briar College, I read my textbooks with great interest and began applying that insight in my life. Over the years, I have supervised hundreds of people, coached synchronized skating teams, served on boards and, more recently, experienced the intense team effort to save Sweet Briar College.
One of the most helpful and elegant models I have found in understanding human and team dynamics comes from Bruce Tuckman, PhD. His model is the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing Model. He added a fifth stage later in his career “Adjourning”. This model provides reassurance for those living through a time of uncertainty now. Applying the Tuckman model helps understand both the individual and team dynamics.
Forming – Stage 1
When a team forms, there is high dependence on a leader (or perceived leader) for guidance and direction. There is little agreement on the team’s aims and activities unless direction comes from the leader. Individual roles and responsibilities aren’t clear and often are not yet defined. Leaders will be besieged by questions about the team’s objectives, purpose, motives and relationships.
On campus, faculty and staff faced an uncertain future. Those working under the leadership of the President and Board followed their path to closure.
Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. formed and appointed a Board. They secured legal counsel to launch an important legal challenge. Their charge and mission was clear; however, there was a misperception that they would or should have the answers to all questions and provide all direction — which was impossible and not their charge.
Stakeholders of all kinds were filled with questions and they directed them in many directions, including the volunteer leaders of Saving Sweet Briar. The many stakeholders of Sweet Briar were uncertain as to who was leading them. People waited for direction and answers — answers that sometimes couldn’t be provided given the confidentiality of a legal case.
Social media allowed for teams and subgroups to organize themselves around work they found important: Students, Admissions, Research, Parents, Friends, and many more.
During the early formation of the teams organized to save Sweet Briar, I was unsure as to my best way to contribute. As a fundraiser, I saw the need to raise money. As someone who has worked in higher education for much of my career, I was called to take some of the issues I felt were important to a broader audience. I turned to my blog. My march blogs grappled with the broader issues I saw.
Looking back, “forming” was inevitable. It was understandable. The fact that this is normal is one of the reasons we must look back with an open mind at both perspectives — those who worked to close and those who worked to save. Each had their respective leaders and followers who were moving towards — and directed towards — different futures.
Storming – Stage 2
Storming is a normal phase for all teams and teams return to this phase when there is a change (such as a new leadership, key decision, even victory). In this phase decisions do not come easily in the group. Team members vie for position as they try to establish themselves in relation to other team members or the leader. The leader will receive challenges from team members. Team members will attack each other, especially those who may not appear to comply with what they perceive to be the leader’s goals. Clarity of purpose grows, but plenty of uncertainties persist. Power struggles are the norm and factions will form.
Chaos reigned in the following weeks. Chaos of all types. Students protested the Board’s actions with banners hung from balconies and the bell tower. Faculty unanimously voted no confidence in the leadership. Additional suits were filed on behalf of faculty, students and an alumna.
Social media provided a forum where various people and teams working to save Sweet Briar organized – and divided — themselves. In the weeks after the initial announcement of closure, “storming” was alive and well. The different groups working on the issues they felt were important experienced internal and external challenges. Different teams questioned motives of others. There was a strong desire to have “one” voice, “one” approach and to muffle any external statements that didn’t comply.
National media reported on the “fight” to save Sweet Briar. Board members posted opinion pieces. Op-eds, blogs, articles and social media brought to light the many issues of concern: Donor rights, honoring the founder’s will, faculty contracts, and more.
The “us” and “them” felt as deep as the Grand Canyon at this time with Board members and “closers” (as they came to be called) fighting it out in Court, through social connections and in the national media.
During this time, I wrote some of my strongest blog posts about what I felt was wrong. My discontent also took the form of frustration with the lack of process and procedure with the efforts to save the College. I also was – true to form – frustrated with my leadership. I wasn’t used to leadership unfolding in this way. I didn’t understand why we didn’t take on more volunteers. I didn’t want anyone to tell me to wait. I was in classic “storming” in my April blogs.
“Storming” is understandable. It is one of the reasons we must forgive each other. Without every team working towards its individual goals — even if we did not understand them — we might not have crossed the finish line we reached on June 20.
Norming – Stage 3
Agreement and consensus forms among the team. Leadership is embraced and their roles are further defined. Stakeholders of all types will see where they can assist and not wait for “spoon feeding” or regular direction by the leader. There is less questioning of those willing to work without direction and an appreciation that “many hands make light work”. Big decisions are made by group agreement. Small decisions may be delegated to individuals or smaller teams. Unity is strong and commitment grows. There may be fun and social activities bonding people together. Working styles emerge. There is a general respect for the leader and more leadership is shared. The leader faciliates and enables versus directing.
Norming took the shape of efficient fundraising. We celebrated million-dollar-sized milestones along the way. My team had regular conference calls. We secured a professional fundraising firm, Alexander Haas, to help coordinate things. As a fundraiser, this was a Godsend to me! The processes, procedures, lists and other tools I was used to using were suddenly available. We still had three different databases and some mis-steps along the way, but our collective apologies, thank yous and phone calls continued to yield success.
Back on campus, the practical matter of students transferring and faculty securing alternative positions outside of Sweet Briar unfolded. As much as people hoped for a positive outcome, practical steps were needed.
During this phase, I marveled at different teams and how much was being achieved. Sweet Briar 2.0, a clearinghouse website of all of the ideas and plans, launched. Plans for Reunion 2015 unfolded with a parallel track for those who didn’t want to support the College’s activities. My May blogs turned to the broader issues and more advocacy outside of my Sweet Briar community.
Fundraisers all over the country were held. Class challenges inspired giving from alumnae in far greater numbers than ever before. National news stories began to cover the stories of the fight to SAVE the College.
Performing – Stage 4
In a performing stage, the team is strategically aware. The team knows what it is doing and why they are doing it. There is a shared vision. The leader no longer has to be directive (nor is he/she expected to be). Sub-groups have confidence of their role and they plunge themselves into useful activity. Reporting structures become clearer. The team attends to relationships and processes along the way. There is self-care and mutual-care with people looking after each other. The leader is able to deliver even greater results with the efficiencies and often a group of leaders will be able to expand its ranks.
Looking back, it seems to me that those working to save Sweet Briar College hit the “performing” stage just in time for Reunion, 2015. The collective goodwill from the regional events and opportunity to reconnect with campus reinvigorated everyone, even if they couldn’t attend.
On campus, there was greater clarity for students and faculty. Quietly, there was optimism about the possibility of success.
National media stories continued with coverage of the efforts to save and the broader issues of importance to anyone. Strong leaders spoke out — and were heard.
The amazing thing to me is the sense of TEAM that has emerged collectively. I have never looked at my classmates at Sweet Briar and felt we were a TEAM until now. I didn’t expect to look to the classes around me and see us as a united front. In fact, there was often subtle competition at Reunions to compete for fundraising with the last class to reach our milestones. I feel UNITED with students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae, community and friends. We, Sweet Briar College, are a TEAM. This team building we have undergone has been painful, jubilant and TRANSFORMING.
I don’t see how this can be replicated at any other institution in the land and I hope no other place has to go through it. However, I can honestly say, I would do it all over again to reach this amazing place our team Saving Sweet Briar has reached!
Adjourning – Stage 5
Bruce Tuckman refined his theory in 1975 and added a fifth stage to the Forming Storming Norming Performing Model which he called Adjourning (it is also referred to as Deforming and Mourning). Tuckman’s fifth stage is the break-up of the group, hopefully when the task is successfully completed. Everyone can move on to new things, feeling good about what’s been achieved. From an organizational perspective, sensitivity to this stage is helpful, particularly if members of a group have been closely bonded or feel threatened by the change.
To be honest, I forgot about this step until I prepared to write this post. When I reviewed the material on Tuckman’s model, I hadn’t noted the fifth stage in the articles. Yet, it is very helpful to think about now whether from the perspective of the outgoing Sweet Briar College Board, the new members of the Sweet Briar Board or the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board who announced from the beginning that they hoped to be “out of a job” by the end of their efforts.
The Sweet Briar College Board collectively resigned after the Memorandum of Understanding was reached between the parties filing suit and Sweet Briar College. To their credit, they saw that their job was done. They took a vote, they took steps to execute that vote for closure and held their course. They served in a very difficult time and I am compassionate for how this must have been for them.
The Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board’s role for funding the important legal counsel was a victory – the County Attorney of Amherst achieved her desired goals and the outcome of “getting back the keys” resulted. The fundraising effort launched surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations. The work to secure a new President was successful. All parties to the suits put forward suggested names for new Board members for Sweet Briar College.
Fortunately, there is no “adjourning” for those who have worked to save the College. The cycle begins anew.
Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing
We can expect all of these stages in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, it can help us be more compassionate with those who are working on campus to welcome back students. Perhaps it could help us reach out to those who thought differently from us and welcome them into this future. We need all leaders, followers, rank-and-file, do-ers possible to begin the cycle again.
To support Saving Sweet Briar, visit: www.savingsweetbriar.com
Soon, we will bring to you our regularly scheduled links at the College, but we don’t yet have the keys….
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988. She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign. During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards. As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement. She raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.
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