Deborah and The Starlings – Chapter 4

“Their mushroom risotto is fabulous,” Jack advised, “but if you just want something light, they do a very nice variant on a Caprese Salad. They also do a marvelous cappuccino.”

“Cappuccino?” Deborah raised one eyebrow. “How would Mr. Nothing But Dark Roast know that?”

“That’s what a friend told me.” Jack chuckled. “So, how have things gone in these last two weeks?

“Well, first of all, I’ve been asked to pass on the team’s thanks for how you facilitated the Team Charter discussion. And let me add my thanks as well. It’s the first one I’ve been part of where I felt like we were doing something real and valuable.”

“Any thoughts on what made it that way for you?”

Deborah paused thoughtfully. “I guess it’s that you treated us like adults. You mentioned at the beginning that you weren’t there to ‘fix’ anyone and that’s how you came across. We didn’t feel like we were a bunch of bratty kids getting lectured by a guidance counselor.” She smiled. “That’s a quote from Margaret by the way, she asked me to tell you that.”

“I’m glad that it was a positive experience. Did anything else stand out for you?”

Deborah sipped her cappuccino. “You’re right this is really good. I think what stood out for me, actually others mentioned this as well, was that you refused to suggest what we should do, even when we got stuck on trying to agree on how we make decisions. You just kept asking us questions until we found an answer that worked for us.”

Jack laughed. “Hey, don’t go revealing my trade secrets! I assume that you’ve had another meeting since the Team Charter session. How was that?”

Deborah paused thoughtfully. “I’m not sure. Everyone was much more engaged but there seemed to be a lot more conflict.” She smiled. “I guess that Team Charter proved its worth. We referred to it several times in the course of the meeting to remind ourselves how we want to handle disagreements.”

“How would you describe your experience of the meeting?”

“Having the Team Charter gave me more confidence in chairing the meeting. Drawing everyone’s attention to it felt less authoritarian than simply telling everyone to calm down. I was able to keep the meeting more focused and more productive without creating disengagement.” She chewed thoughtfully on a piece of bruschetta. “I am concerned though about this new level of conflict. What if it leads to people disengaging or quitting outright?”

“Forgive my lapsing into jargon, but are you familiar with Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development?”

Deborah thought for a moment. “It’s been a while. Give me a quick refresher.”

Bruce Tuckman observed that all groups, like yours, seem to follow a consistent pattern in their journey to becoming a high-performing team. He referred to this pattern as ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.’”

Deborah nodded. “It’s coming back to me. So where are we in this journey?”

“It’s not a linear process, but my guess would be that you are well into Storming. Right now everyone is still trying to sort out the “rules of the game” which includes both how they work together and how they relate to one another. Your Team Charter work will help you to get through this stage faster, but this stage is critical in the Starlings,” he paused, looking embarrassed, “Sorry. This stage is a critical step in your group moving from being a collection of individuals who relate to each other as individuals into thinking of themselves as team members and interacting with each other accordingly.”

Deborah chuckled. “Your secret is safe with me. So what should I be doing at this stage?”

“What do you see as your “value-added” at this point?”

Deborah shook her head. “Sometimes it really irritates me that you always answer a question with a question.” She put up her hand in “Stop” gesture. “Don’t respond to that.” She paused, looking pensive. “If the outcome of this stage as you describe it, then I guess that I need to make sure that I help them to have healthy conflict and that I keep them focused on the goal that we are all working towards.”

“How will you do that?”

“People are just starting to feel safe enough to say what they really think, that’s what Sergei said. So, I need to make sure that that feeling of safety is protected and enhanced. Before you ask me how I will do that, I’ll say that I need to model the way: demonstrate integrity, consistently treat people with respect, point us back to the Team Charter when conflict arises, and make sure that they don’t lose sight of the larger goal.”

“All powerful actions.” Jack’s phone buzzed. “Sorry, this is telling me that I need to get going. I have a meeting across town coming up. Thanks for lunch.”

Deborah regarded the bill with astonishment. “You weren’t kidding when you said this place was expensive!”