Understanding the stages of relationship maturity helps you improve the health of any relationship.
Since this topic is so important, we will take it in sections. This is the first of a multi-part discussion: In the next few posts, we will ensure to explore the stages of relationships in sufficient detail to be actionable.
Sometimes we meet someone and things just “CLICK”—other times, NOT SO MUCH. Occasionally, our relationships derail—going off track and you are not really sure why or how to get it back on track.
Even though we spend a lot of time thinking about relationships, most of us do not really plan for them. We simply expect them to grow and flourish naturally like the changing of the seasons. But, unlike the weather where everyone complains about something no one can really do anything about, we can create the conditions where our relationships grow, flourish, and thrive.
Like the weather where summer follows spring, there are patterns within our relationships. Understanding the patterns helps us chart the progression of our relationships.
Weather Seasons: Spring e Summer e Autumn e Winter
Relationship Stages: Forming e Focusing e Committing e Sustaining e Renewal © 
These stages apply to every relationship. We will begin exploring a working relationship, then we will explore a personal one.
Spring is the season of birth, the start of the cycle. Forming is the start of our relationships.
One morning, you are “voluntold” to attend the kickoff for a cross-functional project. Your boss does not have time to explain. She simply forwards you a meeting invite. You show up at the meeting along with a half dozen or so others who are equally fuzzy on details. As you sit there waiting for someone to take charge, three questions are likely on everyone’s mind:
- What are we doing?
- Why am I here?
- Is this going to be a good use of my time compared to the other hundred things I need to finish before Friday?
If the team is going to start off well, the leader needs to come prepared to answer these questions. The team lead can form the team well by:
- Explaining the purpose and goals for the project
- Helping everyone understand why they were selected and how their skills are essential to project success
- How their investment in time and energy will be beneficial to both the organization and to each team member
When the project leader takes the time to address the unspoken questions and address the needs of the team, they will have inspired trust and an interest in taking the next step: Focusing.
Now that you know what the team is trying to do, and you agree that it will be beneficial, your next questions are likely to be:
- How are we going to do this?
- What is my role? What am I supposed to do?
- Is the organization going to provide adequate resources, or is this more work on top of more work? Another unfunded mandate?
The leader can focus the team by:
- Engaging everyone in helping to design the processes or systems that will be needed
- Assigning roles and responsibilities that:
- Equitably divides the work
- Plays to people’s strengths
- Creates growth/developmental opportunities for team members
- Facilitating problem-solving and resolving any conflicts in priorities, direction, resourcing, or staffing
The team has now formed well and is becoming focused.
Now, suppose that instead of thoughtfully forming the team, the project started out like many projects do when the team lead rushes into the initial kickoff meeting late, disorganized, and then jumps right into planning to make up for lost time. He does not address the questions, does not inspire trust or confidence. Those assigned to the team will likely feel annoyed, frustrated, and may likely be thinking, “Here we go again, another waste of time.” The team will not have formed well, it has Stumbled.
You will know if your team is stumbling because you have experienced it: Here is a table that shows the indicators of effective navigation of the Forming Stage:
If there are indicators of Stumbling, they will not get better simply by plowing forward, hoping everything will work out. They may, but for how long and at what cost? The leader needs to engage the team and explore what was missed during the initial stages when the team was forming, circle back and explore what happened. This can be done by asking a single question:
“While forming, was the orientation towards the mission and vision adequate to build the team’s trust?”
Think about why the team is feeling confused and frustrated, take the time to circle back and address the lingering questions and you are likely to experience increased clarity. Failure to address the root causes of stumbling is abdicating your responsibilities as a leader.
In next week’s post, we will explore gaining commitment and continue to improve the team’s cohesion and team engagement.
1. The Workforce Engagement Equation: A Practitioner’s Guide to Creating and Sustaining High Performance, by Jamison J. Manion, CRC Press, Copyright 2012