Scientist looking at a spherical metal object

With new technologies comes the potential for companies to improve their efficiency and introduce smarter ways of working. Despite the long-term benefits being huge, there can be short-term pain when something new, or different is introduced. Changing long-set ways of working involves collaboration between employers, employees and the IT department, leaving lots of potential for friction and delays.

Businesses are constantly looking for ways to use technology to improve efficiency, reduce costs and deliver better customer experiences. At the same time some employees react against changes in the technology they use, lengthening the time it takes to introduce new ways of working and restricting the potential gains.

Employers then need to develop a strategy to reduce the friction caused by change, and guide employees along the journey to new ways of working. One way of achieving this is to plan for change through the filter of Tuckman’s stages of group development.

For those unfamiliar with Tuckman, he proposed four stages of team development. With a team being in a particular stages at any one. A full description of each stage is best left to others (the Wikipedia article linked above gives a general overview), but in order to give the uninitiated a idea of what’s involved the four stages are:

  • Forming – New teams start in the Forming stage. There is little sense of the team acting as unit, rather a collection of individuals coming together.
  • Storming – A fractious stage with team members jockeying for position and trying to assert their preferred way of working.
  • Norming – Agreements have been reached between the team members and agreed roles, and work patterns decided upon (the decisions may be subconscious).
  • Performing –  The team are working well together and performing as one unit.

Tuckman saw these stages as a necessary part of team development. With teams moving between the stages as things changed. For example bringing in a new team member can move a team from Norming or Performing back to Forming, and then Storming.

Though Tuckman is concerned with teams within organisations, the same principals can be applied to a company as a whole. Introducing new technologies can have a similar effect on teams / companies as introducing a new person. Something new means changes to working patterns, with people once again jockeying for position and trying to assert their preferred work-flow.

By considering the introduction of technology in the workplace within the framework of Tuckman’s stages of group development it’s possible to develop strategies which reduce employee friction. Speeding up the introduction process and delivering clear productivity benefits.

Forming

Organisations and teams in the Forming stage are the easiest to introduce new technologies to. As work patterns have not been established there is almost no resistance to change, and employers have a great opportunity to start the business off on the right foot. Friction should be almost non-existent. If an employer does experience friction it suggests the organisation is not at the Forming stage and has already moved onto one of the other levels of team development.

Storming

As mentioned in the overview above, Storming is a difficult time for organisations. A company in this stage is also an organisation most likely to need the introduction of new technologies due to how individuals are not performing to the best of their abilities. Handled carefully new practices can lead the company onto the Norming stage, handled poorly they could easily knock things back to Forming.

Employers need to make staff aware of how the proposed changes will benefit them. Giving them the opportunity to play a role in improved company performance and make their mark, or make their working day easier and reduce manual workload. During the Storming stage, employees are likely to be sensitive to criticism, employers wanting to run a smooth introduction of new technology need to bear this mind and alter their language accordingly.

Norming

A company which has reached the Norming stage is working well. Employees accept their roles and understand how their actions support on the organisation. For employers, bringing something new on-board could potentially mean the organisation falls back into a Storming or Forming stage and lead to lower short-term productivity along with increased friction and resistance.

The long-term benefits of making technological changes outweigh the short-term concerns. To make sure the short-term impact is as low as possible, it’s important staff understand they aren’t being ‘blamed’ and being forced to change how they work due to perceived inefficiencies. Instead changes should be framed to emphasise how they will improve working conditions and enhance existing procedures, building on their current successes.

Performing

When a team or company are performing, there’s a danger the need for new technology isn’t realised. “Why change when things are working well?”, could be the response from the employees resisting change. Business leaders have a responsibility to keep a performing company ahead of the competition and assess how to lead the organisation onto better things regardless of how well everything is currently going.

Introducing new technologies is part of this responsibility and, to reduce friction, employers need to frame the changes as a way of responding to, or pre-empting, competitor behaviour. Demonstrating how the changes will keep the company out in front.

Changes in customer expectations will also form part of the explanation as, over time, the needs of customers alter. For example it’s rare for a company not to offer email as a point of contact today, whereas 15 years ago it was unusual to allow customers to contact you this way. Companies that didn’t bring in new technologies in response stopped performing and lost their advantage.

Every business leader has to assess their company and seek out improvements. Technology can bring great benefits to how an organisation operates, however the long-tern gains can be restricted by short-term pain if employees are not brought along the journey with the minimum of friction. Tuckman gives one way of viewing an organisation’s structure and helps leaders introduce new technologies in an organised and planned-for way.