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Zooming, Storming, Norming and Performing – Teams and Video Conferencing

How Video-conferencing is impacting the way that teams perform and making us miss crucial problems

It’s said that teams and groups follow four (or sometimes five) stages of development as they learn how to work together:

  1. A ‘Forming’ stage – where people don’t quite know how the team behaves together, what’s expected of them and what’s acceptable (or not). During this stage, people test the water, trying to find out how they should behave with each other;
  2. A ‘Storming’ stage – where people begin to resist or act against the constraints that team membership places on them. During this stage, you can expect conflicts to arise and for people to compete for informal leadership and their place in the hierarchy;
  3. A ‘Norming’ stage – where people develop close relationships and the team coheres around a shared identity. During this stage, the ideas around what constitutes acceptable behaviour become fixed;
  4. A ‘Performing’ stage – where people basically can now turn their energy away from issues around team formation and behavioural norms and start getting stuff done.
  5. (For those teams – like project groups and task-forces that are temporary in nature, there’s a fifth stage – Adjourning, where performance drops again as everybody prepares to disband).

Evidence for whether or not teams do actually follow this four-stage model for performance is mixed, but it is a useful thought-starter for what to do at times when performance is low, or when leaders are wondering about changing team memberships.


I’ve noticed in my coaching with teams how the impact of Zoom video conferencing is felt at each stage:

At the Forming stage, the impact of Zoom is most felt in that people are now also having to test out video-conferencing related behaviours, rather than purely work-related behaviours. (Have a google for “what to wear when video conferencing” to see what I mean. In case it helps, Vogue suggested recently that dressing professionally raises our opinion of ourselves, so I’ve put my work shoes on to write this). Leaders will want to make sure that their video conferencing etiquette includes a rounded assessment of the behaviours that will make the team (and the meeting ) effective, as well as the usual “what background are you using?” stuff.

Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve noticed is a tendency for Zooming to hide the ‘Storming’ part of team of team formation. It seems all too easy for work conflicts to not be addressed in a Zoom meeting. Even if it’s uncomfortable, leaders need to turn the spotlight onto individuals occasionally. Ask about what barriers there are to effective working together. Ask directly where different priorities and agendas are conflicting. Challenge people – “Why aren’t you two resolving this together?” And most importantly, don’t let people use technical glitches, diary clashes and the lack of immediate body-language feedback to hide away from or duck any unresolved ‘Storming’. It will happen sometime; best to manage it when you get a chance.

Another important thing to look for, particularly at the ‘Norming’ and ‘Performing’ stages is the kind of group-think that means people will overlook or just not see obvious problems (for example in customer service or in the overall performance of the division or in how individuals are coping). There’s something about the strangeness of not seeing each other face-to-face that means we might also be blindly accepting all kinds of other strangeness or out of-the-ordinary problems without noticing them or feeling the urgency to address them. Leaders should ask themselves and their teams: “Whilst it’s all so weird, what are we not noticing, that needs our attention?”

Let me know if you’ve noticed any of this too please – or what you’re finding out about teamwork now that we’re not meeting face-to-face?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Zooming, Storming, Norming and Performing: How is video conferencing impacting your team-effectiveness? Click To Tweet

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You Cannot Pour From an Empty Cup

As we go into the Covid19 bounce-back phase, how Bruce Lee can help us to top-up our Resilience, Willpower and Empathy

More from my series of short videos about things that have inspired me, helped me overcome challenges or just helped me to get through difficult times.

Lots of the personal qualities that are so important in leading and managing others are like a cup – their contents get depleted over time and need to be topped-up. After all, As Bruce Lee famously said,

You cannot pour from an empty cup.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me about what inspires you, or gets you through challenging or uncertain times? Click To Tweet


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Connection Overload

Is conflict at work happening because people are overwhelmed by all the relationships they need to manage?

Talking with a client recently about the number of connections with customers and team members that he was dealing with gave me an insight into a problem I’ve been seeing more of just recently. The problem is this:

Sometimes, people who are great leaders, who are brilliant at their job and whose teams are delivering great results, can simultaneously have really poor relationships with their peer group of other leaders.

Why is that?

It seems weird to me that people with the interpersonal abilities to lead and manage so successfully aren’t also able to get on well with their colleagues. Somebody with those skills would be capable of great influencing, of good listening, of super coaching. So why weren’t they always being welcomed around the boardroom table as well?

Thinking about what my client had been saying, and about the sheer volume of connections he mentioned, made me wonder about this question:

Can people be overloaded by the amount of interpersonal connections they need to manage, so that their ability to have successful relationships in all areas is impaired?

In trying to answer that question, I remembered some research I’d seen around Dunbar’s Number and Compassion Fatigue…


Readers are probably familiar with Dunbar’s Number:

the cognitive limit to the number of people we can maintain stable social relationships with

The limit is thought to be around 150 people – for relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. (For those people we don’t have a ‘persistent’ relationship with – don’t interact with them that often –  the number could be higher.) I wonder how close some of us get to the limits of Dunbar’s Number, when we consider all of the client, supplier, colleague and team-member relationships we need to focus on? 150 isn’t a huge number. If you added up all the people you need to regularly connect well with, what does it come to?


Research also shows that there are limits to Empathy too.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feeling of others.

Empathy is limited in a number of ways, two of which are significant here:

  1. Empathy is limited in that it depletes our mental resources – the effort of keeping information in mind is mentally and physically draining. This is why people in caring professions are warned about the dangers of compassion fatigue – a subject I’ve written about previously here.
  2. Empathy is also limited in that it’s a finite resource until refreshed. Using empathy in one area of our work and lives reduces the amount available for other areas. This was shown by a study (click here) in which people who reported taking time to listen to colleagues’ problems and worries and helping others with heavy workloads felt less capable of connecting with their families. They felt too emotionally drained and burdened by work-related pressures to also be empathic at home.

Putting together the Dunbar’s number data and this sense of empathy as a limited resource, made at least part of this issue clearer for me. This is why some clients – often those who are otherwise great leaders – might sometimes struggle to be effective in relating to their wider peer-group. It’s quite possible that they are overwhelmed by the volume and range of relationships they need to manage.

If you’re at the head of an organisation, and you notice that some of your team leaders don’t seem to be getting on with each other, this idea of connection-overload might be one place to look.

Some questions to ask might include:

  • Are some of your team leaders having to spread their cognitive powers too thin, having to ‘know’ the preferences etc of too many people?
  • Is their empathy overloaded – their ability to relate well to others simply depleted?

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me about connection-overload in your organisation or for you personally. Where are the limits of your empathy? What’s your own Dunbar’s Number?


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“Thanks, your work was almost adequate”

What should leaders say and do when someone’s work is disappointing?

The comedian Henning Wehn performs a joke about a German baby that doesn’t speak at all until it’s five years old – and only then to complain that things are no longer satisfactory.

Here he is delivering the punchline to Alan Davies’ setup on BBC’s QI:

This joke actually tells us a lot about the causes of a problem that leaders sometimes share with me – what should you actually say when someone delivers a rather disappointing piece of work and then expects some praise or thanks from you?

My challenge to those leaders when they raise this issue is this – have you been a bit like that German baby and been too silent until now?

By which I mean the following:

  • Have you previously set out clear enough expectations of what a great solution to this work would look like?
  • Have you previously given this person enough positive feedback so that they know what their strengths are and how much you value them?
  • Have you previously spent enough time coaching and developing this person, so that they’re definitely capable of delivering what’s required?

If you can’t honestly put your hand on your heart and say “Yes, I have previously done enough of that”, then you’ve been too much like that German baby and have spent too long being silent because things were tolerable before.


Your choices now that the disappointing work has been delivered are much narrower than before. And – and this is really important – the blame probably lays at your feet, because it means you’ve likely missed one of the factors I’ve described above.

I’ve spent lots of years not quite living up to my own standards as a leader and have coached loads of others through similar situations, so I have some experience. Here’s how I would chart my way through a ‘disappointing output’ situation:

  1. Say a proper thank you, like you mean it;
  2. Own up in a neutral and non-complaining way: “This is different from my expectations, can we talk through that?”
  3. Be specific: “I was expecting ‘A’ and this looks like ‘X’.”
  4. Ask for what you now need. If you can live with the output as it is, but want it to be better next time, skip this stage and the next. If not, you need to say something like: “I do need this to meet the following criteria (and list them), so I will need you to re-work it please.”
  5. Ask them to describe their version of that output ‘X’, by saying something like: “Tell me how you’ll know that you’ve done a great job on this, before it gets to me?”
  6. Ask for what they need from you: “What support, resources or information might you need from me, so that you can do a great job with work like this?”

Leading is a tough job. And even when you have done everything I’ve suggested above, people will still deliver disappointing outputs to you, for a whole load of reasons. Don’t be too tough on yourself though, despite my accusing you of being like that German baby!

My point is, it isn’t necessarily your fault, but it is your responsibility. If you want to be a great leader, and you’re not getting the results you want – try a different way. And if that doesn’t work, try another.

And don’t be afraid to seek that support that you need, so you can be as resourceful and flexible in your approach as you need to be.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. Tell me how you normally tackle this situation, and how that usually works out for you?


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Leading by Standing Back

The fireworks school of leading and delegating: light blue touch-paper AND STAND WELL BACK

As I write this, it’s coming around to fireworks season here.

It’s been a little while since I lit any real explosive-based fireworks of my own, but I’m reminded of the safety label:

Light blue touch-paper and stand well back

The “… stand well back” bit is sticking in my mind at the moment, because it’s such a great metaphor for leading and delegating.

Readers of this website will know I’m a big fan of the type of leadership and delegation that inspires people – in a firework sense, the type that lights them up. Or, even better, that helps them to light themselves up.

What is often overlooked, perhaps especially by enthusiastic leaders who are good at creating the lighting-up part, is the “… stand well back” bit.

But this standing well back and watching what happens when you’ve inspired someone or helped them to light themselves up is quite possibly the most important part. This is when people get to learn by and for themselves just what they’re capable of. I’d go so far as to say that you can’t really delegate properly, if you’re not doing the stand well back part.


In a firework, the potential energy of its chemicals only fulfils its purpose when it takes to the sky. For the people you are leading, this is when they start to become all that they can be. Like a firework, part of this is unpredictable. You don’t really know how well people will do. You can’t entirely tell if they’ll blaze a trail, just phizzle-out or explode in your face.

But people are even better than fireworks. If they fail, they’ll try again. If they light up the sky, they can do it again and again. And when they do, they’ll never forget who stood back far enough to make that possible.


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s the leadership or delegation challenge for you, in knowing when and how to stand well back?


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Leading Comes LAST

First you listen, then you learn, then you help, and then you can LEAD

Click the picture above and then right-click or hold to download your copy.

I love this principle, which I first learned only recently.

It comes from this article in The Atlantic, and is my paraphrasing of a quote from former US Defence Secretary James Mattis, summarising George Washington’s leadership approach.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s your current leadership challenge?


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Leadership, Role-modelling and Behaviour

Leaders cannot NOT be role-models – so be the right kind

I know I keep banging on about this, but Behaviour is such an important thing for leaders to get right.

If you have any kind of authority, responsibility, power or even visibility in your organisation, other people will base their own Behaviour on yours.

This applies whether or not you’re formally called a ‘leader’ or ‘manager’ or whatever. You cannot not be a role-model; so be the right kind.

If you want to know who in your organisation sets the standard for how things are done and what’s the right way to Behave with each other – take a look in the mirror. If you find yourself complaining or worrying about some aspect of the culture in your business, the person looking back at you from that mirror is the one who sets the tone.


People sometimes ask me, “Well, what do you even mean by ‘Behaviour’?”

The answer is simple – everything you do and everything you say.


What makes things tough for leaders and anybody who wants to manage their own Behaviour, is that what you say and do on the outside is actually the end result of a long chain of stuff that happens inside our heads and bodies – and which is often largely unconscious.

To make a start in managing your own Behaviour I recommend two simple actions:

  • First, as you interact with others, be very clear about what outcome you want to achieve. Behaviour without Intention is not managed. Remember:

You cannot hit a target which is not there

  • Second, have some kind of ‘Reflective’ practice. The best way is to keep a diary or journal where you can reflect on your day and set your intentions for the next.

You know yourself mostly by your thoughts. Everyone else in the world knows you only by your actions. Remember this when you feel misunderstood. You have to do or say something for others to know how you feel.

James Clear

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.

What aspects of being a role-model, or of Behaviour at work are important to you?


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One Page Leadership

What should leaders actually *do*?
The whole of Leadership on one page, free download, no sign-ups.

Click the picture above and then right-click and select ‘Save as…’ to download your copy.

Inspired by some work a client organisation was doing this week, I wanted to get the whole of my mental leadership checklist to fit on one page.

These are the factors I’ll typically run through when I’m coaching someone in a leadership role and want to help make sure they’re covering all the bases that their role demands.

It’s useful for newly-appointed leaders and well-established leaders who want to keep their approach fresh.

This is not the only way of thinking about leadership, but if you include all of these aspects, you can’t go too far wrong.

(This simple structure can also be especially useful in situations where people don’t already think of themselves as “leaders”, even when they’re responsible for and reliant on the work of several other people.)

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.

  • What aspects of your own leadership do you like to regularly check on
  • What advice would you give to other people who aren’t sure about their leadership?

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Intuition and Persuasion

Having the guts to persuade other people to trust your intuition

I’ve heard it said that intuition is the result of our brains unconsciously processing thousands of bits of data. There’s good research to support this view and it makes sense when you think about how much of our daily actions we do on autopilot. For example, driving your regular route to work, without having to consciously think too much about directions and turns and traffic.

Others have written that intuition comes from combining years of experience with having a finger on the pulse of what’s actually happening now.

I read recently that the kilometres of neurones and nerve connections in our intestines are about the same size as the brain of a cat – an animal we admire for its cunning and fast-reactions. Maybe that’s reason enough to “trust your gut”!

There can’t be many good leaders around nowadays who don’t make an effort to tap into their own intuition, or at least to listen to what their gut is telling them.

But what can be much harder, is getting other people to trust your intuition.

This is something which comes up in my coaching with leaders and their teams fairly often. How do you get other people to trust your intuition? Especially as we’re increasingly in the kind of working world which stresses the use of metrics and which says things like: “What gets measured, gets managed”. In that situation, how do you justify a vague feeling that something important has been missed? How do you persuade people that your sense that everything is not quite right should be listened to?

For now, there’s one aspect of this that is really worth focusing on, which is about not waiting for permission to speak your intuition, and then doing so in a way that makes it acceptable.

The language you use is very important. This is especially useful in board meetings and other group situations (particularly if you’ve just spent an hour pouring over detailed financials and performance reports). You have to use the language of intuition, and know that it’s OK to do so. You can say things like the following, and know that they are perfectly acceptable, for the reasons discussed above:

  • “My gut is telling me X.”
  • “I don’t know quite where it’s coming from, but my intuition is that …”
  • “I’ve got a hard-to-define sense that we also need to consider Y.”

Leaders need to speak their intuition in a way that has impact, otherwise they’re ignoring the full range of their brain’s processing power and failing to use their experience.

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. When and how do you speak your own intuition?


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Paradoxes

Courage follows fear – and four other important things that happen the wrong way around

Is it just me who sometimes wishes that each of these things would work the other way around for a change?

Courage follows Fear

You don’t usually get the courageous feeling until after you’ve done the scary thing, although the time that you might most want it is before.

Vitality comes from expending Energy

If you want to be more energetic, you’ve got to be regularly spending your energy on something sensible, not saving it.

Leadership follows Followership

Commitment, involvement, collaboration, ego-management, and credibility are all things best learnt first without the added need to lead.

Faith comes before Trust

If you want to be able to trust people, you’ve first got to give them the chance to be trusted – and that takes a leap of faith.

Wisdom comes after Experience

If you’re anything like me, then you need to fall flat on your face quite a lot before understanding how stuff really works. And even then, I still learn more and am surprised by how things actually turn out compared to how I thought they would.


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What other things seem to paradoxically happen the wrong way around?


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