Skip navigation


Phoenix: "I feel like a referee," said Larry, a veteran wholesaler describing his relationship with one of his largest clients. "The old man built the business, brought his son and son-in-law in and formed the CFG Team. They have been very successful, but now the father is phasing out, and his son and son-in-law are constantly at each other's throats."

There are four acknowledged stages of team development: You come together with excitement and visions of grandeur and form a team (forming); you then quickly realize that working together is easier said then done (storming); conflict wears everyone out, and you learn how to get along (norming); and, if led effectively, your team moves into growth mode (performing). However, sometimes there is a fifth stage—purgatory—and that is what Larry was describing.

(Continued after ad)

Larry is trying to help his team breatk out of purgatory—an unenviable task. However, his concern went beyond the professional relationship; he is friends with both the son and son-in-law. His fear is that one day their team is going to implode.

Like with many teams, even those built by successful advisors, in this case, much of the proper pre-work that needs to be accomplished in the "forming" stage was neglected. And because the junior—soon to be senior—partners are part of a high-producing team recognized by their firm (and in Larry's case by various industry rags as one of the best), they become stuck in a "storming-norming" trap. This becomes their toxic environment. So why do they remain stuck? There is no simple answer, but usually money and ego play major roles.

For the CFG Team the facts are clear: The juniors act like they built the business. The son-in-law is an aggressive type "A" who thinks he's the team leader; the son is passive-aggressive, sabotaging just for spite; and the father is no longer leading; he's letting it happen. This storming-norming trap is messy!

When a team gets stuck in this storming-norming trap, it's a leadership issue. As I explained to Larry, although the team is still producing at a high level sans the strong leadership of the father, they are no longer growing. This has become the major source of conflict.

It is not unusual for junior partners who have been put in a position to take the helm of a successful team (team leader retires, etc.) to struggle. What looks easy in a junior role suddenly becomes a challenge. Not effectively handling these leadership responsibilities will lead to problems within any team. Three problem areas tend to quickly surface: affluent client acquisition and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. These issues will ultimately lead to conflict resolution.

Breaking the Storming-Norming Trap

Our research tells us that most teams are either in the storming or norming stage of development, or are stuck in purgatory (only 17 percent are in high-performance). If your team fluctuates between harmony and conflict with any regularity, you are probably in purgatory. This is extremely counter-productive. The following five steps should prove helpful in breaking out of this storming-norming trap:

Step 1: Call a meeting to discuss team goals

  • Clearly establish starting and ending times.
  • Communicate the time and level of importance of the meeting to team members.
  • Make certain that sufficient time is allotted for the meeting

Step 2: Establish an agenda for the yeam meetings

  • Revisit team goals: Specific, Measurable, Agreed to, Realistic and Time bound goals (SMART)
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities.
  • Develop clear performance expectations.
  • Identify interpersonal conflict.

Step 3: Establish ground rules

  • Maintain civility.
  • Refrain from personal attacks
  • When identifying a problem, offer a solution.
  • Give honest feedback (constructive criticism).
  • Commit to staying on task (team goals).

Step 4: Action items

  • What is being done?
  • Who is doing what?
  • When are these action items to be accomplished?

Step 5: White board summary

  • Document all action items on a white board.
  • Copy action items on paper for distribution to all team members.

Granted, breaking out of this trap will require more than holding a team meeting, even one as effective as outlined above. The team leader, even one preparing to retire, must lead this process. Follow-up meetings will be required, as will a commitment by the team leader to engage in rainmaking activities. For the CFG Team, this means the father must mentor son and son-in-law on rainmaking, and help develop a future team leader.

Larry and I had our discussion over four months ago. At the time, he decided to present the team our wealth management team software as an intervention tool. From his perspective, it was impersonal, based on research, and could help everyone identify performance gaps.

From what Larry has told me, progress is being made, but there is still conflict. For instance; the son-in-law wants to hire a team coach, the son doesn't see the need, and the father, who is spending more and more time in Park City, could go either way.

For more information, download a FREE copy of our Creating High Performance Teams - 8-page Research Article. Also, we're now offering our Rainmaker Best Practices Research for those who participate in our 2008 Attracting Affluent Clients Survey.

Once again, we want to thank all of you who have emailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one. If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at [email protected].

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.