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Zayn Malik departure from One Direction shows no team member is indispensable

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Simon Cowell was quoted as being about to jump off a cliff when he learnt Zayn Malik was quitting One Direction. A little OTT perhaps, but this is show business. 

Malik was suffering from the stress of success and Cowell, much more comfortable with the state, initially tried to stop him leaving the boy band.

Cowell and One Direction provide the ideal training film for managers on Bruce Tuckman’s team life cycle theory. This five stage sequence, developed by the psychologist in 1965, starts with forming, and if ever a team was publicly formed it was One Direction (a group of single singers on a talent show, who had a little talent, a spattering of knowledge and a team leader in Cowell of some serious ability). 

The boys displayed the usual symptoms at the forming stage – polite, a little anxious, some excited about the possibilities before them, their personalities as yet little defined and their roles within the group unclear. Perfect mentoring was firmly directional at this stage, keeping tight control and detailed advising and teaching.

As the boys’ careers took off we saw the team inter the storming phase, the time when so many new teams fail. As confidence grows, the team members start to question each other, begin to disagree and their individual natural differences emerge – at times clashing and veering away from the team’s goal. 

At worst this can cause stress and lower the motivation of the rest of the team. The best supervisors at this stage become a little more accessible, while remaining directive and professional so as to keep the team focussed and the goals clear.  

We say plenty in the press about Cowell’s “friendship” with boys under half his age and with whom he can have had little in common, but during this stage and at no time did we wonder who was still in charge. This enabled them to develop their individual personalities within the team without fear of being judged.

Never did Cowell lose that control as the boy band slid into the norming stage. Differences if any were resolved now, socialising developed and the boys showed a commitment that kept the pounds and dollars rolling into the un-needing coffers of Cowell till finally they emerged at the peak of their success. 

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Hard work, lack of friction and all the structures in place from Cowell to support them made for what we all saw as one of the most successful performing teams of all time as One Direction fever spread worldwide. Motivated and autonomous, secure in themselves, the band sped off on tour after tour with the minimal supervision but constant participation from Cowell. What could have been more perfect with the boys finally showing the odd sign of growing up than the team stage coinciding with them being allowed more freedom to make their own decisions?

While throughout the different stages we see team members leave, by the time a team reaches the performing stage – and few do – it is easy for the rest of the world to see it as a unit that will never end. Cowell has extensive management experience and has seen it all, so acted wisely and fast and let his errant team member go – concentrating on the rest of the team who were quoted as being shocked (not to mention angry on occasion). But with Cowell at the wheel, absolutely unnerved.

This adjourning stage is sometimes called mourning, and the cycle does not yet appear to have been reached for One Direction. The unity is still in place, the goals clearly in mind.

It was a perfect lesson in management and an example of where no individual should, with just a little guidance, affect the survival of the team as a whole; that no one should be persuaded to change their mind and stay within a group as the team can survive fine without them. Indeed, no member of a team, and no member of staff, is indispensable.

Image: Shutterstock

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