The stages of Baked Relief: Team Formation

As we reflected on the 2 year anniversary of the 2011 QLD Floods, little did we know that another severe weather event was literally around the corner. Thanks to ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, our season of drought was about to be spectacularly broken, in more ways than one.

400mm+ of rain fell and fell and fell. Rivers burst their banks and created new pathways as gravity pulled that water volume downwards to sea level. Suburban and urban drain systems couldn’t keep up with such rapid and consistent water inflows. Queensland flooded again.

To some it may not have seen as dramatic at the 2011 floods, when we watched the power slowly going out in the Brisbane CBD. Others in low lying Brisbane areas walked away from this one with no flooding at all. But for many people, the nightmare was theirs this time. Bundaberg, Gladstone, Laidley – named in the media … Mudubbera, Baffle Creek, Agnes Waters – sodden and not so well publicised …. Mt Tambourine, Mt Nebo, MtGlorious … isolated, powerless and tree-damaged … not to mention many families across the state throwing spoiled food out of fridges & freezers due to the extensive damage to the power networks.

As well as helping to manage 80 calls for assistance in our own SES area, this time I had the privilege of being involved in more of the admin side of Baked Relief. Like any collection of people, it had some challenges, but overall it ran smoothly and followed some fairly normal common traits of team formation.  If you don’t know, Baked Relief was founded on Twitter by Danielle Crismani as a way to spread the word about where volunteers & emergency services were working, so anyone could provide them with drinks, meals or snacks (particularly home baking)! As news of this rain event came in, Danielle realised that Baked Relief would be needed again, so she knocked the dust of a Facebook page. This time, more action was centred around Facebook than Twitter, but the comparison of the two mediums is another story for another day. Essentially, Baked Relief gathers information where it can and gets the word out, so that people can contribute & donate directly where it’s needed. The aim is to mobilise helpers in local areas, without the need for storage or transportation, to put a smile on the faces of emergency services, Energex, Mud Army – anyone involved in the disaster response who would appreciate stopping for two minutes for a cupcake. 

In the 1960’s, a professor named Bruce Tuckman introduced a theory about the stages that teams go through: Forming, Storming, Norming & Performing. Baked Relief exhibited all of these traits, pretty much in sequence. 

Forming: This is the information gathering stage. Contacts are made. Needs are established. Individuals connect and also gather information and impressions about each other. This is a low-conflict stage, where people are eager to get started and are trying to establish their own sense of place in the team. People new to Baked Relief ask how it all works. Admins weed through information sources and start posting requests. People start baking and even delivering.

Storming: The team then moves into the stage where different ideas are offered up for consideration. ‘Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we go here?’ People become brave enough to add their ideas and perspectives. During this stage, the admins need to keep focused on what the Baked Relief concept is and what it isn’t, while acknowledging that other ideas may be valid. This is usually handled by redirecting people to other places to champion their ideas (eg Givit and Connected). For example, while there is no denying that flood-stricken home owners need new furniture and clean sheets, they first need a cleaned or repaired home and Baked Relief does not have the means to accept those kinds of donations. Other organisations do and do this well, so by agreeing that an idea is worthwhile but just not able to be covered by Baked Relief, the suggester feels validated and can contact someone who may be able to move their idea forward. Unfortunately this is also the stage where disappointment and criticism can set in (of other team members, recipients, government agencies etc), especially when it coincides with a shift in the areas of need.  Tolerance and patience and good admins see the team move through this phase.

Norming: By now, all active team members are focused on the same goal. People watch out for areas of need and drop off points and get into a rhythm. They’ve found their spot and are comfortable with their roles. They may even be getting positive feedback from recipients.

Performing: Motivated and knowledgeable, the team members start helping each other out. They add to the information coming into the Baked Relief page. They actively seek out areas of need or report areas where help is no longer needed. When someone posts a question, they reply without waiting for an official admin to answer. They organise collections & deliveries between themselves.

These stages don’t stop conflict from happening throughout the event, however most of the behaviour does follow this pattern. Tuckman also added Adjourning or the breakup of the team.  We’re seeing this on facebook primarily as a drop in page likes as people return to their daily routines & may no longer be in a position to help, or feel that they have done all they are capable of.

Some people may feel threatened about ‘being put in a box’ and labelled with a social theory, but once you’ve learnt about Tuckman’s theory, you tend to watch to see if it plays out in circumstances across your life and it often does. The good news is that regardless of its stages, Baked Relief have given people an opportunity to give, especially people unable to spend days shovelling mud. It’s just one small piece in the disaster response puzzle, but it’s a very rewarding one and I’m proud to be associated with it.


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