I’m a hairdresser, not an HR specialist! How to build an effective team in your salon.

It is important to recognise that before the team that we are managing becomes fully mature and effective, it evolves and moves through various stages; starting from stage I, which is called forming, through storming (stage II), then norming (stage III) and finishing with stage IV – performing.  Through all the stages employees’ competences (their knowledge and skills) change, as well as their involvement. It means that they need different managing approach – different management styles.  

Let’s follow all the four stages of team building, paying attention to the features and needs of the team at each of the stages, and analyze the tasks of the manager and preferred management styles.  

Stage I – forming

This stage is comparable to the beginning of friendship of two people who are starting to know each other and falling in love. Do you remember all the butterflies in the stomach? Sweet nothings? Doing things you actually did not like doing before? But is there anything he would not do to please her and make her happy? Vice versa, of course. And, so he – who hated sushi is ready to eat it every day – just for her and she – exposed to the inconveniences of a long cycle excursion through wooden paths on a rainy day  is smiling brightly with her eyes fixed on him. They are both trying to make a good impression on each other. They are both doing their best.

Similarly, a new employee makes every effort to please others and to be accepted by the team. There is only one thing he/she does not do – being fully himself/herself. But a pleased manager is unaware of the fact that sooner or later the cat will be out of the bag (stage II).

The stage of forming is characterised by a huge enthusiasm and low productivity. A new employee comes to work with high hopes and expectations. She/he thinks: ‘Now, it is going to be great, it is different than in the previous salon I have worked at’. And at the beginning new employees are really doing their best. They learn the rules of the salon and the roles of other employees. But at this stage they do not know what they can or cannot do. That is why they are usually submissive and polite. Their presence does not express in work efficiency because at the beginning they do not have as many clients as other hairdressers. Additionally, if the salon does not have many clients, the other employees treat the new one suspiciously and perceive him/her as a danger rather than someone who can provide something positive to the team.

Key tasks for the manager: in order to assimilate the new employees to the rest of the team as fast as possible, the manager should commit a lot of time to them,  help them to acquaint with the customs in the salon, norms of behaviour and values of other team members. In practice, this implies: mutual assistance, kindness, truthfulness, honesty, punctuality, responsibility and commitment. I think that every salon should create its own moral code (involving all the members of the team) to be respected by all the employees. It is not enough to write it and put it in the drawer. It is required to display it in the easily visible place and rely on it when necessary.

Another important task of the manager at this stage is to acquaint new employees with the standards of working in terms of the salon and customer service. Then, on the basis of the assessment of their skills, I suggest creating individual development plans with training issues and timeframes. If there is an expert on, for example, hair care or colour – treating in the salon, it might be enough to involve him or her to train new members of the team. Otherwise you can use external courses. It is important to teach  new employees to work according to the standards of working mentioned before, observe them and give them feedback on their working progress.

As you can see, it is impossible to manage the team from the staff room of the salon at the stage of forming. You have to take various actions to provide coherence of the group, build mutual trust and acceptance, as well as stuff’s well – being. It may take a lot of time to improve hairdressing and cosmetic skills. Under such conditions, the directive management style seems to be of great use. As it implies a lot of information and instructions from the manager and less time committed to support new employees, because – as mentioned before – they have a lot of self-motivation to achieve working objectives.

The stage of forming a team does not refer to hiring a new employee only but it is also connected to a new task, for example: preparing a show of a new collection or opening a new salon. In these cases, the manager should focus on all the members of the team equally.

Stage II – storming

Well, nothing lasts forever. For our lovers, it is time for revolts and conflicts. He does not want to go out to restaurants to eat sushi everyday – he misses the traditional Polish cuisine. Whereas she neglects her passion for reading books (although she has noticed that her physical condition and body have improved). This makes their cycling excursions unbearable for her. Their mutual dissatisfaction from meeting the other person’s expectations has a negative influence on their moods and turns into constant quarrels and a risk of separation or at least signifies the end of their honeymoon.

Returning to the team building process in your salon, it is worth noticing that at this stage there is a clash of expectations and reality and it is associated with disappointment. Hairdressers and beauticians are usually reluctant to share their clients but eager to have other employees helping them with cleaning. They want a new employee to help them and make their working objectives easier to achieve. In such situation, internal conflicts and coalitions emerge. There is a struggle for leadership inside the group and a lot of disappointments.

Additionally, the employees may lost the feeling of self-confidence while achieving their working goals. Troubles with improving skills may result in lowering their self-esteem and more critical approach to managers and their opinions.

Of course, the toughest discussions take place in staff rooms without managers and only sometimes the ‘kind employees’ report them about the situation. As you can see, the group’s morale level becomes much lower and instead of concentrating on the working objectives according to the working standards , the employees let their dissatisfactions and bitterness  take over their actions and they question decisions of their manager.

It is easy to feel offended by the employees but trust me – it will not work. Give them the right to express their dissatisfaction (without strong words, of course) but do not let them question your decisions.

Moreover, you should ask yourself a question about the needs of the team, in order to help its members to move through this stage expeditiously and gently. I suggest analyzing the employees’ level of knowledge on the aims of salon’s functioning and the working standards. Although they were probably determined at the first stage, it is worth to repeat them to all the employees once again because too much information at the stage of forming does not help to remember all the rules and stick to the manager’s expectations. To this we can also add the issue of applying and not applying to the salon standards by some of the employees.

Key tasks for the manager: make a speech on the actions appreciated by the boss and those which are not tolerated.  At this stage it is worth to recall the general aim of the salon which determines the employees’ working objectives and the reasons for cooperation. Another step is determining specific working objectives to achieve within the time limits. If they are not detailed , unrealistic or lack ambition, you should reframed them. Another issue that should be borne in mind is re-discussing and implementing the standards of customer service. Knowing and applying to them can significantly improve the salon’s functioning –  the team members will know how to act in specific situations. Furthermore, it is useful to recall the role and responsibilities of each team member. If the employee is not able to meet the requirements and expectations because he/she lacks knowledge or skills, the manager should provide assistance in the form of trainings or a person to help with the task.

At the stage of storming the manager should also focus on providing opportunities for development and training, providing working tools and products, supporting and encouraging to work, recognising successes and encouraging an open exchange of views in order to improve the salon’s functioning.

In short, the storming stage is the time for leadership, strengthen control, resolving conflicts, supporting and appreciating – managing the salon using the coaching style. It means a lot of instructions and a lot of support. At this stage the employees work better but they are still far from being perfect. Thus, it is extremely important to provide opportunities for advancing their knowledge and improving their skills, as well as raise their morale and encourage to share their ideas and opinions.

Appreciating and applying the employees’ ideas imparts a feeling that their involvement makes sense.  After all, we want them to have a sense of belonging to the team and being its part.

Stage III – norming

After a storm comes a calm – the stage of storming and conflicts ends. Thanks to constructive communication, the team gradually moves into the norming stage. This is when people start to increase understanding and involvement, exchange views openly, improve cooperation and build confidence and positive relations.

The team learns to work together. All the members know and respect each other, resolve their differences, know their weaknesses and strengths. Without any external threats they can concentrate on themselves, continue to improve their skills and build their self-confidence.

What about our lovers? They have also moved to the stage of normig. They talk more and try to put less pressure on each other. They also know each other better and respect their differences, various opinions and free time activities. They learn how to decide together what to do or where to meet. Obviously, not everything is always right but the situation gradually norms. There is a spark between them and it comes from affection not from differences.

Key tasks for the manager: supporting and encouraging common functioning and achieving best results. The team is almost fully mature now, so at this stage managers should share their leadership and control – as far as possible, of course. For example, assessing and discussing working results falls into the duties of managers, but at this stage, organizing an event or a new collection show, allocation of roles and responsibilities are tasks for the team and the managers should only assist if it is necessary. Once the team is achieving well, the managers should aim to have as light a touch as possible.

The best management style at this stage is the supportive style as the members of the team know their roles and responsibilities, they have also acquired specific medium or high skills but their involvement is still variable. Thus, they still need the manager’s support.

Stage IV – performing

At this stage the team is fully mature and all of its members not only know what their responsibilities are but also fulfil their duties without reminding. What is more the members of the team help one another – they already know that functioning together means not only working but also having fun. I do not mean partying until dawn (although it is advised from time to time) but joint task performing and finding pleasure in it. Well, if you find pleasure in doing your job, you usually get along well with your co-workers. It results in open communication, mutual respect and trust.  

So at this stage all employees comply to the working standards of the salon, concentrate on work and cooperation and improve the level of their services. Therefore, they achieve their objectives and meet new challenges.

Summing up, at the stage of performing employees do not need instructions or support, the team shows high-productivity level and has high moral standards. What about the manager?

Key tasks for the manager: in fact at this stage, the manager shares much of his leadership – he uses delegating style of management. In practice this implies delegating various tasks and allowing handling some decision-making processes without supervision.

The manager becomes a facilitator aiding the team in improving their members’ skills more and more. He/she should recognize and celebrate  individual and group achievements. What comes next? I suggest going on vacations and visiting our lovers. They are married and came back from their honeymoon. They got through the stage of disappointments and conflicts.  They enjoy each other as they have learned to live together.


Over time, the team evolves and changes  like seasons. After winter comes spring, after spring comes summer, after summer – autumn. Just like in the process of team building – first the team forms, then there are storms and the situation norms. Eventually the team moves to performing. Then the cycle ends and starts again because the stage of performing does not last forever – each new employee may indicate forming the team from the beginning. New tasks, initially approved may cause conflicts when it comes to their implementation. Gradually, the situation norms and the team starts performing.

When you get to understand the whole process, managing the team will be much more enjoyable and effective. Observe the group, recognize each stage and your employees’ needs as the process of team building requires concentration and implementing specific management styles.

Bonus Tip: it’s much easier to manage the team in your salon when you have a salon management system like www.versum.com with advanced features enabling salon managers to access each employee’s statistics, measure their performance and build an effective team in your salon.


About the Author


Iwona Marhulets

Coach with 22 years experience, business consultant.

Iwona graduated from Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz as well as Polish-German Business Management School in Szczecin, Poland. She is also a coach certified by International Coaching Community.

Has been training companies of all kind and sizes since 1992. For the last 8 years has been focusing on hair & beauty business exclusively. Iwona has created her own programme “Super Coach in Hair Salon” which is the basis of 3-day workshops she runs.

She’s got extensive experience, having trained more than 12 000 professionals, including more than 4000 hair stylists and salon managers.

In 2013 she was a co-host in a Polish TV show “Salon Revloutions”, where she advised both salon managers and stylist in various areas of their business. Iwona is also a columnist for “Hairdressing Courier”- a leading industry magazine in Poland, as well as an advisor for “Versum” Salon Management System.


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