A few years ago, I was part of a software development group stressed by a combination of challenges. The first was our ability to quickly assemble small effective teams to take on an increasing amount of short term consulting assignments. The second was ensuring that these same people could divide their attention and continue their contribution to a core team focused on a longer term and more strategic software product. As a budding project manager in charge of both teams, I grasped at anything that could help me better understand the team-dynamics we would experience over the coming months.
I stumbled upon Bruce Tuckman’s, 5-stages of group development model (a.k.a. forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning), which despite it’s age, and simplicity, proved timeless in helping me understand the maturity of the transient and core teams I was managing. Fast-forward a few years, and my understanding of team dynamics has grown to include concepts that are more deliberate in describing the stages of growth for high-performing teams. Although I liked Tuckman’s model in the past, I no longer find it useful because it does not make explicit the pre-requisites for effectiveness from one stage to the next. For example, how well your team ‘performed’ depends on how well they ‘stormed’. I want to remove any notion haphazardness in Tuckman’s model while making explicit the characteristics required for successful transition from one stage to the next.
Four Stages for Team Effectiveness
I’m proposing the following new model for effective team growth:
Self-organize -> Trust -> Adjust -> Deliver
The growing research and understanding of creativity, motivation and trust in knowledge worker teams inspired this Four Stages for Team Effectiveness model. Derived from Tuckman’s model, it borrows concepts and terminology from Agile software development, the importance of trust in creative teams, and from Peter Drucker’s teachings on knowledge worker effectiveness.
It doesn’t surprise me to hear Dan Pink, The Surprising Truth on What Motivates Us, talking about the critical role autonomy plays in fostering motivation in creative types. The link between autonomy and self-organization is how they work hand-in-hand towards ensuring the most effective team members are assigned to productive work as well as inviting the cohesion and commitment required to overcome big challenges. The key with self-organization is for management to define the right-outcomes while allowing team members to organize around their strengths in order to determine how to achieve them. Command-and-control organizations lacking this autonomy and self-organization across their structure, are forced to rely on a complex and potentially demotivating system of closely monitoring people, and their productivity, while providing the “carrot and stick” rewards to keep them going.
By trust I not only mean the trust between team members, but also the trust between a team and their stakeholders, their customers, their organization, their processes and the tools they use to build solutions. As Rachel Davies writes, the equation for Trustworthiness depends on four critical factors. Each of these factors is responsible for regulating the level of trust in knowledge worker teams. Diana Larsen’s Agiles 2009 presentation on trust supports this equation in more detail by elaborating on the necessary components of trust which include credibility, support, and consistency.
As Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great, sooner or later all great teams will need to confront the brutal facts. Regardless of the level of trust between team members, uncomfortable periods of adjustment are inevitable. They represent the teams desire to narrow the gap between what they are doing and what they should be doing.
These gaps can result from changes in the marketplace or from within the organization. Development methodologies or business processes designed to continuously discover and communicate these changes will increase a team’s ability to respond to them as exemplified by the Agile software development practices.
Elevated levels of motivation and happiness will be the signature of teams who have grown through and mastered these previous stages. By this stage they will be an autonomous, cohesive group, committed to doing the right things while delivering immense value. Teams should learn to rely on the feedback loop, emerging from this stage, to reinforce and grow the solid foundation of trust and effectiveness they have built.
Think back to the software development teams you’ve been a member of. Do you remember your own stages of forming, storming, norming, performing or adjourning? Now compare the stages of growth between a lackluster team you worked with and a high-performing team. How did the stages of growth differ between these teams? I’m proposing a new model for growing effective teams and the elements of this model are rooted in exactly those differences.
Share your own stories of team growth and effectiveness by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.