Dec 13, 2019 - Suri Patel    

Strengthen your Agile teams with Tuckman's stages of group development

Learn how to build up teams after breaking down silos

The silos between development and operations teams are a common source of friction and bottlenecks. When teams battle silos, cycle time increases and business value stalls. Recently, software leaders have learned how to break down silos through communication and collaboration, but learning how to rebuild teams is a greater challenge. How can teams come together when their traditional behaviors and relationships have changed?

The answer: Tuckman's stages of group development

In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman published a study on the developmental sequence in small groups. His findings highlighted the importance of four stages of development - forming, storming, norming, and performing - in order for a group to ideate, collaborate, plan, and deliver.

In the forming stage, groups identify challenges and goals. Team members orient themselves to acceptable interpersonal behaviors and test boundaries to guide their interactions. In the storming stage, team members build trust by sharing their thoughts, which oftentimes leads to conflict, and discover various working styles. In the norming stage, the group resolves their differences and begins building a stronger sense of community and closeness. Individuals understand that they have common goals and must work together to achieve them. In the performing stage, the team achieves goals, functions independently, and resolves conflicts. Team members support each other and are more flexible in their roles.

How to strengthen Agile teams

When leaders break down silos, team members often feel adrift due to the sudden cultural shift. To prevent a dysfunctional culture in which individuals don’t trust and support each other, leaders must make group development a priority. Applying Tuckman’s four stages to Agile team development can result in a stronger dynamic.

Forming

When management forms an Agile team, considering strengths and skills is a necessary aspect of purposefully curating a team. Team members should complement each other but not mirror each other, since the goal of an Agile team is to have a cross-functional team in which various members bring their strengths to work together.

After eliminating silos, leaders must model and identify the behavior they want the team to adopt. Team members will look to a leader, such as a Scrum Master, for guidance. It’s typical for individuals to focus solely on their work rather than view the team as a collective entity working towards a goal. When this happens, it’s up to the Scrum Master to help individuals develop a shared mentality. After each ideation or sprint, the Scrum Master should gather the team to conduct a retrospective to understand what went well, what went wrong, and how to improve during the next ideation. Team members can work together to identify goals, assisting in the development of a sense of community.

Storming

Once individuals begin to see each other as teammates, conflict can arise, since people feel more comfortable sharing their opinions. When rebuilding teams after eliminating silos, it’s natural for individuals to shift blame onto others, so the goal in this stage is to cultivate trust, communication, and collaboration.

The Scrum Master is responsible for helping teammates resolve conflict, manage tension, and coach behaviors. As a calming influence on the team, the Scrum Master can quickly resolve conflicts and help the team remain productive. By documenting decisions, committing to transparency and visibility, and collaborating to determine solutions, teams can create an open culture in which experimentation is embraced and shortcomings are viewed as learning opportunities. Team members should continue to feel safe dissenting and sharing thoughts, but the focus should be on continuous improvement and identifying solutions rather than placing blame.

Norming

Transitioning from Storming to Norming can be a difficult endeavor for many Agile teams, but once the shift is made, the focus becomes empowerment and implementation. After learning how to resolve conflict in the previous stage, the team is now able to embrace differences and view challenges from multiple perspectives.

Retrospectives should become a ritual that occurs after each sprint. When the team moves to Norming, the next retro should set aside time to plan for sustainable delivery. The Scrum Master and other leaders should provide feedback to team members, while teammates provide feedback on processes and workflows. At this point in the group’s development, the individuals see themselves as part of a team working towards shared goals. There is mutual trust and open communication, and the team works together as a cohesive unit.

Performing

At this stage, the team is highly motivated and interested in expanding their efforts. Leadership should assume a supporting role, since the team now functions autonomously with an emphasis on continuous learning. Because teams seek to improve, they’re able to identify bottlenecks, the potential for silos, and impediments to innovation.

The team is now fully formed and productive. Individuals collaborate and communicate well, and they have a strong sense of identity and vision. The Agile team consistently delivers and embraces change.

Any time groups evolve or new leadership walks through the door, teams can feel insecure and relive one or more of these stages. By implementing these techniques with your team, you can support your team’s growth and development, helping them maintain a strong Agile methodology and culture.

Cover image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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