Create a High-Performing Team in Four Steps

October 27, 20144 min

Last week, I was having a conversation with a ScrumMaster about teams and the Tuckman Model came up.  From the blank look on this person’s face, it was clear that they had never heard of the Tuckman Model before which is surprising since ScrumMasters should be knowledgable on team dynamics and the steps each Team has to take in order to reach high-performance.

Since I took a minute to explain who Bruce Tuckman was, the research he did and the importance of this model for ScrumMasters, I thought I would share with Tuckman’s steps with all of you.  Please note, the original research only included four steps and Tuckman added a fifth step after working to understand how teams close.

  1. Forming: Individual behavior is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict.  Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on being busy with routines, such as team organization, who does what, when to meet, etc.  But individuals are also gathering information and impressions – about each other, and about the scope of the task and how to approach it.  This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict and threat means that not much actually gets done.
  2. Storming: Individuals in the group can only remain nice to each other for so long, as important issues start to be addressed.  Some people’s patience will break early, and minor confrontations will arise that are quickly dealt with or glossed over.  These may relate to the work of the group itself, or to roles and responsibilities within the group. Some will observe that it’s good to be getting into the real issues, whilst others will wish to remain in the comfort and security of Forming.  Depending on the culture of the organization and individuals, the conflict will be more or less suppressed, but it’ll be there, under the surface. To deal with the conflict, individuals may feel they are winning or losing battles, and will look for structural clarity and rules to prevent the conflict persisting.
  3. Norming: As Storming evolves, the “rules of engagement” for the group become established, and the scope of the group’s tasks or responsibilities are clear and agreed.  Having had their arguments, they now understand each other better, and can appreciate each other’s skills and experience.  Individuals listen to each other, appreciate and support each other, and are prepared to change pre-conceived views: they feel they’re part of a cohesive, effective group.  However, individuals have had to work hard to attain this stage, and may resist any pressure to change – especially from the outside – for fear that the group will break up, or revert to a storm.
  4. Performing: Not all groups reach this stage, characterized by a state of interdependence and flexibility. Everyone knows each other well enough to be able to work together, and trusts each other enough to allow independent activity.  Roles and responsibilities change according to need in an almost seamless way.  Group identity, loyalty and morale are all high, and everyone is equally task-orientated and people-orientated.  This high degree of comfort means that all the energy of the group can be directed towards the tasks in hand.
  5. Adjourning: This is about completion and disengagement, both from the tasks and the group members.  Individuals will be proud of having achieved much and glad to have been part of such an enjoyable group.  They need to recognize what they’ve done, and consciously move on.  Some group members may experience a true sense of loss.

So what is the ScrumMaster responsibility in all of this?  The ScrumMaster has the responsibility to guide and support the Team through Storming.  Storming is hard, but can be shortened with the aid of the ScrumMaster’s facilitative and communication skills. During Norming, the ScrumMaster helps the Team find their Vision, establishes healthy patterns of behavior and lays the foundations for the Performing stage.  Performing is the ultimate goal of Scrum, but not all Teams have what it takes to reach this state.  Performing is normally an emergent characteristic of the Team and is a result of all the connections the ScrumMaster works to make between the Team members in Norming.  Once in Performing, the ScrumMaster needs to be vigilant and protect the Team from forces external (and internal) that strive to knock the Team from this stage.

Adjourning is not talked about much since it handled so terrible by most organizations – the Team is just ended.  However, I feel that in this stage the ScrumMaster has much to do.  During Adjourning, the ScrumMaster is helping the Team transition from a focus on their group identity to their identity as individuals.  This is the time to remember the successes, relive the challenges the Team overcame and to say “good-bye” to Team members and the Team.