5 Stages Of Group Development

The Emergent Leader and 5 Stages of Group Development

Written by #ACESoCal co-organizer   | Originally published on the ScrumAlliance Community Blog on 10 October 2016

Anyone who knows me also knows that I spend a good amount of “thinking time” considering how things are related and connected together in systems. And as it relates to Agile and transformation, whether it’s at the team or organizational level, it’s good to keep an eye on systems and how certain elements within may interact, interplay, and interrupt one another.

My other passion is using Scrum and Agile practices to build high-performing teams. As these two ideas converged, I came up with this list of tools to offer to ScrumMasters, Agile team facilitators, and Agile coaches.

For the past 10 years, as I have designed and developed training for organizational transformations as an internal Agile coach, I have included elements of leadership and human dynamics theory so that people can see the “whole” as they move through this change.

The Stages of Group Development (Tuckman, 1965) are one of my absolute favorites, and I frequently bring this up when I teach the topics of the team norms, Definitions of Done, team velocity, and work estimation practices. I teach this one at the team level, since it’s important for everyone to better understand how teams and groups move through their stages of development and how that evolution might impact the reliability and definition of certain Agile practices.

For instance, when you understand that a team is in its Forming stages, you can engage and adopt certain Scrum values, Agile practices, and other leadership tools to help move them through Storming and into Norming and then Performing.

Below is a chart I drew for use at one of my client engagements to teach this concept. The yellow sticky notes are the values, activities, and practices you can employ, rely on, or expect at the different stages. The list underneath expands what’s on the chart but gives you a good set of ideas to work with.

Forming phase

In this stage, most team members are positive and polite. Some are anxious, as they haven’t fully understood what work the team will do. Others are simply excited about the task ahead.

As leader, you play a dominant role at this stage, because team members’ roles and responsibilities aren’t clear.

This stage can last for some time as people start to work together, and as they make an effort to get to know their new colleagues.

Tools

  • Team norms (working agreements). These include the Definition of Done and the Definition of Ready.
  • Vision (Agile and Product)
  • Scrum values
    • Transparency
    • Commitment
  • Courage
  • Respect
  • Sprint ceremonies
    • Daily stand-up
    • Sprint Planning 2 (task breakdown)
  • BART (Boundaries, Authority, Responsibilities, and Tasks)
  • Training (coaching competency)
  • Planning Poker®

Storming phase

Next, the team moves into the Storming phase, in which people start to push against the boundaries established in the Forming stage. This is the stage when many teams fail.

Storming often starts when there is a conflict among team members’ natural working styles. Individuals may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons, but if differing working styles cause unforeseen problems, team members may become frustrated.

Storming can also happen in other situations. For example, team members may challenge your authority or jockey for position as their roles are clarified. Or, if you haven’t defined clearly how the team will work, team members may feel overwhelmed by their workload, or they could be uncomfortable with the approach you’re using. Some may question the worth of the team’s goal, and they may resist taking on tasks.

Team members who stick with the task at hand may experience stress, particularly as they don’t have the support of established processes or strong relationships with their colleagues.

Tools

  • Clarity in roles (No role combining. See Chet Rong, “Team Structure.”)
  • Scrum values
    • Openness
    • Transparency
    • Focus
  • Coaching competencies
    • Mentoring
    • Coaching
  • Sprint ceremonies
    • Sprint review
    • Sprint retrospective

Norming phase

Gradually, the team moves into the Norming stage. This is when people resolve their differences, appreciate colleagues’ strengths, and respect your authority as a leader.

Now that your team members know one another better, they may socialize, and they are able to ask one another for help and provide constructive feedback. People develop a stronger commitment to the team goal, and you start to see good progress toward it.

There is often a prolonged overlap between Storming and Norming, because, as new tasks come up, the team may lapse into behavior from the Storming stage.

Tools

  • Velocity (used as a reliable way to predict outcomes)
  • Coaching competencies
    • Facilitating
    • Coaching

Performing phase

The team reaches the Performing stage when hard work leads, without friction, to the achievement of the team’s goal. The structures and processes that you have set up support this well. As leader, you can concentrate on developing team members.

Tools

  • Self-direction (Scrum ideal)
  • Coaching competencies
    • Facilitating
    • Coaching

Adjourning

There is a fifth stage to Tuckman’s model — Adjourning. This is when the team is disbanding for whatever reason. I’d use a few tools for a time like this.

  • Scrum values
    • Openness
    • Courage
  • Sprint retrospective
  • Coaching

It’s important to note that when a team moves through to stages beyond Forming, they may be set back into the Forming stage if major changes occur within the team (new member, loss of a member, major organizational changes, massive tool changes, etc.).

I’ve listed these practices, principles, and ideas in the different stages, based on my observations over the years and my understanding of these stages. Some that are noted in one stage may also be needed in another. (Courage, for instance, must absolutely be in play in the Storming stage, but it also helps launch a team from Forming.) The idea is that once a practice, tool, or principle (like Transparency) comes in at a stage, you’re building it into the muscle memory of the team to stay! Others, like BART for role clarity, may not be needed as much in later stages. All of this is empirical, and you’ll need to inspect and adapt along the way.

This is why the ScrumMaster’s role, as a leader, is such an important and nuanced one.

The major takeaway is: Know where your team is, so that you can better serve its needs. You might even consider adding the theories of Situational Leadership into this mix, as they are important tools to help you help your teams and organizations.

Above all, be of service.

Sources

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