Stop norming & performing!

Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve been indoctrinated into the Tuckman Model as THE view or model when it comes to team maturation and overall health. You all remember Tuckman, don’t you?

He presented the following stages:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. and Performing
  5. sometimes Adjourning

that teams go through in their evolution to a solidly performing state.

One of the things that have influenced my coaching and leadership style is the predilection to honor the team. That is, once a team is formed and performing, I am loathed to break them up for whatever reason. Even good reasons like the business priorities have changed or there is a desperate need for the skills of one team member in another team. Or even, the team has some dysfunctional relationships brewing.

But leaning away from the dysfunctional side of things, I’m really simply saying that:

Once a team has formed and achieved a balance, maturity, and a sense of themselves as an autonomous, empowered, productive, cross-functional agile team. I rarely want to dissolve or impact their team membership. I’d rather keep them together for as long as possible, to remain stable, in order to continue the good results.

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But this notion of “stable team over everything else” has been challenged of late. First, in an article by Doc Norton entitled Tuckman was Wrong, Doc challenges the model but also my own thinking.

You see, I think I’ve been overachieving stability in my teams – both as a coach and as a leader. Sure, my heart was in the right place and I felt aligned with agile servant leadership principles. But now, upon reflection, I think I was overly focused on stability.

And what Doc said that struck me is that studies have shown that teams are always storming in one way or another. And that it’s not a phase or bad, but simply a way of life (and normal) for teams. In fact, it’s a good thing. It encourages the team to become more adaptable and more resilient. They maintain their “edge” and it keeps everyone on their toes.

Now I’m starting to think that stability is a fool’s goal.

Certainly, I’m not entirely changing my views. For example, I’m not going to start rotating people in and out of teams as if we’re playing musical chairs. That would be too storming and lead to artificial instability and churn. But the point I’m discovering is that allowing or even fostering a bit of instability (storming) isn’t necessarily bad.

In fact, it might lead to:

  • team growth, learning, and discovery;
  • team resilience and flexibility in solving challenges;
  • individual growth & learning;
  • organizational flexibility.

Here’s a thought-provoking quote from Doc’s article:

Fluidity is Powerful

These days, more and more organizations are moving away from the model of stable teams. They’re mature enough to know better than to manage from the top in a complex environment. They don’t utilize people’s time at 100% and they manage their work in progress at all levels; enterprise, division, department, product, and team.

These companies are discovering that allowing people the autonomy to move from assignment to assignment and from team to team, is not only increasing productivity, it is accelerating learning, and improving retention.

Wrapping Up

Well, Bob. It sounds like you’ve done a 180 and are throwing team stability under the bus!

No, not really.

It’s just that I’m starting to see the wisdom of dynamic reteaming. In other words, honoring the team, but not being so ruthlessly focused on stability.

Realizing that people can handle a little chaos, disruption, change and be the better for it. Imagine that!


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