In 1965, Dr. Bruce Tuckman published the article: Forming Storming Norming Performing model, in it, he described the path most teams follow on their way to a high-performance state. He defined the following stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first one: FORMING and even though, all stages are important, I think this one is crucial because if this one goes wrong, then the whole cycle would be ruined.
Let’s start with the basics, what is team? more specifically, what constitutes a software development team? A team is a group of individuals working together to achieve their goal, a software development team then, is a group of individuals working together to build an application, website or any software system. At this point, you may be thinking, well, this is so obvious… I have been part of multiple teams, no big deal… but it’s not that simple… If you go back to the definition: ‘A team is a group of individuals working together to achieve their goal‘, then what happens if the people you work with don’t really care about the goal? well, then you’ll end up with just a group of individuals doing things for their own good, not the greatest goal.
But, what should we do to avoid this tragic scenario? as team leads, project managers or any leadership position, how do we form a team? let’s imagine you’re back at your first day of school, you don’t know anyone else, and you’re probably afraid to speak or say anything… you are just sitting there waiting for the professor to come in into the classroom and hope for the best. Well, this is more or less how your team feels at this stage, they don’t know you, they don’t know each other… a lot of times roles and responsibilities are not very clear, then, there’s a high level of dependency on your leadership. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people can’t be proactive or anything like that, it’s just that at this point, nobody knows what the f*** is going on. Having a good leader guiding the team at this stage becomes very important because (s)he’ll be in charge of meeting with each team member to explain what’s this all about, why they’re here, what’s the expectation, what are the goals, who does what, etc.
Team leads need to work really fast at the Forming stage, they need to identify skills and personalities as quick as possible in order to plan the best way to approach the project’s goals. Identifying technical skills could be the easiest step, you have the team’s resumes, you can have a quick technical chat with team to gather their most recent experience, what they have done in terms of technical stuff, where do they feel they struggle, what type of tasks they enjoy, which ones they find boring or frustrating, etc. The complicated part is to get to know their personalities, to be honest, it’s not realistic to say that you’ll get to know them completely at the Forming stage, maybe that won’t ever happen… human beings are complicated, our mood and personality could change trough the weeks or months, yet, you’ll need to know at least the basic aspects of your team’s personalities, how old they are? are they married or single? do they have kids? what do they enjoy doing during their free time? are they introvert or extrovert? what are their goals? where did they grow up? what do they expect from the project? what do they expect from you?
Once you have all this data, you need to process it and work in a plan that would establish the foundation of your team. Let’s say you identified a couple of introverts, the extrovert and you know, that guy that will be complaining quite a lot but has an influencer personality. I’d probably suggest to meet with the extroverts and give them a little bit more responsibilities than the technical work, they might be able to join some meetings and handle a few not too technical tasks, which will give you time to focus on other tasks. Also, meet with the influencer separately and try to work with him as your insider, (s)he could provide really good data about how the team truly feels and thinks about the project, the environment, you… Then, meet with the introverts, they’re usually the strongest on the technical side, therefore, you obviously want to get to know them and provide them with anything they need to do their work. Being technical persons, some times it’s not too easy to create that bonding and sense of community, but it’s our job to find the way. One subject I would recommend and works 99% of the time: videogames! even if you don’t play them, you can start a conversation with that, music, in general, is a good topic too, movies and my favorite: food
The main goal of this stage is to create a good environment for your team, an environment where everyone feels part of, where they feel listened, appreciated, respected and of course, responsible for doing their best to accomplish the projects’ goals. Sometimes I when I heard team leads saying that when they ask how to make things better or how to improve things and nobody says anything, therefore, they don’t know what’s going on or what’s bothering the team… I feel like we’re forgetting that it’s our job to create an environment where people feel the confidence to speak out, probably not in a room full of people but in a private call, to me, if our teams are not telling us what’s going wrong, it’s our fault because we’re not building that trust, the team might be thinking that we’re not approachable or that their ideas will be ignored. Then, we need to be very careful on how we ask questions, how we approach the team, how we ask for feedback… all that counts. It has happened to me that a simple comment I said without thinking it much caused a huge impact on the other person, we need to be empathic and honest, the team will know if we’re just being nice because the work needs to be done or if we’re being truly honest with our words.
As I mentioned before, in the stage, you’re building the foundation of your team, you’re defining roles and responsibilities, technical and non-technical. You’re building the structure that would help the team to get through the tough times and as many other things in life, if the foundation is not good, it’ll collapse eventually. Also, having a good foundation will allow you to have smoother transitions when, for example, a new member joins the team, he or she will join to a well-structured group of people and it’ll be easier to understand the dynamics of the team, how things work, how the information flows, who does what, etc.
Now that we have formed our team, it’s time to move on onto the next level: Storming, we’ll cover that in my next post. Stay tuned!