Many businesses today work in a team centric way. The team in the middle and the other roles being there to support them in doing their work to achieve the business’ actual result. Within Agile ways of working, it is stressed that the development for teams to become high performing is a crucial part of success. And Agile coaches are there to help make this happen by helping and protecting the teams (Care) and challenging them (Growth).
So, what is team development really? There are many well known and acknowledged team development models, like FIRO and Tuckman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing (FSNP), as well as others. Basically they all say the same thing: any team will start off as a group of individuals, that have to work themselves through some sort of crisis to reach a stage of performance. Then, hopefully, but for far from all – after months of working together, can become high performing.
The FSNP Model
This is what Wikipedia says about Tuckman’s team model: ”The forming–storming–norming– performing model of group development was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. He said that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results.”
Let’s take a closer look at what lies beneath this. What do these different phases really mean, and what is it that makes a team move from one to the next? Does it work by the calendar or clock? Is it a question of making a deliberate decision ”We will now go from storming to norming, so stop fighting!”? No, of course not. But I have seen so many teams move through the phases that I can testify it is true what Wikipedia says: they have to, they will, move through the different phases.
It was not until yesterday, actually, when we were working with our Team Excellence offering and digging deeper into team development that I fully understood the connection to Transactional Correctness. Now I cannot only say that the teams go through these different phases, but also understand what happens beneath. I am so pleased to share this with you!
Transactional Correctness in Teams
As a base for all interactions lies in Transactional Correctness. In every situation we make a choice of how to act. Either we see what we can get out of a situation (Take) or we see how we can contribute (Give). When we give, we act with Transactional Correctness (Benevolent intention). Therefore, correspondingly, when we take, we act with Transactional Incorrectness (Malevolent intention). Every time we choose to give, we mature a little bit as human beings. This is when we also construct a benevolent surrounding for ourselves. This is because the world will respond by mirroring our behaviour. Therefore, when we give, the world will give to us and therefore be a friendly place. And correspondingly, when we are there to take, we will experience the mirrored behaviour from the world around us. Thus thinking we ”know” that the world is out to get us.
Team development happens as a result of all the interactions between the members of a team. Therefore, we can say that Transactional Correctness is the base for team development. There are two ways of acting according to giving; we call them the outward actions of Giving: generosity and courage. Generosity and courage have corresponding inward reflections: gratitude and trust. This means that a feeling of gratitude enables actions of generosity (which will then in return increase the feeling of gratitude, and so on), and that a feeling of trust enables actions of courage (which then in return increases the feeling of trust…).
The first phase in Tuckman’s team development model is forming. This is also called the honeymoon phase; everything is hunky-dory and no-one challenges anything. We think that our teammates are great and that everything is wonderful. The reality is rather that everyone is very polite and are basically walking on egg shells not to upset each other. At first glance, this might seem like a very generous behaviour, but at closer examination it is, at least to a certain extent, selfish and cowardly. We are protecting ourselves from conflict by avoiding anything that could even resemble a challenge to a teammate.
Selfishness and cowardliness are the Transactional Incorrect equivalents of generosity and courage, so during forming, no matter how ”nice” it may all seem, the interactions between the team members are actually based on selfishness and cowardliness – Transactionally incorrect behaviours with Malevolent intention (Take). Remember: Transactional correctness is not about being nice, it is about doing the right thing!
In the same way that generosity pairs up with gratitude and courage with trust, selfishness comes with the Inward reflection of resentment and cowardliness with distrust. Resentment and distrust will become increasingly noticeable and therefore lead the team members into their next phase: storming.
In the second phase of Tuckman’s model, the team is in conflict. As their main feelings here are resentment and distrust, it is easy to understand why they are storming. As we know, the world mirrors us, so when I resent and distrust my teammates, they will respond to that with acts of selfishness and cowardliness, as that is what they see in me.
Luckily, for most teams, this becomes so unpleasant after a while, so that the team members will have a confrontational talk about it, sort out a few things and then make a more or less conscious decision to get to a better place together. If they have a coach or an engaged leader to help them, they can be helped to see what is happening to them and also move on from this dark place quicker. The way to do that is with courage, to norming, the next phase.
In norming, the third phase of Tuckman’s model, the team typically works on team rules, team values, team mission and other things to help them get a framework around understanding what their tasks are and how they want to work together. This generates feelings of gratitude and trust, which then of course manifests as acts of generosity and courage which is mirrored in the interactions between the team members, so now they are in a much better place.
You might now think ”If that is all that was needed, why not start directly with setting up the rules and skip the forming and storming phases?”, which is a relevant question. And you might have! It could well have been used as a team startup activity, but in that case you’d have to revisit and update them now, since the team members were too busy balancing on egg shells the first time! To be able to have a really good discussion about rules, values and mission, the team members have to know each other to some level and it actually helps to have gone through the storming phase – few things propel you into knowing another person as quickly as conflict, even if it is not always nice. Remember: it is not about being nice…
So, now the team members have worked through some conflict, they have set up some rules and values around how to work together and they have a mission; they know what their contribution as a team is. Great! How do we take it from here? Their feelings of gratitude and trust will lead them to the next phase: performing!
You might now wonder ”But, hey! Have these people not done anything useful so far? Not performed at all, not delivered a thing?”. Yes, they probably have. The phases are not that distinct, it is not as if nothing at all gets done and then suddenly BANG! the whole team is performing and there are no conflicts. Like with all models, it is a generalization and simplification to help understand the concepts. The team will have performed to some extent before, but now chances are it will take off properly. In my experience, you see a big step forward here, like a leap, to a new level of performance.
Looking at the Transactional Correctness model, the team members now generally act with generosity and courage in their interactions and they feel grateful and trust each other.
Who gives power in teams?
Now it is time for the next level of trust: the inward reflection of submission. This is when I, as a team member, feel comfortable to leave decisions and actions up to my team when I am not there. The outward action corresponding to submission is that of power. Power is not something we take, it is something we give. The key when a team has moved into the performing phase, is that I have given my teammates power. Power to act on my behalf, power to hold me accountable, power to give me feedback. It is when we have submitted to our teammates and given them this power, that the team can truly start performing and also become powerful as an entity.
There is also a concept used within Agile called high performing teams. That is taking this even one step further. We now have a team that completely trust each other and have given each other the power explained above. The team members are deeply grateful for this experience, and all this gratitude and trust makes them feel in awe, fearless.
They are ready to take on any necessary challenge to serve the benevolent intent of their organisation and that makes them truly significant, which is the outward action corresponding to awe. Wow, what a state to be in, so beautiful and so highly productive and performing at the same time! I have experienced it in two teams so far in my life, for which I am truly grateful. So why am I not still there? Because there is a fifth phase, that was not part of Tuckman’s original team model, but nevertheless: mourning/ adjourning.
Mourning/Adjourning of Teams
Tuckman’s original model contains four phases: forming, storming, norming and performing. Then something happens, like a new member enters the team, or a member leaves the team or the team is moved into a new area of work. This can be either a positive or a negative change. It is the fact that this is a bigger change that matters. What happens then is that the team takes a new round through the phases. They plummet back to forming, then to storming and so forth! The attitude the team members bring into this new round, depends on how the change was brought upon them. Which may make them act with presumption (if it was a change they did not want or accept). Or by seeing things as they are. This would be if they were involved in the decision and accept the change in question.
Moving through the phases may be a lot quicker the second (or third or fourth) time around. But they are nevertheless passed with some new selfish and cowardly behaviour, leading to resentment and distrust…and you know the story by now.
A joyful ending
At some point in time, the team will seize to exist. That is when the added phase of Mourning or Adjourning comes into place. Depending on what has happened, and how involved the team members have been in the decision, it can either be an experience full of gratitude and trust, or one of resentment and distrust. Here coaching can really help, to allow the team members feel what they feel and mourn and get the possibility to feel grateful to each other and give each other feedback – to create a happy ending to the team’s journey.
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Anna is the Regional Custodian of Europe Regions for the Schuitema Group.
She has had a long and rewarding career with Swedish telecommunications firm Ericsson, holding line management as well as senior change leadership positions.
Subsequently she was part of leading a large scale Agile and Lean transformation which made it possible for her to become a senior Agile and Lean coach in Sweden.
Her work, that seeks to combine Agile ways of work with Care & Growth, opens up a new, excellent way of working with teams, leadership and culture.