Managing Agile team dynamics

One of the most important aspects of agile development is a self-managing team. So, if the team manages itself, what are the managers supposed to do? According to me, the management is supposed to make sure that the people are  working together as a team.

One of the most famous models to understand the team dynamics is Tuckman’s stages of forming, storming, norming and performing.

 

Forming – This is the initial stage when a team is officially created from a group of people. In this stage, people are still trying to get to know each other and generally polite to each other. This stage does not last long and the team quickly moves to the second stage. However, the team generally returns to this stage when changes are made to the team.

Storming – In this stage people are trying to figure out the working relationship. There is generally conflict over ideas and point of views and which ideas get implemented. Usually, this stage is unpleasant for all the team members. Some teams quickly establish these working relationships and move to norming stage while others never leave this stage. There is a possibility of sub-groups forming within a team. Usually, the maturity of few team members decide whether the team comes out of this stage or not.   The team is usually very unproductive in this stage and gets a lot of attention for lack of performance.

A team at this stage needs to know about the 5 dysfunctions of a team written by Patrick Lencioni.

 

These dysfunctions are –

 

  • Lack of trust – Trust can mean a lot of things in life, but when Patrick talks about trust in a team environment, he talks about the intention of the team members. Remember that many of the conflicts in a team in storming stage arise over ideas the team members put forward and which ideas “win”. If the team members do not trust that everyone is working for the best solution, they would attribute non-existing motives to why their idea was rejected. 
  • Fear of Conflict –After a few tries in putting forth their point of view and getting rejected, a few members of the team avoid putting their ideas in any discussion for the fear of conflict. This leads to an artificial sense of peace in the team where usually one person or one sub-group dominates all the ways of working.
  • Lack of Commitment – When the dominant sub-group’s ideas get accepted, the other members of the team get left out of the decision-making process. Since they never putforth their point of view due to fear of conflict, they never actually agreed to the decision but only feign agreement. These members then lack commitment to make these ideas or decisions work.
  • Lack of Accountability – When the work finally doesn’t get done, there is no real accountability for the lack of performance. The group which suggested the idea in the first place will say that other team members didn’t perform well while the other group blames the original idea itself for failure. There is no collective sense of responsibility or accountability
  • Lack of focus on Results – Each member is trying to protect his/her own work. You can frequently hear statements like “I did my part, others didn’t;” which brings a retort from the other person. Working in a team at this stage is really hellish for everyone.

 

 

 

Management usually notices the lack of results and try to focus their attention on this part of the team. This is usually done by removing the “self managed” part of the agile team. However, the management should ideally be focusing on the base of the triangle, that is, on the lack of trust between the team members. This is the fundamental dysfunction that needs to be fixed .How does one help the team build trust? Trust that everyone is working for the common goal? I am not sure yet. Let me know if you have the answer :-)

 

Once trust is built up, there would be no fear of conflict. When conflict arises, people know that the other person genuinely believes that the idea under consideration is flawed. This leads to impassioned discussions and leads to one side convincing the other. When all the team members are convinced of the idea, they are automatically committed to make it work and they take collective responsibility when things go wrong. All this leads to results which is what management wants to see.

 

 Coming back to Tuckman’ stages –

 

Norming –  When the team overcomes their fear of conflict and are able to decide on an idea or plan of action, the team actually comes out of storming and is in norming stage. Everyone is really committed to achieving the team’s goals.

 

Performing  – This is the stage where the team has perfected the ways of resolving conflict and collectively deciding on plan of action for achieving goals. The team members are able to take decisions effectively even when an agreed upon plan meets a roadblock. At this stage, an individual member leaving or joining a team does not affect the overall effectiveness or performance of the team.

 

So, the key for a self managed agile team is to build trust amongst the team members.  Trust that every member is trying and giving his best and there are no other motives for any of their actions or words.

 

4 Comments

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4 Responses to Managing Agile team dynamics

  1. Debangshu Roy

    What is the timeline for a team created from scratch to move through ease of these phases. I understand it depends from team to team, but still can you give some ball park estimate?

  2. Ashish Iddya

    It would take one or two sprints to move from forming to storming. The team can get stuck in storming for a long time and may never come out. However, a team which is coached well can come out of storming in about 3 months.Norming is again a stage that a team can get stuck in. It would need someone in the team to have a real desire to be better. I would guess another 3 months for a perfect team

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  4. Robin Simon

    Lately there has been a new stage introduced called ‘Re-forming’ which enables team members to moved (in or out) and then the cycle begins from Storming with the new team dynamics.. Great evolution!

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