To create an efficient team you have to be aware that Rome wasn’t built in a day - the whole process happens over time and has few individual stages. At the begging team members are only strangers without common goals. Eventually, they become people that together create an outstanding team. Bruce Tuckman created the theory about stages of group development which, according to him, has five phases.
Phases of group development
- forming - the group is new, so its members may feel excited or anxious by being in a new situation or lacking knowledge regarding their duties. At this stage, positive and polite behaviours dominate the relations between members;
- storming - when people start to test the previously established status. Members begin to share ideas about the planned final effect and the ways to achieve it. It's a time of trial and error for the group since they will establish whether they can create common rules and move to another phase. It may seem that the group is falling apart, but it's actually getting stronger;
- norming - the previous stage facilitates collaboration and enables the group to create their own set of rules. Members share the common idea of how they need to work, they also start to trust each other and appreciate their differences;
- performing - at this stage the team reaches an optimal level of performance and tries to figure out what they need to do to achieve the best possible results;
- adjourning - this stage moves toward the end of the natural life of the team and the final phase of their cooperation. Team members may once more feel some anxiety, particularly if their future is uncertain.
Forming - the first step in Scrum
To achieve the best results you need to assemble your dream team, right? Well, it turns out that it's a myth that was disproved by Google! What matters more is the interaction and structure of work - Scrum helps with that by constructing effective teams, especially in the two first phases of group development. In the beginning, team members are highly dependent on their leader for guidance and direction. Scrum makes the organisation of work very predictable and constant. It has a clear structure, thanks to what all members of the team can focus only on their work without worries. Everyone knows what will happen and when during the day, as well as what is its purpose. Each event has both date and timebox (a maximal duration of a meeting), thanks to what day-to-day duties are less unpredictable or stressful.
Each sprint takes from one up to four weeks. In the beginning, the team plans what to do in the current interaction and then gets down to work. When finished they present and talk through everything they accomplished. And that's all. There is a small number of task to focus during those short periods, so the whole team works only on small aims during each sprint. It makes everything much simpler.
Additionally, there are two people whose job is to answer every question the team may have. The first one is Scrum Master, who is responsible for the Scrum process. The second is Product Owner, whose duties concern the product. They are not superintending the team, but focusing on finding the optimal way of cooperating and performing the tasks.
The team can get stuck during the first stage. The first reason of that is the lack of engagement, especially in remote or part-time teams. It’s hard to commit if you have contact with other members only once per week and via Skype. Teams require collaboration.
The second thing that usually stands behind getting stuck in the first stage of the project is the fear of conflict. It’s very frustrating when teammates don't reveal their opinions. If part of the team avoids exchanging their views on any matter, they miss out on the opportunity to come up with better ideas. Lack of honest discussions (conflicts) results in people working the way they don’t like. They will take on a passive-aggressive role and falsely agree with everything without the real commitment. What's more, they will never share their thoughts about any drawback they notice. The team will probably never create their own set of rules nor improve their weaknesses. Such approach can only guarantee failure.
Storming and Norming - from chaos to order
Without a doubt, the beginning of collaboration is a rough time for teams, since they can get stuck in the internal forming phase. If they succeed and move further, things don't get any easier. In fact, they are even more challenging, so "storming" is the right name for this time. Cliques and factions are starting to form, there even can be power struggles. It may seem highly dangerous in self-managed Scrum teams. However, this risk is lower than in traditional hierarchical organisations. Without the top-down management members of the team must find a way to work together. Responsibility rests on everyone, and no one is alone.
As I've mentioned before, Scrum Master focuses on team's goals, as well as protects people from getting distracted by relations and emotional issues. Such obstacles as feeling uncomfortable in the created group can stop people from engaging in (healthy!) conflicts, without which there are no great products.
To enable that Scrum Master has to help people to trust each other, thanks to what they will be able to share their thoughts with the group without the risk of feeling insecure or embarrassed. According to Google's research, cooperation, sharing ideas, and being an active part of the team are the most important when it comes to achieving success. If there is a lack of trust, people will never take risk and responsibility for the work, since everyone is afraid of punishment or to appear unprofessional. Those feeling are obviously natural, but everyone would like to avoid them and reduce the risk of punishment (such as being laughed at by the group).
Each member of the team tries to protect themselves, so it's crucial to create rules and an environment of trust. Scrum facilitates that in various ways. The fundamental one is achieving transparency, which helps team members to get to know each other and better understand goals of the project. Each person has access to every information in a project, what allows them to evaluate the current state of work and answer the question of how everyone works. Do they encounter any problems? There are no privileged people, and it's clear who needs help. But it’s not only that.
With transparency, feedback is not only possible but welcomed - nobody is punishing their teammates for revealing uncomfortable truths. On the other hand, you can find out what other people think about your work, what can sometimes be not the easiest pill to swallow. But no matter what you hear, you should appreciate it, because you can learn about crucial aspects of your work that you failed to notice. It, of course, doesn’t mean that people can offend each other.
The safe culture with open communication is based on people sharing their thoughts - that's one of the main goals of Scrum. There is no better way of preventing the disintegration of a team. Additionally, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the confidence that someone is not doing things behind your back?
Transparency enables trust and makes team members accountable for meeting the goals of the project. It requires people to share plans, goals, and their results. For many reasons, not everyone wants to take that responsibility. Some people find clarity hard to obtain. They may think one thing and say another, what is unreadable and unpredictable. The damage of ruined trust can be irreversible - Scrum Master should work individually with each team member. Predictability and meeting expectations are crucial for creating a safe environment.
When trust starts to appear in the group, effective team communication can be enhanced. Scrum promotes efficient group communication and interactions during all events that are happening in a sprint. All events are designed in a way to engage each participant in similar proportions. The goal is to benefit from seeing everything from the perspective of all team members.
The studies confirmed that ‘‘equality in the distribution of conversational turn-taking’’ is the right way to communicate. Trust, healthy conflict, common rules, and commitment should be implemented in the group at the end of norming stage.
Performing - the sky’s the limit
It isn’t a piece of cake to reach this stage of cooperation in a team. To not get discouraged everyone has to be very motivated, what requires a tremendous effort and constant commitment. But if the team reaches this stage, it’s a remarkable success of all team members. From now on the efforts are directed toward reaching the common goals without any distractions. It’s a time for improvement.
The philosophy of Kaizen, which dates back to 20th century, is great at teaching how to comes with effectively improve your skills. It guides every team that seeks improvement, in which it's similar to Scrum. Constant inspection and adaptation are based on empirical process control theory and can be very useful in perfecting the ability to work as a team, especially when the constantly changing world requires efficient adaptation mechanisms.
Modern markets and technologies are ageing and getting outdated with each day, especially in the IT industry. Only the highest possible quality allows you to survive, compete and be successful. Working together is necessary for achieving success, what is a great, but sometimes stressful experience. The success depends on many aspects, such as the culture of an organisation, maturity of the team, or individual preferences of team members. It's impossible to work on every one of them at the same time. Do you know sentence “too many irons in the fire” or "chasing two rabbits and catching none”?
If you want to make a lasting change, you set one, clear goal and then work on it. If you split your focus to few different things, you will get at most interim results. Humans have their limits, we can't concentrate on too many things at once. It's similar to teams - if you try to force a group of people to work on several things, you will achieve nothing.
It's also very demanding and stressful to make huge changes that consisting of many aspects. After a short period of enthusiasm, many people will grapple with difficulties and become discouraged or maybe even frustrated. It’s much easier to make small steps since they require fewer efforts.
The last thing you need to know when implementing changes in the team is how to check whether undertaken actions give good or bad results. Inspection helps to track the most important problems, which then you'll be able to fix. After that, you can measure outcomes and check whether the premise of undertaken actions has been achieved. It often turns out that the proposed solution for a problem doesn't work. In many cases the same element will be changed quite a few times. It’s good to experiment since it’s much cheaper to try out few different solutions and monitor their outcomes than to repeat things that you know don't work.
Every team stumbles upon a rough time. If any group wants to achieve something, it has to be able to resilience the adversity and end up unscathed.
According to Scrum Guide:
The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the Scrum Team to inspect itself and create a plan for improvements to be enacted during the next Sprint. (...) The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to: Inspect how the last Sprint went with regards to people, relationships, process, and tools.
When crisis appears (and it surely will), it should be responded to. The team has to find a solution regardless any internal or external problems. During a retrospective, the team ought to analyse, discuss, and propose solutions. It should be periodical and treated as an inseparable part of every sprint. A decision of how to act has to be made by the collective. What is important, a unity of a group has to be preserved.
The last and the most important element of this stage of team development is time. It takes weeks to truly master how to work together. f you change it each time people finish a phase or a project, you let huge efforts of each member go to waste. Not to mention the time spent on solving conflicts, motivating, and improving cooperation. With the creation of a new group comes the necessity to once again go through the whole process I described in this article.
Recipe for a "dream team"
No doubt, it's much better to preserve the team and focus on its improvements instead of creating a new on. Scrum practitioners know that very well. Maybe it sounds ironic, but the longevity of teams is crucial in Scrum.
So what's the recipe for a "dream team”? Well, you'll surely don't need to worry about recruiting only the most outstanding individuals. With the help of the team, each member eventually becomes irreplaceable. Abeer Dubey, a Google Analytics manager, described how they worked on creating great teams:
No matter how researchers arranged the data, though, it was almost impossible to find patterns — or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.
To create a dream team you need both committed people working in an honest, predictable environment, and an organisation that supports them. That is the pattern to follow.