Do You Know the 5 Stages that can Affect Agile Team High-Performance?

As the Agile Manifesto celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it is not lost on anyone that the popularity of the Agile methodology has grown exponentially during this tenure. That growth has now led to many companies instituting enterprise-wide Agile frameworks, such as Scrum-of-Scrums and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) to continue improving Agile efforts. These efforts focus heavily on the higher-level view of Agile; however, it is still good to remember the wisdom and importance of the smaller teams and initiatives that create a solid foundation. Remember, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Oftentimes, companies become so laser focused on making the ‘big things’ work, they forget that the small things must still be watched. The smallest unit in the Agile world is the team and if there are any issues at the team level, that becomes the weak link and could break the enterprise, or at a minimum, impair it.

Team Formation

Traditionally, teams are formed based on projects. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI) “a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.” Projects have defined timeframes, scope and resources routine operations do not. Project teams are usually pulled together at the beginning of a project after funding is obtained and disbanded when the scope is completed. Teams look different for every project.

In 1965, Psychologist Bruce Tuckman identified the four stages teams can follow to reach high performance. He named these stages Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Later, he added a fifth entitled Adjourning.

  • Forming: Members are getting to know each other, and guidelines are established. Sometimes referred to as “the honeymoon phase.”
  • Storming: Resources start establishing their voice within the team and begin to question leadership choices and previously identified guidelines. This is a very individual, self-focused stage.
  • Norming: Teams have identified ways to resolve conflict and have established agreed-upon processes and procedures. They have begun working as a team and focusing on the job at hand, rather than themselves.
  • Performing: Team members now work as a unit solving problems on their own and focusing on team goals. Issues are resolved quickly, often causing no delay in progress.
  • Adjourning: Team members are looking back retrospectively to identify better ways to have done things or are looking to the future to understand what is next for them. Minimal focus is on production at this stage.

5 Stages that can Affect Agile Team High Performance?

The Tuckman cycle repeats itself for every new team. Since projects have a beginning and an end, a team may never reach Norming, much less Performing, depending on the length of projects or number of team challenges. So, if this is the ‘weak link’ in an organization… what can be done?

Get to Performing

One of the most popular and often recommended solutions is dividing teams into Product Teams rather than Project Teams. Team member are assigned based on skills needed for a product, rather than a specific project. The team is then budgeted on an annual basis and prioritizes features and functions for the product. The team remains together for the entire year or until the product is complete. Since the teams remain together, they move through the team phases within the first few months and then reach Performing to produce features and functions at the fastest pace possible. Quality improvement will also be a result of the improved performance.

The second team set-up is still around projects, but the team remains the same. This structure is often used on large products that have multiple projects therefore needing multiple teams. Teams are formed with resources that will be needed for the product. The projects are prioritized by a central representative or committee. When a team completes a project, they are assigned the next prioritized project. Since the teams remain the same, they have the chance to reach the Performing stage. Some teams will become so high-performing they are able to complete one project in a Retrospective one afternoon, and then kick-off another project with  iteration planning the next morning.

Continuous Improvement

Companies who are striving for high-performing Agile structures should continue to look at all aspects of their operations to ensure peak performance. As organizations begin to concentrate on implementing broader Agile frameworks, they should remember Agile is about continuous improvement. Teams and other previously implemented standards and processes should always be under review.

Strive Consulting has direct experience in Agile Transformation and working with teams across industries and technology platforms to make sure organizations are operating at the highest level possible. Take a moment to read our previous publication ‘Moving from ‘Project-Based’ to ‘Product Based’ where we discuss benefits such as, quicker business outcomes, improved customer experiences, reduced organizational friction, and increased trust between impacted stakeholders.

Interested in learning more about how Strive can help teams operate at peak performance? Join Strive Consulting and our client JLL on April 29th, 2021 @ 11:00AM CST for our upcoming webinar ‘Accelerating Growth Through the Development of High-Performing Teams’. We’ll walk through the key elements needed to analyze and diagnose core organizational growth issues with tools like:
– Conducting interviews and synthesizing into themes and root causes
– Organizational design
– Process design
– RACI and Responsibility definition
– Governance and KPI measures
– Implementation best practices to roll out change