This article is part of a six-part series on software team dynamics. Did you miss the beginning? Read the Introduction to the series, the first article on Composition, the second article on Compassion, the third article on Communication, and the fourth article on Coordination first.
Otherwise, thanks for returning to learn more about the origins of high-performing teams! In this article, we’ll review the stages of group development, and look at how organizations can compound the human capital of their teams over time.
Teams mature over time—invest strategically in healthy group development.
Four Stages of Group Development
The dynamics within a group evolve over time as relationships deepen and patterns of interaction emerge. Psychologists studying this process have proposed four distinct stages that characterize the sequence of this development across groups:
- Forming: The group tests the boundaries of their interactions and inter-dependencies
- Storming: The group experiences conflict as expectations are challenged
- Norming: The group establishes an equilibrium of mutually acceptable cultural norms
- Performing: The group enters a stage of fluid collaboration and high function
Understanding this process helps contextualize team performance as a function of time. Teams can engage with this process actively and move themselves toward higher levels of productivity and collaboration.
Collaborative Capacity Accumulates
As individuals gain experience in their work, their domain expertise and technical skills accumulate, and they become more professionally valuable. In a similar but more subtle way, a team’s levels of safety, trust, loyalty, and engagement will accumulate over time—given favorable growing conditions.
A certain level of stability in the makeup of the group is required to help create these favorable conditions. In a well-written article on effective project management, the HBR staff offer this insight: “One note of caution: Team members gradually develop effective patterns for working together, making decisions, and communicating. Cohesion is undermined when too many people join or exit the team.”
One note of caution: Team members gradually develop effective patterns for working together, making decisions, and communicating. Cohesion is undermined when too many people join or exit the team.
More “Resources”! = More Velocity
Recognizing that group dynamics are constantly evolving, it becomes easier to see how disrupting other aspects of a team, such as group size, can adversely impact the team’s performance. In this way, adding more people to a team does not always result in greater velocity on a project.
After observing these counterintuitive effects, one adopter of Scrum put it aptly: “Once a team is formed, we would rather lose a team member than add one!”
Once a team is formed, we would rather lose a team member than add one!
Invest Value, Don’t Extract It
As teams evolve, employers can catalyze (or impede) the maturation of their performance. Toxic organizations approach their employees and teams with an attitude of extraction, seeking to squeeze more out of their workers while investing fewer resources in their sustenance. This leads to an adversarial dynamic where employer and employee vie for the upper hand, employment relationships degrade quickly, and both parties may be left embittered.
In an examination of the modern employer-employee compact, the authors suggest an alternative approach, where organizations seek to instill value in their workers, and approach them as ally rather than adversary:
As allies, employer and employee try to add value to each other. The employer says, “If you make us more valuable, we’ll make you more valuable.” The employee says, “If you help me grow and flourish, I’ll help the company grow and flourish.” Employees invest in the company’s adaptability; the company invests in employees’ employability. As former Bain CEO Tom Tierney used to tell recruits and consultants, “We are going to make you more marketable.”
Doesn’t that sound nice?
Teams Are Like Wine
I actually know basically nothing about wine, and I have no intention of discussing it here. But every other post in this series has five sections, so I needed one more here for consistency’s sake.
So with that out of the way, and with our new understanding of group dynamics in mind, let’s practice the patience and faith of a good gardener in allowing our teams time to reach their peak potential.
Thanks for Reading
That’s all, folks!
We’ve examined how teams with the right Composition are better set up for innovation and collaboration. We’ve learned that Compassion (Safety) is a critical practice in the development of safety and trust. We’ve discussed the Communication habits that keep people engaged and cooperative. We’ve discussed strategies for effective Coordination of roles and responsibilities. And we’ve noted that the Cultivation of exceptional teams is a subtle and eventual process.
Thank you for reading this series; if you found it valuable, please share it with your co-workers and friends!
Someone intelligent once said, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” If you wish to seek what I sought in compiling this series, check out the Resources document.