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As a coach of coaches, this is a question I often get from new agile coaches and scrummasters. Many are familiar with the Tuckman model of teams: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing. But despite the decades of advice and tools built around this model, some still struggle with how to get their teams through to a better level of performance. They hit a plateau at one of these levels. Or perhaps, they even had a high performing team, but they have back-slided. I find this happens regardless of the type of team also.

For me, I find the term “high performing” to be so overused and hard for most people to grasp that it is synonymous with unicorns. They have never seen one in the wild and they are not sure they exist. However, I have seen them often and had many opportunities to work with them (high performing teams, not unicorns). When I have worked with such teams, they can accomplish an amazing amount of valuable work. One characteristic that stands out for these teams is that they “resonate”. There is a buzz, or energy, when the team is working together. You can feel it when you walk into the teams space whether they are heads down working on tasks or actively debating an issue.

How do we get to this point? I recommend taking a look at the Tuckman model in a different way. For me, there are three stages to get to a resonant team. The first is the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) stage. In this stage, the individual members have just been put together in a new team with a common goal. They may be with some colleagues that are new and some they may know (forming). Then they are starting to probe and struggle to find out how their interests will be met (storming).

Then, they start to come up with agreements on how they will work together to meet some of the interests and preferences (norming). As they start to get confirmation that there are ways to get their personal interests met, they begin to look out for each other’s interests as they work toward their team goal. This is what I refer to as the What’s In It For Us (WIIFU) stage. The team starts to understand not only each other’s interests and strengths, but also their weaknesses. They start filling in each other’s weaknesses with their own strengths or the strengths of others on the team. The team members truly seek out each others’ perspectives before moving together on a key decision and they don’t sweat the small decisions, trusting the individuals that had to make the decision. They seem to work well together, but they are not quite resonating.

The last stage is when the team truly starts focusing on the goal for the team. They focus on the needs of the people who have asked for the work. They truly empathize with them. This stage is called What’s In It For Others (WIIFO). In this stage, the team looks to stretch itself to meet the needs of those who have commissioned the work and there is a buzz of excitement in finding ways as a team to get the best solution as efficiently and effectively as possible. They listen to feedback from those stakeholders as intently as they listen to feedback from teammates. They will push each other to short term goals to meet longer-term needs while keeping an eye on teammates to make sure the pace of work is sustainable. There is excitement within the team on the problem they are solving and that it is fulfilling a need for stakeholders and for them. They resonate with this energy.

Have you seen teams move through these stages? If so, how long did it take? What helped? What got in the way? I’ll share more of my observations in later posts.