Team Vs. Me

This week I have been reflecting on the relationship of ego to team, and how to deal with clashes of ego’s as teams form, and reform.

Over the last few months, I have watched a project that I am playing a key role on transform from an outsourced staff model to a hybrid staff model, to a staff aug model, to a hybrid aug model, and each transform has required changes in project leadership.

When project leadership changes, we effectively form a new team. Team formation has the 4 stages:

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing.

And a fifth stage when the next transform happens – mourning.

This is because after we finally get the team to the performing stage, we have to start over, and the resources who go through that transform and remain associated with the team, remember that it was less painful in that stage.

The reason for the first three phases is that every leader and team member comes to a team with experience, expectations, and ego. The experience and expecation have to be managed, and the ego must be replaced with mutual repsect, in order to get past storming and norming into performing.

When team members or especially leaders put “Me” first, they unfortunately extend the storming phase of the formation. When projects have multiple leaders (different aspects say dev, pm, testing) and the responsibilities of each are not clearly laid out, and the overlaps and interfaces between the subteams and leads worked out norming takes forever. When the goals of each leader are in conflict, or the egos of leaders are in conflict, storming can become violent.

Here is a problem:
When the leaders are more concerned with their apparent success in that leadership role than the success of the team and the project as a whole, storming lasts forever, and norming is hard to get to. Leaders need to remember that they are accountable for the success of the project, and responsible for the success of the team. They cannot be perceived as successful unless that team and the project are ultimately successful. Leaders need to help each other be successful, and leaders need to help the team be successful. Getting the work done, while destroying the capacity or the cohesion of the team through blame is not the hallmark of a successful, professional leader. Getting the work done, while increasing the capacity and cohesion of the team is the hallmark of a successful, professional leader.

Here is an analogy that might help:
Think of the delivery team as a wheel on a car. The customer controls the gas, brake and steering. The wheel reacts to those inputs. Leadership is like the suspension. Management in team formation is like the shock absorber. During the forming phase, the wheel begins to turn, too much power or brake and the wheel spins, and traction is lost. Storming is like driving on bumpy pavement. The rapid undulations of the wheel and the suspension can also cause the wheel (team) to lose contact with the road, and traction is lost. The shock absorber reduces the harmonics of the undulation allowing the suspension (leadership) to recover quickly. When the management “amplifies” the undulation, rather than dampening it (allows the team to blame storm, or increases the conflict by taking sides, or worse, taking control back from the project leaders) it causes the wheel to lose traction and can make the storming phase of team formation painful and long-lasting. In the norming phase, the team is on even pavement, and can start to pick up speed, but needs to be careful until the tires heat up and maximum cohesion is acheived. Management needs only to help by letting the team resolve its own concerns, and by removing external obstacles. In the performing phase, management can simply measure, smile, and let the team deliver – removing obstacles only when invited by the team.

Confident Management:
To ensure team formation, managers need to empower the team to resolve conflicts internally. Should not support any team member or leader blaming others on the team for failures or proposing that a team member or leader is acting in a way that will lead to future failures. Management can establish formation goals for the team, describe (not document) how the team will assign responsibility, plan and measure work, make and record decisions, escalate issues and risks, etc. Then hold the team accountable for working through how they will deliver on these goals. Managers should coach leaders and team members during storming phases, holding them accountable for behavior leading to cohesion and capacity.

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