Lessons learned in the Norming and Performing team development phases

Once you master the first two stages in Bruce Tuckman's team development model, here are tips on effectively completing the Norming and Performing phases.

In my previous post, I shared two key lessons learned in team development using Bruce Tuckman's model of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. If the team can apply the lessons learned in the Forming and Storming phases, it can progress faster to the Norming and Performing phases. In this column, I highlight lessons learned I've learned in the Norming and Performing phases.

Identify and communicate expectations in the Norming phase

It's difficult to achieve the Norming phase if the team doesn't communicate or share expectations for team norms. One method for communicating, discussing, and achieving team norms is to host a kick-off meeting with the immediate team and share how status reports will be collected, the cadence of key meetings, and how teams should work together. By communicating expectations, the team can agree on working practices.

In one of my projects, the entire team was located in the team room, which had a speaker phone for conference calls. Some team members would use the speaker phone for all their calls and despite having the team located in one room, the speaker phone created a distraction for others. The issue was fixed by reserving separate breakout rooms for the team members, and the speaker phone was reserved for meetings with all the team members.

Another example involved reporting milestones with the standard "traffic light" approach — red, yellow, and green for key milestones. Green was used to identify on-track milestones, yellow for at-risk, and red for late tasks. The business customer was used to using blue for on target, green for complete, and red for late. After using the original traffic light status reporting, the team had to switch to accommodate the business customer's expectations and standards.

Team norms are often established in the Forming phase, although it may take several iterations to work out the kinks. In the status reporting example, it took a few times to produce the status reports before the team understood the revised formatting and cadence. You may experience this when you conduct your first issue review meeting or program status meeting. By establishing norms early, communicating them, and adjusting norms based on team feedback, the team will achieve the Norming phase much faster.

Identify and save best practices found in the Performing phase

In the Performing phase, the team establishes a rhythm for managing issues, responding to problems, and executing work. Status reports are submitted on time, action items are appropriately tracked, and roles are understood. It may take several weeks to reach the Performing phase and, during this time, the team will likely create some best practices and expected team norms.

You don't have to wait for a lessons learned session at the end of the project to identify and discuss the best practices; as the team experiences best practices that work well for the team, make a note of them and save them for expected norms for the next project and team formation.

One best practice my team established early on was the use of a daily stand-up meeting for all the team leads. When the stand-ups were first conducted, they lacked structure and the team continued to ramble. The team adjusted the practice of their stand-up meeting so each team member would highlight what they are working on and the top issues they were experiencing. The work to resolve the team member's issue and further coordination would happen outside the meeting.

These best practices can be documented in a Microsoft PowerPoint slide and incorporated into a kick-off deck for future project teams. Each slide can be removed or adjusted based on the project need and expected team norms.

Form, storm, norm, perform, and repeat

Programs can be long-term projects depending on the size and scope. In a two- to five-year project or program, team members will fade in and out as new team members are introduced, and the phases will happen again and again. The key is to recognize the importance of these phases, embrace them, and manage the issues as the team works on their projects. Team development will inevitably have conflict, but differences in opinion are healthy for team development. Establishing norms is important for teams to achieve the desired performance.

So go ahead and start forming and storming and then achieve Norming and start Performing. We've got projects to deliver.