The Art of Teaming, Part 1

Recently, I had the opportunity to be part of a high-performing team, which is not something I get to do very often as an agile coach. I often work with teams, but this experience reminded me that I’m rarely on a team. One of the outcomes I desire as a result of my coaching is to create an environment in which high-performing teams and organizations can emerge. This is something I talk about a lot, and is something that can be difficult to define at times. With that in mind, let me first start by telling you what being part of a high-performing team felt like.

I joined other Scrum Alliance® coaches and trainers as we embarked on our first ever week-long sprint together to move some important initiatives forward. Some of us knew each other, but most of us had not worked on a team together before. As a newly formed Scrum team, we went through common growth stages which included forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning as described by Bruce Tuckman. This felt awkward and frustrating at times. Here, we had brought together a group of individuals who all had their own history, perspective, expectations, goals, and agendas for the sprint and we needed to find a way to reconcile our diversities and become a high-performing team within a week!

Introductions were friendly and helpful and as we started getting into the work things heated up. I misunderstood others – forgetting our working agreement to seek first to understand, I got frustrated with the direction of the conversation and I grew impatient with the lack of progress we were making. I’m sure other team members were experiencing similar feelings, and as coaches we understand how difficult team formation can be. Imagine how unsettling this is for a team who isn’t aware of these group growth stages; that they’re unavoidable and healthy to experience.

We formed and stormed well, though, and in no time we were delivering on product backlog items. Our delivery was slow at first and then our pace accelerated as we progressed through the sprint. Our team normalized around our process and working agreements. We self-organized to maximize the contribution of each team member based on our skills, abilities and knowledge areas related to the backlog items. We got stuff done! By day 3, we even started shipping working products to production. Talk about performing! How did this feel? I felt energized, excited; fulfilled that I was involved in something meaningful and I was having a lot of fun along the way. These feelings were realized in an increased amount of focus, desire to get up in the morning and get back to work (despite having some late nights), and willingness to do what it takes to help our team be successful.

When it came time to adjourn, I felt sad. This had been such an intense and fulfilling experience that I did not want it to end. A healthy, high-performing team not only works well together and accomplishes great things but they are also able to move on in healthy ways. Our team made sure to adjourn in a way that was physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually satisfying. To achieve this, we took a few minutes each to share how we felt about the week, what we will take with us and what we wish to have happen next. Even as I describe this to you now, a week later, I can still feel the emotions in that room and how each person spoke truthfully and openly from their heart. What a week!

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience yourself? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss how we achieved this great result.