· software-development teams

Thou shalt storm

On the majority of the teams that I’ve worked on there’s been a time where everyone seems to be disagreeing with each other about almost everything and the whole situation becomes pretty tense for all involved.

The first time I came across this it seemed quite dysfunctional but I was introduced to Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development which helps to explain what’s going on.

Tuckman outlines four stages which teams tend to go through - forming, storming, norming and performing.

The forming stage tends to be fairly nice because people have mostly just met each other and don’t want to cause any conflict but eventually we move into the storming stage which is where it gets interesting:

The team addresses issues such as what problems they are really supposed to solve, how they will function independently and together and what leadership model they will accept. Team members open up to each other and confront each other’s ideas and perspectives. The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and their differences should be emphasized. Without tolerance and patience the team will fail.

In agile teams this conflict often tends to rear its head in a retrospective and people will tend to go away from it feeling pretty bad about the whole thing and wishing they could work on another team!

In reality it’s just a stage that the team is going through and as long as team members address the differences of opinion they have rather than hiding from that conversation then the team can move on to being more productive.

One cool thing I’ve noticed is that if people have worked with each other before then they’ve probably already previously got over this hurdle and can therefore either skip/spend much less time on the storming stage.

A colleague of mine pointed out that we shouldn’t be alarmed at the way people interact with each other in the storming stage but we should be aware when we’re in it which I think is a pretty good way of looking at it.

Gina Abudi has an article from a couple of years ago which goes through the storming stage and all the other ones in more detail.

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