Sometimes you feel the tension when entering a room of seven hardworking experts. That was the case on a cold Friday morning in February 2011. When I asked how everyone was doing I got a slightly frustrated reaction: “Where doing wonderful!” Don’t get me wrong, communication is good, but I notices that something was brewing in the team that needed immediate attention.
The team was working on a very challenging project. After an initial exploratory phase some project members were not overly satisfied with the execution of the project and expressed their emotions. The project team clearly had entered the ‘Storming’ phase. ‘Storming’ is a phase in the so-called Tuckman model, which determines five phases: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Mourning. These phases can be recognized in virtually every team process. Not only in project teams, but also in sports teams and even in group holidays.
My challenge on that winter Friday in February was to guide the team efficiently through this phase. I knew this phase would come, but not when and in what intensity.
After a good cup of coffee I organized a brainstorm session and invited the seven-headed team to name basically everything they did not like about the process. During that session I received every criticism as a gift – I knew that this openness would yield an enormous amount of information! We collected all information on a whiteboard and clustered the available information into three categories. The first one was ‘Agility’. The team members agreed to address any problem or issue whenever they felt necessary. The second category was ‘Planning’. The project was organized according to Scrum principles. The team members felt they agreed with the goals of this project phase too easily and did not spend enough time during the planning phase. In other words, we had to improve our planning. The third and last category was ‘Knowledge transfer’. New members wanted to receive technical information from more experienced members sooner.
The corresponding acronym of the three categories is APK, a Dutch abbreviation for regular vehicle inspections. In our case, we needed regular project inspections – sometimes you get lucky as a consultant.
We agreed to have weekly project inspections to check if we were still in control. This agreement and the weekly inspections provided more clarity and more focus. The brainstorm session had a strong normative effect on the team. After this ‘Norming’ phase the team was ready to perform. The weeks after this session until the end of the project the team was clearly in a state of flow where project goals were exceeded.
But what did this accelerated storming phase bring us? By adequately and effectively execution of this phase the team was operating at its peak soon after the brainstorm session. Everyone knew what to expect from the others. The trust level in the team grew considerably.
The remuneration of this project was performance based. The team exceeded the performance targets by more than a factor 2.5.
How much did this brainstorm session contribute to achieving the goals we cannot completely determine. However, it is clear that staying alert and reacting quickly and adequately when needed the cost of inefficiency can be considerably reduced in any team or organization.