Why Team formation is critical (and some ideas how to do it)...

November 25, 2021

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Noel Warnell

"Organisations must find, and keep finding, new ways to create value to thrive over the long term. And creating value starts with putting the talent you have to its best and highest use."

Amy C. Edmondson - The Fearless Organisation

Bringing individuals together to form a team doesn't always turn out to be the sunshine and flowers we'd hoped for. Some common signals that things are going in the wrong direction:

  • Personalities clashing
  • Friction bubbling up around the quality of work
  • People not feeling safe enough to speak their truth, and important things being left unsaid
  • Issues not being resolved

I bet you've seen some of these yourself? Yet, we all want to work in teams where we we feel seen, heard and respected, so why isn't this the default?

I believe the culprit is simply a lack of preparation and deliberate planning for team formation.

You wouldn't put a team of football players together to play a match the first day they ever meet, so why do we do this in organisations?

Why do managers assign resources people (grrr... don't get me started on that one) to a project and then assume they will just get on with it smoothly.

The Tuckman model clearly articulates the different stages that teams may find themselves in at any given moment. But, assuming that you're tasked with launching a new team or kicking off a new project then please bake into your plan at least 1 week for team formation.

I know that sounds a lot, but believe me it's soooo worth it and the team will start stronger and more efficiently as a result.

Good news is there's a tonne of research, insights and well established tools that help us to avoid the negative scenarios outlined above.

At Reason we've created and are currently applying the following approach which we run as 4 x 1/2 day workshops spread across a maximum of 2 weeks. It's looks a lot like this:

Workshop 1: Human connection

This is my personal fave. If I'm going to be working with people to get sh!t done, then I want to know what they are about! If a new team is being formed around a project then they need to form a baseline, ethereal, energetic connection with each other before anything else.

Activities include personal maps, market place of skills and a game I invented called 'What's that sound?'

Marketplace of skills

Outcome: the humans know who the other humans are. They see each other as people. They have uncovered some of their background and started to understand how they can support each other moving forwards.

Psychological safety is being established right off the bat here, with the invitation to share some of your personal story, but allowing each person to only reveal what they are comfortable with.

Workshop 2: Team formation

This is where we start to find and create some collective alignment.

Activities includes agile values and principles sorting, 5 dysfunctions of a team activity and using Cards for clear thinking to surface what characteristics are important to the team and which they want to actively avoid.

Cards for clear thinking

Outcome: The group is moving towards a team mindset, are starting to create their shared narrative and are beginning to form some of their working agreements.

Workshop 3: Product alignment

Time to switch the group's focus towards the work, and have them use this to strengthen their bond.

Activities includes Celebrity Interviews, Deep Dive into the product vision, goals and purpose, a Scaling survey and stakeholder mapping.

power-interest-matrix

Outcome: Collective understanding of the outcome the team is being asked to reach, or the problem they are being asked to solve. Plus, a co-created team charter that gives the team a clear, shared mission and purpose.

Workshop 4: Work breakdown

In order to be ready to start getting stuff done, it's now all about working out what comes first.

Activities include story mapping and release slicing.

Outcome: Deeper, shared understanding of the work they will be doing, and the beginnings of a backlog of prioritised work items.


I have to say here (in case you didn't already notice) that I have been heavily inspired by Simon Powers' Team genesis workshop since experiencing that many years ago. The approach shared above integrates some elements included there, whilst blending in new ideas and activities, and extending the original idea beyond a couple of workshops.

And finally, before closing a note about facilitation. I have a passion for this area, but for these team formation workshops it is super important to ensure they are facilitated in the right way. A patient, non-judgemental space for the discussions to happen and the bonds and connections to be built is crucial.

Having someone external to the team navigate the group is highly recommended.

If you need help - just let us know 😉 hello@reason.co