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Coaching Self Organizing Teams

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Joseph Pelrine promised to teach us "hard science for soft skills" with respect to coaching teams. Joseph feels that coaching as a discipline lacks the scientific background and rigor that it needs: "Air guitar and attitude" won't do - Allan Kay. His goal to is to supply that rigor.

The discussion started off examining why teams, even ones that are experiencing problems don’t want to change. His thesis is that most of the time people and teams are in stasis and so resistant to change. To make change occur we have to raise the heat just enough people no longer feel comfortable in their current environment. The use of heat has analogy in cooking – most people on turn heat on or off but as coaches we need to understand five levels

  • Burning – food is tastes burnt, teams fall apart.
  • Cooking – flavors in food are well integrated, teams adapt to new ideas
  • Stagnating – bacteria grows in food, teams stagnate and start to stop using tools
  • Congealing – teams are starting to lose their flexibility and lock in their habits
  • Solid/Frozen – bureaucracy has set in, there are forms to fill out and sign offs everywhere.

Controversially Joseph claims that when we see teams that stop doing TDD or other practices that its often because the heat has been turned off. Working in a rigorous fashion he recommends that we only make one change at a time in response to problems we want to improve.

In addition he says that Bruce Tuckman’s: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing Model is incomplete.

There are 3 major objections to Tuckman's model:
- entry conditions: we somehow assume that groups will automagically fall into this model and come out in an optimized way. Alpha male dominance will prevail as a group trait if the heat is not turned up so that the members can't maintain (not revert to) their ingrained behavioural patterns.
- exit conditions: upon reaching the performance stage, team members have reached a way of working, i.e. a consensus reality regarding the way they view and react to the external stimuli of the world. As this behaviour gets fixed, it (of necessity) diverges increasingly from reality, which in effect means that the team's behaviour becomes increasingly neurotic.
- the Tuckman model (at least the way most people interpret it) carries the implicit assumption that the performing stage is the optimal stage for teams, the goal that is to be reached. Remember - the Duke Ellington band used to have knife fights on the tour bus, Laurel and Hardy refused to talk off-stage, etc...

One model that Joseph offers to organize change is the ABIDE model (comes from David Snowden)

  • Attractors: Bonuses, Other rewards, Free Lunches…
  • Boundaries: Change/Remove Barriers between dev and test…
  • Identities: Roles – invite to switch roles or at least role play other…
  • Diversity or Dissent: change the make up of the team, bring in some one with a different background of the team i.e. a .NET developer to Java team.
  • Environment: remove cube walls, add burn down charts, add monitors everywhere displaying information, even just rearrange the existing seating plan

InfoQ has previously interviewed: Blend of Science, Process &Teamwork and presented: Dealing With the Organizational Challenges of Agile Adoption.

Readers can find more about this session on this reporter's blog.

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Community comments

  • Not Sure I agree

    by Yves Hanoulle,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I think I understand the example of the Duke Ellington band.
    If I do understand it I have 2 remarks:
    1 We don't know what they would have done if they would have gotten allong well. They could have created even better music.
    2: the storming stage is about finding "Norms" how this team/band works together.
    It looks like the "norm" of the Duke ellington band was "fighing".

    I also think that the coaches should use different leading styles when the team is in a different phase.
    I blogged about that some months ago:

    The way I understand the model is a team moves along the 4 phases and goes back to the different phases. So when there is a new team member, the team goes back to the first phase.

    Bruce Tuckman actually added a 5th phase

    On top of that most groups never make it to the 3the phase because they are scared of the storming phase.

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