AYE 2008 – The Magic Chemistry of Teams

Wednesday afternoon, at the AYE Conference, I greatly enjoyed Esther Derby’s session, Magic Team Chemistry: Starting and Sustaining Teams. We divided up into small groups, and each person drew a timeline of their career, marking high points and low points. We then mined these timelines looking for the characteristics of the good times and the low points.

Each group built a list, but there were lots of similarities.

Cherrypicking from some of these lists:

High Low
  • common goals
  • clear goal/vision
  • clear role/expectations
  • new/novel/learning
  • presence of great skill
  • self-organizing
  • ritual
  • team members value each other
  • good humor
  • ate together
  • camaraderie
  • appreciation
  • recognition
  • trust
  • passion
  • friendship
  • flow
  • no vision
  • bad results around us
  • bad fit of skills & interests
  • alone
  • angry boss/poisonous environment
  • no common location
  • lack of appropriate tools & equipment
  • specialization
  • One Jerk/personal conflict
  • lack of respect amongst team members
  • absent leader
  • lack of face-to-face contact
  • lack of clear priorities
  • judgemental leader
  • loss of team members
  • blame/shame
  • team too big

Esther presented some ideas from the Drexler-Sibbet Team Performancetm Model. In the debrief, we discussed our findings in this light. This model shows a “hierarchy of needs” for the creation and sustenance of teams. Briefly, the steps are

  1. Orientation
  2. Trust
  3. Goal Clarification
  4. Commitment
  5. Implementation
  6. High Performance
  7. Renewal

I view these as somewhat analogous to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Individuals. While not a strict hierarchy, the earlier steps tend to be prerequisites for later ones. For example, if trust is weak or the goal is not clear, the commitment of team members can only be so strong, no matter how much they want the team to succeed. I find this model of team formation much more useful and actionable than the Tuckman model (forming, storming, norming, performing).

We went back to our groups to tackle a project (building a zoo) as a team. It’s always amazing to me how easy it is to get sucked into the simulated goal, and let the real goal fade to the background. In spite of our conversations, one member half-way around the table from me “checked out” feeling that he couldn’t effectively contribute. (Those sitting closer were aware of this.) As he wasn’t obstructing others, it wasn’t readily apparent to me that the whole team wasn’t performing at a high level. This often isn’t the case when a team member is excluded from participating (by self or otherwise) in a longer-running team. Still, those nearby were first expending significant effort to bring him back to participation, and then disturbed by the failure. It’s a lesson of how easily teamwork may be damaged.

Some other nuggets from my notes:

  • Trust is context sensitive. Trust built on rock-climbing does not necessarily equate to trust on a software development project.
  • Trust builds on reasonable self-disclosure. You don’t have to tell everything about yourself, but you can’t be secretive, either.
  • Trust is based on competence, reliability, forthrightness, mutual regard.
  • Not every team has the goal of “high performance,” especially short-term teams.
  • People need time to build a commitment.
  • Nobody is better than a “warm body.”
  • Teams “wear out” and either need to spend time and effort on renewal, or disband.

5 Replies to “AYE 2008 – The Magic Chemistry of Teams”

  1. The hierarchy of team “needs” here is a malformed category. Some of those may be needs of a team, but some are characteristics by which the team may be deemed effective. It confuses cause and effect, which is bound to lead to some muddled theorising.

    1. Ric, no these are not, strictly speaking, needs. Nor is that characterization a part of the Drexler-Sibbet model. It’s merely my attempt to offer a quick description. I’m sorry that this is the point of focus for you. You’d do much better taking a look at the model poster.

  2. Hey thanks for sharing this…

    I love two points you made on Trust. The first being about disclosure; this really aligns well with the Johari Window (see the two books Of Human Interaction and Group Processes by Joseph Luft for a pretty comprehensive look at this). The second being competence, reliability, forthrightness, and mutual regard, which are included in authority (competence), integrity (reliability and forthrightness), and benevolence (mutual regard) as described in “An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust”
    by Mayer, Davis and Schoorman in Academy of Management Review. It makes a nice model that describes how trust manifests itself in organizations.

    Cheers my friend,

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