At WillowTree we hold “Norming” meetings at the beginning of every project to accelerate a team’s transition from a new team to a high performance team. When new teams form, they have a unique set of obstacles ahead of them before they can become an effective unit, such as:

  • Getting to know each other
  • Understanding everyone’s roles, responsibilities, strengths and weaknesses
  • Sharing a common vision for the project and understanding what success looks like
  • Deciding on a project management methodology and defining its ceremonies
  • Effectively communicating with each other and the stakeholders

Productivity and morale suffer when a team doesn’t address these challenges.

In the 1960’s Bruce Tuckman created a development model that defined the stages that a group goes through during their lifecycle known as “Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development”. Tuckmans Stages of Group Development

Stage definitions

Forming

A new team forms. Team members are motivated, but uninformed. Discussion focuses on getting to know each other and understanding the project scope. Orientation and onboarding are a primary focus. Usually minimal conflict occurs during this stage. Some team members may jump in early and start tasks.

Storming

Work has begun. Team members still feel like individuals. Differences of opinion and conflicts come to surface here. Opinions (positive and negative) are formed here about the people, project and process. Clashes of personality can occur here. Patience, open dialogue and professionalism are needed during this phase. Productivity can suffer if teams “storm” too long and some teams never leave this stage.

Norming

Teams are stronger as a result of Storming. Individuals feel like a part of the team. Questions have answers and team members are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Through resolving differences, communicating, decision making, and sharing a vision, team members begin taking on more responsibility and becoming more accountable to their fellow team members.

Performing

Team members are motivated to succeed and have all the knowledge to do so. Everyone understands the goal and how to get there. Decisions are made quickly and team members have a high level of trust and autonomy.

Since the “Storming” phase is potentially a contentious and unproductive time in a team’s life cycle, we hold our “Norming” meetings at the beginning of projects to expedite that transition from Forming to Norming. The quicker teams can move through the Storming phase, the more effective and productive they will be.

Goals of a successful Norming meeting:

  • Gain familiarity with other team members and their motivations
  • Understand the Project Goals
  • Create and agree on some guiding team values
  • Establish process, ceremonies and communication guidelines
  • Setup ‘core hours’ and ‘Flow’ time for the team

Sample Agenda

Here’s a sample Agenda, and some questions to start your team’s conversation.

Duration: ±2 hours

Facilitator: Project Manager or Scrum Master

Attendees: Everyone on the team

  1. Welcome & ground rules
    • Review the agenda
    • Establish guidelines and rules for this meeting
  2. Ice Breakers
    • Use your favorite …or pick from the dozens and dozens available on the web.
    • Don’t skip this step!
  3. Project Goals
    • What does success look like? (High level overview)
    • What are the team members personal goals during this project?
  4. Project Values
    • Regarding how we work - what is important to us?
    • How do we give and receive feedback to each other?
    • What does team communication look like?
  5. Flow
    • What are our core hours?
    • How do we handle absences?
    • Will we set aside time to create?
  6. Process & Ceremonies
    • What roles and responsibilities exist on the team?
    • What is our project management methodology (Agile, Kanban, Waterfall, etc)?
    • How do we communicate with the clients & stakeholders?
    • How do we review designs and code?
  7. Next Steps
    • Document any action items that come out of this meeting

Note: As with most meetings, it’s great practice to have a “Parking Lot” to put discussion topics that are outside the scope of this meeting.

While the Project Manager or Scrum Master acts as the facilitator for this meeting, they are not the decider. This meeting is a conversation with the whole team, and decisions should be agreed on by the participants. When the team members play a part in defining the values and process, they have a bigger stake in the success of the team.

Document the conversation and all decisions that are made and post them somewhere after the meeting so they are easily accessible for reference. This documentation also acts as a great agenda item for your retrospectives during the project.

At WillowTree we’ve seen these meetings bolster our teams’ communication and accelerate our transition to high performance teams. Hopefully you will see the same benefits on your new teams after holding your own Norming meetings!