Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mistakes and High-Performing Teams

“Take Chances! Make Mistakes! Get Messy!” If you’re familiar with the Magic School Bus books and videos, you know this is the rally cry of Ms. Frizzle (science teacher extraordinaire) as she takes her class on incredible field trips – outer space, the Brazilian rainforest, even inside one of the students. No matter where the class journeys, the students face challenges, learn new information (about science and themselves), and return safely home, despite the mistakes and mishaps they face. When a teacher like “The Frizz” can provide a safe environment, where mistakes are okay, students learn faster and to a greater depth than in an environment where mistakes aren’t acceptable.
Similarly, an agile team environment where mistakes and learning are supported provides a safe place for the team to learn and gain knowledge, allowing them to move into the realm of high-performance. In fact, I would argue that a team must face bumps, bruises, and setbacks caused by mistakes and failure before it can become high-performing.
I hope most of you are familiar with Bruce Tuckman’s four stages of team development:
  • Forming: Everything’s new; everyone on the team wants to fit in, so conflict and risk are avoided.
  • Storming: The team starts to focus on the problems they need to solve; things don’t flow well; frustration abounds.
  • Norming: The team has addressed most of the rough spots identified in the storming phase; routines and ceremonies are established.
  • (High) Performing: High motivation and knowledge levels result in high performance; consensus is reached quickly; dissent is recognized by the team as useful.
We all aim to be at the performing stage, but we have to go through the other phases in order to reach that goal. It’s rare (if not impossible) for a team to move directly from forming to performing; that would be like running before you learned to crawl. In order to become a high-performing team, members need work through mistakes and failure, experiencing bumps and bruises. And team members must accept and support each other – even in failure. This supportive environment is the fertile ground from which the high-performing element can take off. Talk about team-building!
So, try something new with your team – take chances, make mistakes, get messy! With team support, you’ll be on your way to high-performance!

-- originally posted in Sogeti's regional newsletter, Life@Sogeti, December 9, 2011

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