Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stages of Team Development and “The Teaching EDGE”


Yesterday I shared a story about how my scouts went about trying to solve a problem, and the way that they reached their decision and ultimately solved the problem. While I was working with them, I reflected a bit on something I learned in Wood Badge some time back, and sure enough, as I looked at the situation, I chuckled inwardly that the information we learned (and that I now teach) regarding how teams and individuals work, really is how it is explained at Wood Badge.



In Wood Badge, we talk about the Stages of Team Development. The key words that we use for these stages are "Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing". The idea is that, when presented with a challenge and a group to overcome that challenge, they go through these steps, each and every time. When a group forms, they are usually excited about the task, or at least willing to do it, but they may not know what to do (and even if they do know what to do, they don't yet know how to do it as a group). As they get into the situation, the "storming" part comes in. Different ideas as to how to do what they need to, potentially a drop in enthusiasm, perhaps even some griping. After working a bit, the group starts to come together and agree on some things, and with this agreement, they start accomplishing the tasks that they need to, and ultimately, given enough time and practice, the group is able to work together and quickly perform the task they were assembled to do.

This is not a new discovery, and the Boy Scouts and Wood Badge do not own this model of understanding (it was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman back in 1965). This just happens to be the way that I have grown to understand it, and hey, it makes sense. We can look at each section and the results of each stage:



Forming: enthusiasm high, skill level low

Storming: enthusiasm low, skill level low

Norming: enthusiasm rising, skill level rising

Performing: enthusiasm high, skill level high



Every team goes through this, and also just about every individual goes through this as well. Wouldn't it be great if we could plan the way that we instruct to use this information optimally, seeing as we know that everyone will have to go through these stages? I'm glad you asked, because there is such a way to teach that takes these stages into account. Again, I'm going to use the Wood Badge/Scouting terminology. In Scouting, we call this technique E.D.G.E. It's a simple acronym, and it stands for Explain, Demonstrate, Guide and Enable. Each stage of the acronym is used alongside the Stages of Team Development.



Explain goes with the Forming stage: This is where the group first comes together and the issue/ challenge/ area of interest is first introduced. The person instructing needs to be clear and direct about how the process should work. Emphasis needs to be on the big picture here, and letting people know the key items they need to know/learn/do.



Demonstrate goes with the Storming stage: There will be confusion, different interpretations, different levels of motivation, but invariably, there will be some frustration. This is where having someone show what needs to be done is important. It's also where some encouragement may need to be used, to show others "hey, this can be done, I'm proving it right now".



Guide goes with the Norming stage: At this point, you have shown what needs to be done, now it's time for the group to get their hands dirty and get involved themselves. It's likely that you as an instructor will need to step back and demonstrate again once or twice, but the goal is to get the principals involved and doing it themselves.



Enable goes with the Performing Stage: By this point, the group knows what they have to do, now you just have to step back and encourage them to keep going and keep getting better.



At times there will be set-backs. You may add another person to the team, or you may lose a person. You as a principal may move into another group and have to learn the ropes all over again. Perhaps your team has gotten proficient, or even expert at a particular sequence, but now it's time to go and do something else. At each of these points, the progress on the Stages continuum changes, and in some cases, could be knocked all the way back to square one. It's important to recognize where they stand, and adjust your teaching style to the appropriate level.



On Tuesday night, my scouts were given a task; put up a tent as a team. They were willing to do it, and were ready to participate. Some of the boys had never set up a tent before, while others were old pros. When they discovered that the tents in question were missing pieces and the situation changed from just setting up a tent to having to salvage and repair the tent, I saw the frustration and heard the griping. The situation had become a lot less fun at that point. By demonstrating to them some troubleshooting ideas, they were able to start thinking of solutions, at which point I encouraged them to try the solutions they considered. Finally, I stepped back and let them try the solution and continue on as it became clear that their solution would work.



In testing, either as test teams or individually, we are bound to find ourselves in this same situation. By recognizing these levels of team and skill development, and where they happen (and understanding what stage we are at, whatever you may want to call them) we then as testers have the ability to know what we need and when we need it. Additionally we know when we are the teacher/coach/manager/mentor what level of involvement we need to be at for each respective stage. I believe that, by understanding these stages and the appropriate response, we can minimize frustration and down time and maximize the potential to perform well, both as individuals and team members, both individually and collectively. It's a simple process, but don't mistake simple for easy. Getting good at this takes time and practice, just like any other skill set, but with time (and practice) even this approach becomes ingrained and just part of everyday thinking and action. Try it out with your team, and see what you think.
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