The Tuckman model of group development is one that many teams are familiar with, it’s the one that has the four stages of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
I’ve recently been working with a new team who’ve found themselves stuck in the storming phase. We had many discussions around the source of the issues the team were experiencing and took steps to improve things, and for a while they would be a bit better, but inevitably we’d land up back with storming behaviour.
I must stress that at no time was there any deliberately destructive or disrespectful behaviour; everybody was trying to do the best for the team and the product, it’s just people were bringing many different options for solutions, shaped by their previous experiences and differing personalities — it was just taking a while to negotiate a way through all these differences and really gel as a team.
During a retrospective following a particularly difficult meeting the team took a step back and talked about how they were feeling, what they were seeing and what they were experiencing; this highlighted:
· There were often long discussions where everybody was violently agreeing with each other
· It wasn’t always clear if questions were being asked to aid understanding of the other persons point of view or were being asked to challenge a principle
· The team were taking meetings off agenda — causing frustration for others
· There was discussion fatigue — people were starting to run out of energy and enthusiasm to discuss and address the issues — which was probably the most worrying issues.
When coming up with ideas to solve these problems one of the team members suggested they adopt the “Occupy Movement” hand gestures.
Occupy Movement Hand Gestures
The idea behind the hand signals are to allow the listeners to indicate their level of agreement with what is being said AND their desire to contribute to the debate. There are a few variants of these but the ones the team adopted are
If you want to indicate you agree with what the speaking is saying you use the upward wavy hands.
If you disagree you use the downward wavy hands.
If you want to speak you put your hand up.
If you have a process point you make a triangle with your index fingers and thumbs.
There is an implicit priority to dealing with multiple hand gestures at the same time (i.e. it’s probably worth dealing with process points before disagreements and then new speakers), but in a small team these conflicts have rarely happened.
Initially everybody was very self-conscious about waving their hands around during a meeting, but with a bit of practice and encouragement it got easier.
The easiest one to use was the “agree” hand signal. This had the immediate effect of speeding up the debates, if somebody said something and everybody started waving their hands we’d immediately cut out the need for the five (or so) listeners to signal their agreement by saying the same thing in a slightly different way, just wave the hands and move on to the next point or topic.
The “process” signal, coupled with a parking lot (to remember to come back to a topic) also proved to be instantly useful. It stopped the team pursuing all those interesting off topic diversions, it helped them stick to the point and ensured they had a mechanism to remember to come back to those other topics.
The “hand up” also helped those who might be a bit quieter get into debates. Inevitably in any group there are those who are quieter and those who hold the floor more, this hand signal helped remind those who were talking to make room for others. Debates became more inclusive and more opinions got heard.
There’s been more hesitation / reluctance to use the “disagree” gesture, people are tending to request to speak and then express their alternative view point. This indicates people are worried about how others may react, so I think we’ve still got a little way to go in building trust in the team.
Overall this has been a really positive technique for the team to adopt. They are far more confident going into meetings knowing they have a tool that helps them manage the process and help them achieve a successful outcome.