Four years ago, I went to a lecture that shattered everything I thought I knew about teams. In the lecture, Richard Hackman — probably the top teams researcher who ever lived — told a story about how he was teaching a class at Yale on the 4 stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing.
Halfway through that presentation a young lady in the front row raised her hand and said, “Excuse me Professor Hackman, that’s wrong.”
Now it was Hackman’s chance to say “Excuse me?”
“I’ve had years of experience in workplace teams,” she replied, “and they don’t go through those stages.”
Hackman said he said what all good, condescending, Ivy League professors say in such situations: “Well, you’ll have to go out and do the research to prove it wrong then.”
Which, to Hackman and everyone else’s surprise, she did.
She started observing workplace teams and teams in labs, and she pointed out to Hackman what they had missed in the initial research: they had studied groups of strangers. Those groups do go through the 4 stages. The problem with that: they had no roles, no tasks to do, and no deadlines.
But how many workplace teams have you been on with no tasks, no roles, and no deadline? Zero, right?
It turns out, when you put those conditions in, people don’t go through those 4 stages at all — they get straight down to work.
The most convincing thing about those 4 team development stages forming, storming, norming, and performing? They rhyme!