Adding more people won’t fix the problem!!!

Dilbert picks up on what is still a surprisingly common issue:

We’ve known this for generations, quite often, if your project is in trouble, the last thing you need is some help. The promised help rarely turns into help, it nearly always turns into more problems.

The issue here is simple, people aren’t like RAM, they can’t just be plugged in and put to work instantaneously. People need to be brought up to speed, they need to be managed, they need somewhere to sit, they need access to things. They come with an overhead that is higher than their value at the beginning.

There are things that you can do to make each of these things easier, but they need building in from the start.

If you add a number of people then you are likely to have to go through the whole forming, storming, norming, performing team development cycle all over again.

Even if people were like RAM, you still don’t come for free, adding one person to a team doesn’t add one person’s worth of value, it adds more overhead to the management processes taking away value elsewhere.

Then there is the final, and probably the most significant issue, people are all different – different skills, different capabilities, different relationships. Adding the right person can make things better, but it’s unlikely that you have access to this person, if you did they would already be working on it. More often than not, the people you are talking about adding are the spare people. The spare people are definitely not the ones you want, they are likely to be spare for a reason.

If you still don’t believe me read The Mythical Man Month it was first published in 1975, but the wisdom contained within it still applies today.

(For those of you know me, yes this book is why I keep going on and on about Conceptual Integrity)

Team Development: Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing

There are times when I discover that something I thought was widely known – isn’t. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I blog.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had three separate conversations with people about the phases of team development. Swans, swans, swans

These conversations have mostly been within the context of teams that are virtual.

In one particular case the conversation was about a team that is clearly in the “storming” phase. When I said this people looked at me blank, so I went on to explain the process of team development. Once I’d done that people started to understand what needed to be done.

I work across a number of virtual team, quite often these teams get to a phase where they don’t progress, and nothing gets resolved, they get stuck in “storming”.

The main reason for this, in my opinion, is because the technology we use to support such teams is particularly poor during this phase. It’s very difficult to work through the conflicts of a storming phase on a teleconference, if not impossible. People tend to do one of two things; they are either over-aggressive, or passive, neither of which actually resolve the issues. Teams, therefore, languish in the “storming” phase and never get to “norming”.

Another reason is that people don’t understand that they need to go through these phases, because they don’t know that the phases exist. So here’s my summary:

  • Forming – Everyone is on their best behaviour, no-one wants to be the one to step out of line, but neither do people get anything of any real value done.
  • Storming – The first conflict arrives and the team members show their true colours.
  • Norming – Members are getting to know each other. People start to make allowances for each other and realising where everyone’s skills are.
  • Performing – The team runs like clock-work, the leaders don’t have much to do because everyone knows what they are doing.

I have rarely been in a team that is truly “performing”, it takes time and effort to get there.

It’s interesting to note that when I get together with the members of one of the teams that did get to “performing” we quickly move to “norming” with only the minimum of “forming” and “storming”. It’s also interesting to note that one of the teams where we got to “performing” became regarded as a threat by managers and was actively shut down. It’s not always, necessarily, in everyone’s best interest to have a high performance team.

These things are never precise, but I’ve found it a useful model for understanding situations.

Some more information: