FORM, STORM, NORM, PERFORM

Ever wonder why things at high tech startups can seem so unorganized, why communications breakdown, why other members of your team “miss the ball”, and other parts of work just seem stormy some times?

Having recently returned from a rainy visit to London, I was reminded about a contributed article for the Software and Information Industry last year. An adaptation is below that I have shared with all employees here at Appnomic and I’d like to share with you today too.

Whether you are an Appnomic customer, partner, analyst, journalist, just a curious web surfer who landed at this blog entry, I have found this concept of Form, Storm, Norm, Perform help me enormously over the years at work and in my personal life.

I hope you will find this framework to achieve truly great team performance in any field helpful as you learn why any team must navigate through the storm to get to the other side filled with Sunshine.

Form, Storm, Norm, Perform

“Form. Storm. Norm. Perform.” is a framework that captures how high performing teams evolve.

High performance teams of all types go through very predictable formation and evolution patterns as illustrated below. When these rhythms are known and understood, a team can more quickly and more effectively achieve high performance results. In this piece, I will explain how teams FORM, go through a predictable STORMING process before they NORMALIZE, and then achieve high PERFORMANCE.

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Form:

When a new team forms, there is generally a pop in energy and excitement about the vision of the future that generates a short burst of performance gains. Team members talk, collaborate, volunteer, and get things going. People join a team for some attractive reason and that powers the team during this stage. This is a time of goal setting, role definition, and general getting to know each other.

When working with new customers, this is when I typically give the customer a sense of the people behind our company, our values, our culture, and I share examples and use cases that are relevant to them. I like to attend new customer kickoff meetings to give our customers the assurance that they’re in good hands and to help facilitate the relationships from the sales organization through to the support organization. This is where we set expectations that we like to crawl, walk, and then run as we grow this new relationship. We also set expectations that THERE WILL BE BUMPS along the way. We all know they will be coming and should be prepared to address them in a constructive, respectful manner . . . to manage through them as fast as possible until the relationship begins to settle in.

Storm:

As team members begin to communicate more and bring their different prior experiences, training, and assumptions to the group, there is inevitable friction and misunderstanding. “When you said this, I thought you meant that….” types of conflicts begin to occur. Team performance generally drops, in many cases, precipitously during this phase of evolution.

It is not uncommon for some people to leave the team during this stage because they lose faith or otherwise become disenchanted. This is a good time for connecting more and better with team mates on a personal level, clarifying roles and goals, problem solving as a group, re-aligning team membership to fit what has been learned during this stormy time. Shared language and means for communication are often developed in this phase. Ultimately, this phase is about getting through difficult times and learning that team members can trust each other to work through challenges, achieve objectives, and overcome future obstacles together.

I like to have quarterly reviews with our customers. That helps ease concerns or issues that may put the account at risk. I have access to information across the entire company so I can solve problems that the front line team may not be privy to. These meetings provide the opportunity for the client to vent if needed. These quarterly reviews provide an important and healthy way to get in front of issues that occur during the storm phase – often, difficult issues to raise and address. If they don’t get addressed during this stormy phase, it can lead to the failure of the client relationship. VERY costly and painful for all involved.

Norm:

Trust begins to build, communications become smoother, small wins become apparent, the team begins to normalize now. Teammates find their best position on the team and begin showing their talents and strengths. Collaboration and “hand offs” between players become smooth and anticipated in some cases. The group’s chaotic conflicts and friction from the prior storming phase begin to normalize and so does the group’s performance.

Perform:

To achieve high performance, all teams go through this type of painful process outlined above. The trust, intuition, and positive energy of a truly high performing team is a result of this shared pain and trust building experience. Those who could not sustain through the pain and effort required to achieve uniquely high levels of performance have left and the remaining group operates like a “well-oiled machine,” like a world class symphony with each musician playing his or her instrument beautifully. Whether a symphony, sports team, or business, these phases must be experienced to achieve the trust and group intuition for truly high performance.

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