Having worked with more than half-a-dozen start-ups now right from the early days, I have had the first-hand experience in seeing how critical the initial team formation step is. Not only the quality of the team mattered but also the timing associated with getting them together was critical too. Once the team gets in place, how soon the team ramps up with the mission and gets going is another hurdle the start-up/entrepreneur has to worry and cross.
Having seen it closely, many start-ups tend to miss out the after-effects of the Bruce Tuckman model of Group Evolution. Per Bruce Tuckman, any new team on a project typically goes through four stages of evolution before we see them performing as per the expectations set on them. These stages are inevitable and in some sense they are all necessary and happen in the same order.
- Stage I – Forming: The first few weeks are spent in this mode when the team comes together. They are in the process of understanding what needs to be done but typically tend to remain and behave in an individualistic manner. The initial personalities of the individuals come to the fore in this stage.
- Stage II – Storming: A slightly painful stage wherein individuals push forward their own ideas for consideration and tend to resist any group pressure. Typically numerous conflicts arise at this stage because of different personalities, roles, and styles which can make things difficult for teams to work together. Depending on the maturity of the team, these stage can persist for weeks and months. Storming stage is however considered necessary for the growth of the team.
- Stage III – Norming: This is the stage where the teams start putting their individualistic thoughts aside and become more keen in finding solutions by agreeing on guidelines, behaviors, methods, etc. Teams start trusting each other. Signs of increased motivation are visible in the team.
- Stage IV – Performing: Again, depending on the maturity of the teams, only few teams would reach to this stage where the performance levels are optimal. Teams start functioning as a unit. They are focused on the common goal and work out decisions/conflicts using a more collaborative style.
Depending on the team size and complexity of the group structure, this evolution of group can take weeks and months. In my experience, only few of the start-ups can afford this and any mis-handling in these stages can be disasterous.
I have always believed that for most of the start-ups, the process of achieving their first goal is like playing in a limited-over cricket match. There is a limited quota of time; constrained number of resources; and steady influx of surprises/changes which they need to tackle. And I am talking about this from business perspective. In all this it is very tough for many start-ups to afford their team to go through the above stages. Imagine the eleven players – unknown to each other – going out to play a limited over cricket match and going through the stages above. This team cannot afford spending time in solving individual conflicts or formulating strategies or the game plan while they are on the pitch. The team needs to start scoring from pitch no. 1.
So if Tuckman’s theory is true and considering the limited options in front of the start-ups to afford what is described in this theory – what are the alternatives? Well, in a simple scenario if the start-ups can afford it, they should include this time as part of time-plan and cost. If not, there are other alternatives too. I will talk about it in one of my future post.