By: Dennis van der Spoel
Today Feijenoord Rotterdam has beaten Ajax Amsterdam with a 6-2 score at one of the most significant games of the season. And it's a perfect example of Bruce Tuckman’s Team Development Model in action. In the first half of the season, Ajax's defence only conceived 8 goals against in 17 matches. In the first 2 matches of the second half of the season they have already conceived 10 goals against. What happened?
As Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax's captain put it: "The first half of the season you could see that we were a team, we now played two league matches after the winter-stop and we didn't play as a team on both occasions."
Never Change a Winning Team
So, what changed? For some reason, Ajax coach Erik ten Hag decided to let Lisandro Magallán make his debut in the defence in this most crucial game of the season. This stems from a complete lack of understanding Tuckman's Team Development Model. With just one stroke he changed a high performance team into a newly forming team. This is something a coach should do in exhibition matches, not against an opponent challenging your position in the championship. As a result, there remains little hope for Ajax to win the title this season.
Tuckman's Team Development Model
Bruce Tuckman, a psychology professor, identified four stages of development - forming, storming, norming and performing - that every team experiences, and suggested that all teams go through a relatively unproductive initial stage before becoming a self-reliant unit. The ‘team growth model’ also suggests that unless the issues of processes and feelings have been satisfactorily addressed, it is unlikely that the team will reach the most productive final stage.
Any team that stays together over a period of time will change and develop. Tuckman noted that there are three issues which determine how well teams perform: content, process, and feelings.
In short, content relates to what the team does, process relates to how the team works towards its objectives and feelings applies to how team members relate to one another.
Tuckman’s research suggests that most teams concentrate almost exclusively on content, to the detriment of process and feelings, which explains why teams which are strong on paper can underperform.
Although later research suggests that there is much more to it, and teams do not necessarily go through these stages in a fixed order, the basis premise of Tuckman's theory remains very useful.
The Initial Four Stages
Tuckman suggested that the life cycle of a team involves four stages. At each stage, the dynamics of the team change dramatically from periods of inefficiency and uneasiness through to a period of high performance.
These changes are summarised in the following table:
The Fifth Stage
Following another period of research, Tuckman developed a fifth stage called ‘adjourning’. This final stage involves the disengagement of relationships between team members and a short period of recognition for the team’s achievements. Sometimes, concluding the operations of a team is disturbing for members, especially if they have worked together for long periods of time.
Back to the Match of the Day
By changing the team composition, Ajax's defence at once fell back from the 'Performing' stage to the 'Forming' stage. And Feijenoord took advantage of the disorganization that resulted.
What it Means for Agile Teams
Agile frameworks promote teams to remain stable over a prolonged period of time. This ambition is hardly ever realized. Thus, a lot of performance issues of agile teams can be explained this way. Let this match be a warning.
Have a great week!