Why Team Formation is Critical (And Some Ideas How To Do It)…

August 25, 2022

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By Michael Dingle, Partner and Co-Founder of Reason

I recently collaborated with Deltek and SoDA for their Midyear Agency Report on the Modern Talent Landscape. This blog is derived from an article originally featured in that report. As a Partner and Co-Founder of the UK based agency Reason, I have noticed the challenge that bringing together to form a team doesn’t always turn out to be the sunshine and flowers we’d hoped for.

Some common signals that things are going in the wrong direction:

  • Personalities clashing
  • Friction bubbling up around the quality of work
  • People not feeling safe enough to speak their truth, and important things being left unsaid
  • Issues not being resolved

I bet you’ve seen some of these yourself. Yet, we all want to work in teams where we feel seen, heard and respected, so why isn’t this the default?

I believe the culprit is simply a lack of preparation and deliberate planning for team formation.

You wouldn’t put a team of soccer players together to play a match the first day they ever meet, so why do we do this in organizations? Why do managers assign resources people (grrr... don’t get me started on that one) to a project and then assume they will just get on with it smoothly.

The Tuckman model clearly articulates the different stages that teams may find themselves in at any given moment. But, assuming that you’re tasked with launching a new team or kicking off a new project, then please bake into your plan at least 1 week for team formation.

I know that sounds a lot but believe me it’s soooo worth it and the team will start stronger and more efficiently as a result. Good news is there’s a ton of research, insights and well-established tools that help us to avoid the negative scenarios outlined above.

At Reason (my UK based Agency), we’ve created and are currently applying the following approach which we run as 4 x 1/2-day workshops spread across a maximum of 2 weeks. It looks a lot like this:

Workshop 1: Human Connection

This is my personal favorite. If I’m going to be working with people to get projects done, then I want to know what they are about! If a new team is being formed around a project, then they need to form a baseline, ethereal, energetic connection with each other before anything else. Activities include personal maps, marketplace of skills and a game I invented called ‘What’s that sound?’

Outcome: The humans know who the other humans are. They see each other as people. They have uncovered some of their background and started to understand how they can support each other moving forwards.

Psychological safety is being established right off the bat here, with the invitation to share some of your personal story but allowing each person to only reveal what they are comfortable with.

Workshop 2: Team Formation

This is where we start to find and create some collective alignment.

Activities includes agile values and principles sorting, five dysfunctions of a team activity and using cards for clear thinking to surface what characteristics are important to the team and which they want to actively avoid.

Outcome: The group is moving towards a team mindset, are starting to create their shared narrative and are beginning to form some of their working agreements.

Workshop 3: Product Alignment

Time to switch the group’s focus towards the work and have them use this to strengthen their bond.

  Why Team Formation is Critical

Activities includes celebrity interviews, deep dive into the product vision, goals and purpose, a scaling survey and stakeholder mapping.

Outcome: A collective understanding of the outcome the team is being asked to reach, or the problem they are being asked to solve. Plus, a co-created team charter that gives the team a clear, shared mission and purpose.

Workshop 4: Work Breakdown

In order to be ready to start getting stuff done, it’s now all about working out what comes first. Activities include story mapping and release slicing.

Outcome: A deeper, shared understanding of the work they will be doing, and the beginnings of a backlog of prioritized work items.

I have to say here (in case you didn’t already notice) that I have been heavily inspired by Simon Powers’ Team Genesis workshop since experiencing that many years ago. The approach shared above integrates some elements included there, whilst blending in new ideas and activities, and extending the original idea beyond a couple of workshops.

And finally, before closing a note about workshop facilitation. I have a passion for this area, but for these team formation workshops it is super important to ensure they are facilitated in the right way. A patient, non-judgmental space for the discussions to happen and the bonds and connections to be built is crucial.


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About the Author

Michael Dingle is Partner & Co-Founder of Reason, an award-winning creative design agency working within social and cultural areas in the UK. Michael has over 17 years of design experience at leading cross-sector corporates, global agencies and fledgling startups.