Home > Hiring, Software Engineering > New superstar just joined the team: it’s ‘form, storm, norm, perform’ all over again

New superstar just joined the team: it’s ‘form, storm, norm, perform’ all over again

It’s been awhile since I had a chance to write another blog entry in ‘advice for the new CTO’ category.

To get started – let’s ask a question …

After an incredible amount of effort was spent to recruit and attract a superstar software engineer, what do you do in the first 60 days ensure that this A+ hire will succeed?

It does take an incredible amount of effort to recruit and attract a superstar software engineer.   These are real metrics (courtesy of my recent project):

– 1 opening for a very senior software engineer with ‘failure not an option’ DNA

– 1,200 resumes

– 95 good resumes (it’s hard to believe but very true)

– 10 resumes selected for phone screens (20 person-hours invested)

– 3 candidates selected for on site interviews

– 6 hours per candidate (2 sessions over a 2 day period), 4 team members present during each team interview session

– 72 person-hours invested to interview 3 final candidates.  NOTE:  this time was not spent on the next critical release (recruiting is both essential and expensive).

Everyone felt very comfortable with Candidate A who has shown a tremendous potential to succeed.

Three weeks later Candidate A joined the team.

In many organizations, one may hear a sigh of relief, “finally – we can return to building the next product with Candidate A on board”.

The truth:  the journey to ensure that Candidate A succeeds has just started.

When someone very senior joins a product development, the team undergoes the same transformation as if the team were formed from the very beginning.

This transformation, or – Form, Storm, Norm, and only then Perform – cannot be ignored (has to be acknowledged) or the entire recruiting investment will mean very little.  Either the team will reject the candidate or the candidate will leave because the team has not found a way to accept someone just as sharp – or perhaps even sharper.

Form – has just ended.  Candidate A is now Employee A – a long awaited member of the team.

Storm – will be inevitable, with lots of clouds and thunder at times.   Employee A will be trying to prove him /herself and the competition between ideas can create many difficulties if individuals had not had some to work together.   Monitor this phase very carefully.  Meet with Employee A twice a week.  Meet with other members of the team and get their feedback.

Norm – if Employee A is about to suggest something that may not work well, go against the grain and agree with Employee A.  Then – create an opportunity for Employee A to fail but fail very graciously.   Empower the team to help Employee A and recover.   This will allow Employee A to build that very bond that he / she seeks.     It’s perfectly OK to fail, quickly learn, and move on.   The knowledge the team will be there to help – no matter what – is a powerful motivator.

Perform – will exceed expectations once Employee A successfully navigates through the first three phases.   The first 60 days will be very critical.

For those that are interested, Bruce Tuckman – an American psychologist – first proposed the model of group development (Form, Storm, Norm, Perform) in 1965.

  1. Serhiy
    April 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    I’d agree in general, usually the situation revolves more or less along that path.
    But it’s one thing when those four stages happen by themselves, naturally, and a completely different one when you actively plan for them (which is what, as it seems to me, is implied here). It’s a very narrow path, and you’ll need to have a very close, very accurate management of this whole process lest you unnecessarily risk losing that very same A+ superstar you were so proud of getting in your team.
    Is it worth the risk at all then?

  2. April 6, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Tuckman’s model is certainly very helpful. Particularly, if you find yourself doing much storming, it helps put things in perspective and explain that some storming is actually OK, and it’s not the end state, it’s just a temporary stage.

    Two things can help move through the stages quicker and easier:

    1) Preparing an integration plan for the new hire. The plan should clarify what is expected of the new employee on the first days, weeks, month on the job: meetings (e.g. introductory 1:1s, 2:1s), training sessions, tools and system accesses.

    2) Assigning a “buddy”, i.e. a peer employee with extensive experience at the company who can be the first point of contact for the new hire for all sorts of questions, ranging from “How do I set up a conference call?” to “How do I compensate my business trip expenses?”


  3. Nicolae Babanu
    April 6, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    it’s exactly what happened with me somewhere at the beginning of my career.
    Not within an agile development cycle, but close to Tuckman’s model of group development. Indeed, performing has really shown up in full force somewhere after “norm” succeeded.

    Though some may argue with Bruce Tuckman’s formula, it allows at least to start an overview of what is going on with your team. Poor CEO/CTO who fails to see the whole picture; “bravo!” to those who succeeded strengthening *the team*.

  4. November 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    A Nicolae Babanu mentions the Bruce Tuckman formula proves to be very useful at providing high efficiency in team work. The main point is stick to what you promise and to group’s intentions. More then that, it is absolutely necessary to let the team pass all the stages otherwise one can find himself trying to Perform while his team still lives in continuous storms. The Norm stage – as Nicolae Babanu said – is the step when the game is clearly defined and therefore allows to switch to performing.

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