Lyssa Adkins has been a leader in helping companies build Agile teams for nearly a decade, so when she found herself coaching several different teams at the same time who didn't seem to be moving forward, she knew something was missing. The teams weren't failing—they just seemed to lack motivation, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.
Adkins cast about, trying to find a new model that would help her teams get off the hamster wheel and onto a path that felt meaningful and full of momentum.
There were many models at the ready—from the Drexler/Sibbet model that helped teams identify the who, what, why, and how of a task to the Tuckman model, which allowed people to track the often destabilizing process of building a team around a shared project and vision.
But as Adkins thought through the problem, she realized her teams didn't need a model or a rigid system that told them how to go through a process and where to end up. To truly pursue high performance, they needed something more flexible and more subtle—a way of thinking that could hold the complexity of collaboration, effort, failure, and success and inspire teams without dictating each step.
What they needed, Adkins realized, was a metaphor.
Learn more about Lyssa's approach to coaching Agile teams in the pursuit of high performance in this webinar.Watch the webinar
The power of metaphors over models
In Adkins's recent on-demand webinar, she shared her new metaphor as well as a template based on the metaphor that she designed to help teams reflect on the work they've done recently and figure out how to do better, more fulfilling work going forward.
As a tree-lover, Adkins was immediately drawn to the metaphor of a tree. A tree ultimately produces something—flowers or fruit or nuts—but those fruits are fed and nourished by the roots, supported by the trunk, and sheltered by the tree's leaves.
Adkins realized that Agile teams don't exist just to produce something—and retrospectives shouldn't simply rely on models designed to get them to produce the next thing. Like a tree, teams engage in processes that should be fed by shared values, nourished by collaboration and learning, and supported by work that feels fulfilling and reflects human ideals.
In other words, high-performance teams are not just about products. They are also about processes and people. High-performance is not an end goal—something to arrive at, evaluate, and replicate. It's a journey that involves making choices, taking risks, and reflecting on experiences in the name of working on something that everyone can be proud of.
Adkins wanted a metaphor that would communicate this process. But she also wanted a visual, something that would help people think about how to reflect on their past work in a way that helped teams stop moving in circles and start to move in a new, exciting direction.
That's how the Lyssa Adkins high-performance tree came to be. It was both a way to think about how teams can best function and a template for reflecting on and learning from previous work.
How to use the tree template to encourage high-performing teams
For Adkins, the tree is a visual metaphor for the way high-performance teams are built. In her metaphor, the roots of the tree are the team's values. It's where they draw strength and the ideals that nourish them through tough times and times of creative passion.
The trunk grows out of these values and supports the work that follows. From value-driven collaboration come the leaves. Finally, the fruits are the products of all that collaboration, work, and values.
Just as the tree can’t produce fruit on its own, a high-performance team can't produce products or features from thin air or without a shared purpose. High-performance includes the whole process of growth, effort, and creating shared ideals.
As an example, Adkins shared a high-performance tree template she'd made with one of her teams:
- Roots: At the roots, the team had placed values like courage, focus, and openness, supported by a trunk strengthened by commitment and respect.
- Leaves: The result of these values were the leaves—the individuals on the team that drew inspiration and nourishment from the team's values and who collaborated to bring the projects to fruition. Among the collaborative values the teams identified were self-organization, trust, and constructive criticism.
- Fruit: Finally, the result of the values-based collaboration was the fruit of a project. This included the actual product, but also spotlighted the belief that the team was capable of anything, the growth of the individuals on the team, and the overall value of the business.
Adkins spoke of a team who'd been going through a difficult time after learning their hard work would not make its way to the final product. People could have quickly become despondent and retreated into fear or resentment. But instead, a team member looked at the tree template hanging on the wall and realized that they were a team facing hard winds, but that if they bent instead of broke, their team could weather anything.
The flexibility of metaphor allowed the team to see their situation in a new light and find opportunities amidst the difficulty. It allowed them to see their situation as one moment in a journey that was not just about that project but about the growth and happiness of the team itself. And realizing that, in turn, allowed them to jump back in and continue to make better products.
Using the template to reflect and to improve teams
The high-performance tree can infuse post-mortem meetings with a flexible, adaptive, and agile way of evaluating a recent experience, finding a new perspective on it, and helping team members come up with one or two learnings they can adapt into their new experience.
The template creates space for team leaders to develop a retrospective facilitation plan, where the steps of the meeting—from welcoming people and reminding them of the key project directives to gathering data about what people did and what they want to do better—correspond to numbered content in the middle of the template.
By talking through these questions and steps, the team can create their own high-performance tree, adding their own values to the root area, their team collaboration priorities and commitments to the leaf area, and their hoped-for outcomes near the fruits.
Following this template helps teams evaluate their past work, do better future work, and create a visual guide that inspires the team to get out of a rut and onto a path founded on a shared vision and clear values for collaboration and communication. And seeing high-performance through the tree template allows people to have a flexible container for talking through everything from their failures to their visions of the work they want to achieve with and for their team.
Learn more about Lyssa's approach to coaching Agile teams in the pursuit of high performance in this on-demand webinar.Watch the webinar