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In this post, I will explain how I used the metaphor of the “High-performance tree” created by Lyssa Adkins to convey the concept to a team and build on it during retrospectives.

The metaphor is widely known nowadays among the agile coaches world and it is described in detail in Lyssa Adkins’ book “Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches and Project Managers in Transition” and in her youtube video.

I used this metaphor during different team stages:

  1. Team forming
  2. Team storming
  3. Team norming


Plan 1h30 to 2h depending on the size of your team and the stage the team is at.

The setup:

  • in a room with a flip chart or a board and sticky notes for team members
  • online with a whiteboard and the possibility for each team member to add notes on it

How do you do it

Start the activity by drawing a big and, hopefully, beautiful tree. Draw the tree with its roots, and branches and ask the following question:

  • What do you think the analogy is between this tree and our team?

Listen to the answers of your team members then complete the answer if necessary by explaining the analogy between a solid and healthy tree and a high-performing team.

I found this way of starting super engaging for the team as it sparked their interest in the activity.

Then write down at the roots of the tree the team’s values.

If the team does not have defined team values yet, you can write down the values of the company or the values of the Scrum agile framework (as described in the video above).

Take a moment to describe the roots as needed to be healthy for the tree to grow well.

Then prompt the team to take 5 minutes and to reflect on their roots.
Ask the team members to identify if there is something the team should change in their processes, and relationships to strengthen their roots.

You can also ask for no more than 2 notes by person if you know you have team members quite creative.

Once the notes are added, facilitate a conversation for the team to agree on potential actions to strengthen their roots, 25 minutes should be enough.
It will be way less if the team is at a norming stage.

Then, go to the tree branches, and like in the video, wrote down the characteristic of a high-performing team while describing these characteristics to the team and ask the following question:

  • How far do you recognize these characteristics in the team?
  • What should we do to get all those characteristics as a reliable description of our team?

Again, let 5 minutes for reflection and ask the team to add their notes to the branches.
Facilitate a conversation for the team to agree on potential actions, 20 minutes should be enough.

At that point depending on the team, the team might get enough action points already in which case, you can draw the fruits of the fruits and write what each of those fruits means.

Then agree with the team about a time in the future to do the exercise again by revisiting the actions taken and continuing with the fruits.

If the team feels to continue with the fruits then ask:

  • How far are we from harvesting those fruits?
  • What shall we do to be able to harvest those fruits in a near future?

Again, set up some initial 5 minutes for the team to reflect.
Facilitate a conversation for the team to agree on actions, 25 minutes should be enough.

Wrap up the activity by resuming the actions and their owners.
You can also use the technique of the first of 5 to know how they feel about it!

Your feedback

How do you practice the high-performing tree activity with your team?

What other questions do you ask your team?

Let me know in the comments!