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Stages of Team Development

This model anchors all of our work with teams. It breaks team development into four stages and identifies the team dynamics that take place at the personal, interpersonal, and group levels at each stage of development. Click on the model to explore the dynamics at each stage of team development.

— Interactive Diagram: Use Mouse to Navigate  —

Orient

This first stage of team development is focused on getting team members on the “same page” by creating a common orientation to the situation. There are three major milestones in this stage:

  1. To analyze the teamís alignment with business plans and strategies.
  2. To assess the organizational dynamics that will inhibit and support the teamís efforts.
  3. To determine the importance and urgency with which the team must take action.

The key process is group discussion. In this stage a team is like a jigsaw puzzle. Each team members has some pieces of the puzzle, but no one knows what the final picture will look like. Therefore team members must all put their pieces of the puzzle on the table to create a common view, or orientation, to the situation. Discussions must be open and honest if the team is to come to an accurate assessment of the situation.

Organize

The second stage of team development is focused on organizing the team for success. There are four major milestones in this stage:

  1. To establish a teamís mission.
  2. To establish team goals to achieve the mission.
  3. To establish team strategies to achieve the team goals.
  4. To structure the team to achieve its mission, goals and strategies.

The key process is consensus-seeking. Achieving these milestones through a highly participative consensus seeking process maximizes team member ownership and commitment and increases the odds of developing the right mission, goals, and strategies.

Action

The third stage of team development is to take action. It is not until the action stage that the team starts to work on the task for which it was developed — e.g., product teams start product development and business teams start business development. In the Action Stage a team gets the return on their investment in the Orient and Organize Stage — an action-oriented team that does the right things, right the first time. There are two additional team development milestones in the Action Stage:

  1. Run efficient and effective team meetings.
  2. Establish norms to set the boundaries for acceptable behaviors.

The key process is collaboration. During the action stage the team must reach outside the team to involve key stakeholders in team actions. The team must involve the right people, at the right time, and in the most efficient way in order to maximize its efficiency and effectiveness.

Results

The fourth and final stage of team development is to maximize its results. Action and results are two different things. Teams often take actions such as making a decision. But the team achieves no results until that decision is fully implemented. And it is during the implementation stage that the team may experience the most resistance from key stakeholders who pay a price for a teamís actions. There are four major milestones in this stage:

  1. Fully implement its actions.
  2. Document process and commitments.
  3. Capture and share learning.
  4. Provide recognition for contributions to the team.

The key process is creative problem-solving. Translating action into results always runs into problems. To achieve high performance teams must take this last step and find creative ways of overcoming these problems to maximize results.

Personal Dynamics

Personal dynamics are how each team members experiences the team. Because we are all very different people, it is not unusual for people to experience the same team quite differently.

In the team setting there are no roles, rules or structure until the team establishes them. Therefore, in the beginning, everything is driven by individual personality and style. In Myers-Briggs Type Indicator language, the Judging personality will push to take action while the Perceiving people will want to defer action until all of the options have been considered. When there is disagreement and conflict, and there typically is, it quickly becomes personal. Personality conflicts between even two key team members can split the team into political sub-groups and create negative personal dynamics.

Understanding and valuing individual differences in personality, style, experience, background, values, risk taking, etc. is key to creating strong personal dynamics. Understanding and valuing of differences leads to people feeling accepted and respected by their fellow team members.

Interpersonal Dynamics

Inter-personal dynamics are how people interact with each other. The two key interpersonal processes are relationship building and communications.

Building strong work relationships increases trust and personal risk taking. Increased trust creates the conditions for people to risk being extremely open and honest in their communications. This creates an information rich environment for team decision-making, planning and problem solving.

Good relationships can create the trust necessary for people to risk being open and honest. But good communications skills are also critical to establishing positive interpersonal team dynamics. Arguing over opinions, for example, reduces information flow, reduces innovation, and damages work relationships. Interpersonal dynamics turn sour when this becomes the norm and team members struggle to get through each meeting without it turning into a fight.

Group Dynamics

Group dynamics are how a team works together as a group. They are formed by the interaction of team tasks (what a team does), and team process (how it does it). These two dimensions are tightly inter-related. What task a team does will determine which processes it should use. And the processes the team uses affect the task it is doing. How these two dimensions interact with each other will create the teams Personal, Interpersonal and Group Dynamics. And these three elements — task, process and team dynamics — will affect how well a team does its process and the results it gets from the task. Task, Process and Dynamics all interact creating a highly volatile and unpredictable situation for developing group dynamics.

Group dynamics can quickly change as team members play different roles at each stage of development. A person who plays the “gate keeper” role of inviting people into conversation in the ORIENT stage may play a confrontational or “devil's advocate” role in the ORGANIZE stage to encourage critical thinking. This change in roles will dramatically change how people interact with each other, leading to a change in Group Dynamics.

Stages of Team Development

The Stages of Team Development is based on the best practices of high performance teams that were identified over 20 years of applied research in business organizations. Its major contribution is summarizing the key dependencies that affect team development and organizing them into four stages of development: Orient, Organize, Action and Results. It drills down into each stage of development to identify specific Milestones and Tasks that must be achieved to successfully move through that stage of team development. It summarizes team dynamics into three levels: Personal, Interpersonal and Group. The result is a clear and actionable roadmap for creating high performance teams.

Acceptance

People role-play a lot at work; tell me your job title and I know the role you play in the organization. In the this first stage of team development there is no role-playing because there are no roles until the team establishes them. Therefore individual personality, style and experience tend to drive individual behaviors. People with action-oriented personalities will try to cut discussions short and do something. People who like to explore alternatives before they take action will try to keep discussion open to find the best thing to do. When disagreements erupt between these two people it becomes personal and can quickly turn into personality conflicts. Therefore, at the personal level, what is going through peopleís minds, consciously or sub-consciously, is will I be accepted if I speak up?

To build strong personal dynamics the team must establish a norm of understanding and valuing individual differences in personality, style, experience, risk taking, etc. The team must get to a point where they believe “it is what is different about you that makes us more successful.”

Respect

The key personal dynamic in the ORGANIZE stage is respect. Establishing the right mission, goals and strategies will require a great deal of critical thinking and arguing for and against different alternatives. In the heat of the moment these arguments can quickly become personal and/or political. If team members feel their ideas and contributions are not respected they either chose to withdraw from the team or attack those showing disrespect. Either way the teamís Personal Dynamics will start to become very negative.

The key to creating strong personal dynamics in the ORGANIZE stage is the same as in the ORIENT Stage; team members must feel accepted and respected. The key process is to understand and value different perspective and ideas on how to organize the team for success.

“I”

In the ACTION stage a team will reap the rewards of its efforts to create strong personal dynamics in the ORIENT and ORGANIZE Stage. If the team has established a norm of personal acceptance and respect through understanding and valuing individual differences, then team members will get to the “I” level in the ACTION stage — “I will do everything I” can to help this team!” This high level of personal commitment creates positive attitudes and maximizes the willingness of team members to commit the time and effort needed to maximize performance and achieve success.

You have probably heard the saying that there is no “I” in team. But there is a “me” in team, and if I do not feel accepted and respected by the time the team reaches the ACTION stage, then I will opt out of an active role on the team. Some will choose to leave the team, but most simply choose to lay low, go through the motions, and then blame someone else when the team fails.

“We”

The “I” of the ACTION stage turns into “We” in the RESULTS stage. Confidence increases as team members develop a “can do” attitude about fully implementing their actions. Team members are having fun and are surrounded by team members who accept and respect them. In business it does not get much better than this.

Politeness

Team member interaction at the interpersonal level in the ORIENT stage is often polite and superficial. Not knowing whom they can trust, most team members decide to play it safe and not put everything on the table. For example, a team member may have a boss who has sent them to spy on the team and undermine team actions. But, not knowing whom they can trust, the team member is most likely to say something polite and superficial like — “I donít think we have management support.” This allows the team member to avoid the risk of this getting back to his or her boss because someone on the team breaks confidentiality and shares the information outside the team.

Polite and superficial discussions shut down communications and make it difficult for the team to get the information it needs to know what it is “getting into” and create an accurate assessment of the situation. This lack of understanding will carry over into the ORGANIZE stage and create a significant likelihood that the team will experience a false start when establishing its mission, goals and strategies. Therefore establishing positive interpersonal dynamics is critical to team success.

Bid for Power

Interpersonal dynamics in the ORGANIZE stage are often marked by a “bid for power” among team members. Because the team has yet to agree on rules and establish norms, these bids for power are inevitable. To succeed, the team must be able to limit and minimize their impact before they affect performance and damage team dynamics.

Most bids for power are small in nature, but quickly become very frustrating. For example, several people talking at the same time is a bid for power over who has the attention of the group. A team member trying to get the team to focus on something other than the current agenda item a “bid for power” over control of the agenda. Holding side conversations during a meeting is a bid for power over how to run meetings. If these things happen on rare occasions, they are merely frustrating. But when they become the norm they can quick destroy team dynamics. And since the team has yet to establish its roles, rules and structures, these can quickly become the norm in the ORGANIZE stage.

Cooperate

In the ACTION stage the team also reaps the rewards of its efforts to create strong interpersonal dynamics. If a team has established a norm of building strong work relationships it will have established the trust necessary to gain access to a great deal of information. If the team has established a norm of open and honest communications it will find a great deal of cooperation within the team and from key stakeholders in team actions. These norms will create synergy as the team becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

If the team has not established these norms then it will lack the trust and risk taking necessary to achieve high performance in its actions. Meetings will remain polite and superficial until things begin to fall apart, and then the finger point begins.

Enthusiasm

There is a great deal of enthusiasm at the Interpersonal level in the RESULTS stage as team members realize “We can have fun, get excited and get things done.” The team becomes a comfort zone that members are hesitant to leave. One of the characteristics of an extremely high performing team in the RESULTS stage is a desire to keep the team going after the mission has been accomplished. When the team does finally dissolve it is not unusual to have team members experience a mild depression as their regular job fails to provide the same level of intrinsic reward.

Discussion

In the beginning the team is much like a jigsaw puzzle; each team member has different pieces of the puzzle, some pieces of the puzzle are missing, and no one has a picture of what the final puzzle should look like. Therefore the first thing the team must do is to get everyone to put their pieces of the puzzle on the table. A team may also have to reach outside the team to gather other pieces of the puzzle.

The team does not need to reach agreement or consensus on this analysis, they only need share their perspectives to create the most accurate and complete picture of what they are getting into. Once the picture is completed it is likely that there will still be different interpretations of it, but at least the team is all looking at the same picture.

Consensus

In the ORGANIZE stage the team must reach consensus on its mission, goals, strategies and structure to organize itself and achieve high performance.

The key process during this phase is consensus seeking. Consensus must be achieved through highly participative processes that balance participation and create open and honest communications. Highly participative processes foster the critical thinking necessary to determine the right mission, goals and strategies. Balanced participation maximizes team membership ownership and commitment to the teamís mission, goals and strategies and helps to create strong personal and interpersonal team dynamics.

Collaborate

It is not until the ACTION stage that a team begins to “work” on the reason for its existence — i.e., a product team begins to work on developing the product and a business team begins to work on developing the business. Therefore each of the previous two stages have been an investment to ensure the team takes the right actions and does them right the first time. How well the team does in the ACTION stage will depend on the investments it has made in the ORIENT and ORGANIZE stages of team development.

There are many key tasks in the ACTION stage as the team begins to implement its goals and strategies. The team will develop plans, make decisions, solve problems and resolve conflicts. Most of these tasks are accomplished outside of team meetings and will involve key stakeholders who are not team members. To maximize performance the team must accomplish these tasks using highly collaborative processes that reach outside the team to involve the right people, at the right time, and in the most efficient manner.

Creative Problem Solving

Action and results are two different things. Teams take action when they are making a decision, but they do not obtain results until that decision is implemented. It is at the implementation stage where teams often come in conflict with functional management. During the ACTION stage, for example, a functional manager may participate in a decision-making process that decides they must re-direct some of their resources — at this point it is all talk. But when it comes to implementing the decision the functional manager may find the costs are too high, so he or she does not follow through on their commitment. Since the team does not have the power to boss a functional manager around, it must find a creative solution to the managerís problem.

Fully implementing actions often requires the team to escalate conflicts up the organization to higher levels of management. In the example of the manager not redirecting resources above, the manager may well be caught between conflicting priorities — what is right for the team, is not what is right for their function. When this occurs the team must engage upper management to determine the right thing to do for the business — not just what is right for the team or a function. To escalate this conflict successfully the team must establish a relationship of teams and management, not teams vs. management.

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Team Stages: Development (PDF)

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