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Team Milestones

This model identifies the key milestones a team must accomplish to move through each stage of team development. It defines what a team must do to achieve high performance. Click on the model to explore the milestones in each stage of team development.

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Stages Milestones

The Stages of Team Development model breaks team development into four major milestones — Orient, Organize, Action and Results. The model also identifies the key milestones the team must achieve to move through each stage of team development. Together these milestones provide a clear roadmap, or checklist, of what a team must do to achieve high performance.


The first major milestone in team development is to get everyone on the same page by creating a common orientation to the situation. Teams are established to take specific action in a specific situation. If teams were doctors, they would all be specialists. This specialization dramatically increases a teamís ability to do the right things, right the first time.

Business Analysis

The first milestone in the ORIENT stage is to analyze a teamís alignment with business plans, strategies, and priorities. This analysis ensures a team understands what is the right thing to do for the business, and it allows the team to determine the level of power, influence and support it can expect within the organization.

Organizations that chase every good opportunity often spread themselves so thin they fail to take full advantage of any one opportunity. To avoid this problem, organizations develop strategic plans, business plans, and functional plans and budgets to set organizational priorities and maintain focus. Teams must be aware of where they fall into these larger plans and priorities to assess their importance to the organization.

To accomplish this milestone the team must analyze current market dynamics including customers, competition, opportunities, and the metrics used by the business to measure performance. This understanding turns each team member into a “business person.”

Organizational Analysis

The second milestone in the ORIENT stage is to analyze the organizational dynamics that will affect team performance. Every organization has strengths and weaknesses depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Teams must understand the organizational dynamics that will be supporting and inhibiting the team's performance in order to understand the magnitude of the challenge they will face when attempting to achieve results.

To accomplish this milestone a team must determine who the key stakeholders in the team are, and how costs and benefits will flow to each. Those key stakeholders who benefit will be supportive and those that pay the costs may be unsupportive. The team must also conduct a Force-Field Analysis to understand the driving and restraining forces in the organizationís culture and infrastructure that will support and inhibit team performance. Together this analysis will help a team understand what it is really getting into, and how much effort it will take to overcome obstacles and achieve high performance.

Situational Analysis

The third milestone in the ORIENT stage is to accurately assess the situation the team is in. To reach this milestone a team will have to draw on its learning from the previous business and organizational analysis to create a situational analysis. Developing a high performance team requires a significant investment of time and energy by team members and by the organization. Team members must have an accurate assessment of the importance of the team, the urgency with which the team must act, the strength of team dynamics, and the probability of achieving success to determine, and to justify, the level of time and energy they will commit to the team.


The second major milestone in team development is to organize the team for success in the current situation. In this stage the team must reach consensus on its mission, goals, and strategies and then organize the team in a manner that provides it with the best chance of accomplishing them. Achieving consensus through highly participative processes that balance participation and create open and honest communications will maximize ownership and commitment to the team and ensure the team does the right things.


The first milestone in the ORGANIZE stage is to establish a team mission that limits the scope of team action and defines ultimate success for the team. A team mission statement creates focus and determines what the team will do and what the team will not do. Without it the team becomes a “wandering generality” that chases every “hot issue.” It will appear to be arbitrary and capricious in its actions and it will be subject to the forces of personality and politics. Eventually, it will become caught in an “activity trap” where it does more and more to achieve less and less!


The second milestone in the ORGANIZE stage is to establish specific goals that must be achieved in order to fulfill the teamís mission. Successful teams, like successful individuals, are goal driven. Goal setting, therefore, is a critical step in organizing the team and getting the “butterflies in formation.”

Team goals create a foundation for action upon which the team will build its structure. Decisions on membership, leadership, meetings, core teams, extended teams, and sub-teams are all made based on developing the best structure to achieve the team goals. Without a strong foundation of clear goals, it is extremely difficult to build a high performance team. If a team does not agree on goals in the beginning, it will argue about them later on. Typically, these arguments take place during team meetings, in the heat of the moment, and at a time that destroys team productivity.


The third milestone in the ORGANIZE stage is to establish specific strategies for each of the teamís goals. The mission defines team success, the goals define what a team needs to do to achieve success, and strategies determine how the team will accomplish its goals.

The pressure to achieve results, combined with the action oriented personalities of some team members, often results in the team initiating action before reaching consensus on how it will take action. This typically results in false starts as team members charge off in different directions, and it creates unproductive conflict as blame is assessed for the false start. When this occurs it reduces team productivity and wastes precious time and energy. Worse yet, the team may have to make an additional expenditure of time and energy to repair damaged relationships.


The fourth milestone in the ORGANIZE stage is to organize the team. With clarity on its mission, goals and strategies, the team can now establish a team structure that will provide it with the best chance of success. This final step completes the transition from a collection of individuals to a high performance team.

Up to this point, the team has been focused on effectiveness — doing the right thing. They have established the right mission, the right goals, and the right strategies. Now the team must focus on efficiency — doing things right the first time. To maximize its efficiency the team must adjust its membership, establish team meetings, create a team structure, choose methodologies and processes, and define leadership roles.

There are no rules for organizing a high performance team. The downside of this reality is that the team cannot simply copy what other teams have done. The upside is that the team has a great deal of flexibility and freedom to organize itself based on its specific mission, goals, and strategies. The answer to every question about how a team should be organized is the same — It Depends! It will require a great deal of discussion for the team to identify all of the dependencies.


The third major milestone in team development is ACTION. 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.

But the team must also be responsive to learning and changing circumstances. This means the team may have to periodically return to the ORIENT and ORGANIZE stages when learning and circumstances require a team to make changes. A change in market conditions, for example, may require a team to update its business analysis, which in turn may cause it to change its sense of urgency, which may in turn cause it to change some of its goals and strategies. This ability to quickly adjust to learning and changing circumstances creates a more versatile and responsive organization.

Team Meetings

The first milestone in the ACTION stage is to establish efficient and effective team meetings to ensure the team stays focused and adjusts to learning and changing circumstances.

During the ACTION stage the team will be taking parallel action on many different tasks. Involving all team members in every task is inefficient because not all team members will contribute to every task. Therefore the team will need to hold regular team meetings to keep everybody on the same page, to remain focused on its mission, and to keep team members informed of what is going on.

In the ACTION stage the team will be confronted with many critical issues that the team could resolve, but are not part of their mission. To maintain focus the team will have to run regular meetings to sort out and prioritize critical issues for action.

Regular team meetings allow the team to apply learning and adjust to changing circumstances. During the ACTION stage the team will learn a lot, and things will change. Applying this learning and adjusting to changing circumstances ensures the team is always doing the right things. It makes the team a self-maximizing system that is always focused on maximizing its performance and results.

Team Norms

The second milestone in the ACTION stage is establishing team norms for collaboration. To avoid becoming bureaucratic, teams cannot operate with rigid rules that limit their innovation, creativity and responsiveness. Therefore the team must establish and enforce a set of norms that will define the boundaries of acceptable behaviors. The key norms a team must establish are truth telling, openness, cost and benefit sharing, maximizing results and celebrating successes.


The fourth and final milestone in the team development process is achieving results. 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 RESULTS stage where teams often come in conflict with functional management.


The first milestone in the RESULTS stage is to fully implement team actions initiated in the ACTION stage. 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 the 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.

When a solution cannot be achieved and/or a key stakeholder refuses to implement a plan, decision, or solution, the team must escalate the issue to the appropriate management for resolution. For example, a function that is under pressure to reduce costs may back off on a resource commitment. In some cases it may be best for the organization to reduce costs and not support the team. In other situations it may be best for the organization to absorb the costs and support the team. When escalating issues like this to management the team's main concern is that a decision is made, and that decision does the right thing for the business — not just what is right for the team or a function.


The second milestone in the RESULTS stage is to document both results and the process used to obtain those results in order to create a transparent process that can be reviewed by others. This allows others to determine the validity of the results by looking at the quality of the process used to generate them. Documentation is also often required to satisfy legal or corporate policies.

Documentation creates a “public record” that increases the pressure on those who made commitments to follow through on them. It is not unusual in the hectic and fast paced environment of business for a decision or solution to simply be forgotten or sometimes even ignored as memories fade and people change. Documentation and publication of results creates an incentive for key stakeholders to follow through on their commitments. If, after documentation and communication, a key stakeholder does not follow through, the team will have to escalate to management for resolution.

Documentation also allows the team to go back and capture learning that took place. Capturing and sharing learning in this way creates a learning organization that applies what it has learned to continually increase its performance.


The third milestone in the RESULTS stage is to capture and share learning about the content and the process with those who can use it to increase their performance. By sharing learning, a team maximizes the return on its investment by helping to create a higher performing organizational culture and infrastructure. When an organization stops learning, its culture and infrastructure often become outdated and low performing.

Teams expand the organizationís knowledge base and its intellectual properties when they capture and share what they have learned about the content (e.g., technology, processes, opportunities, short comings, etc.) of the team effort. Sharing this learning with the appropriate organizational units can increase both individual expertise and organizational core competencies.

Sharing learning on process avoids having to reinvent the wheel to discover the same learning on other teams. This learning often leads to the identification of systemic roadblocks in the organizationís culture and infrastructure. For example, if teams consistently identify a reward system as consistently inhibiting team performance, the organization may decide to “eliminate” this roadblock or provide additional support when working through it.


The last milestone in the RESULTS stage is providing recognition to those individuals and organizational units that made a significant contribution to the teamís actions, performance, and results. Providing recognition to individuals and organizational units that make significant contributions to the team dramatically increases collaboration and trust. If individuals and organizational units know they will get credit for their ideas and contributions, they will be more willing to share them and make them. If the team fails to provide recognition for the contributions of others, whether intentionally or not, it will be seen as taking that credit for itself.

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