DS Performance Group - Dramatic and Sustainable Performance - Individuals, Teams, and Organizations
About Us
Products & Services
Innovative Ideas
Contact Us
Viking Ship Cartoon

Team Leadership

This model overviews the demands on team leadership at each stage of team development. The top row identifies the major milestones, the middle row identifies how participants will see the leader, and the bottom row looks at the balance the leader must maintain between task and process. Click on the model to learn more about the team leader role.

— Interactive Diagram: Use Mouse to Navigate  —

Stages of Team Development: Leadership View

The major role of a team leader in team development is to facilitate the team through the stages of team development. To accomplish this role the team leader must focus on figuring out the right things to do, and doing those things right the first time.

It is critical to remember that team leaders do not have position power to boss people around. They can lead, but no one has to follow them. If the leader pushes too hard team members will rebel and bail out; if they do not push hard enough team members will become frustrated and bail out. Therefore the team leader must find the right balance of control to lead and to get people to follow.

Leadership is extremely challenging because the leader has to lead both the task and the process. First, the leader must lead a process to establish the task the team will do; then lead a process to define the process the team will use to do the task it decided to do; then facilitate the process the team has agreed to use to do the task. Leadership is a constant struggle to determine the right things to do, and then to do them right the first time. Finding the right balance between task and process is the key success factor for team leaders.


In the ORIENT stage the team is a collection of individuals with a wide range of perspectives on the team and the situation. The role of the leader in the ORIENT stage is to “get the butterflies in formation” by establish the agenda and keeping things moving.

Business, Organization & Situation

The three major milestones in the ORIENT stage are to analyze the current business and organizational dynamics to accurately assess the situation the team will be operating in. This analysis will require a great deal of group discussion to get everyone on the same page and create a common orientation to the situation. The team does not need agreement, only sharing and understanding. Therefore the team leaderís major role will be to keep the discussion moving and on track.


In this first stage there is a dependency on the leader to get things done. Most team members will tend to sit back and wait for the team leader to suggest a course of action. Team members expect the leader to “know what to do” and to get the team doing it. This puts a great deal of pressure on the leader to come up with an agenda and get people to follow the agenda. But, since the leader has not legitimized his or her ability to lead, team members will feel free to deviate from the leaderís suggested course of action at any point. When this occurs the team depends on the team leader to either get people back on the agenda or change the agenda; whatever is the right thing to do for that team at that time.

Low Process & High Task

The team is dependent on the leader for both the task and the process, but in the ORIENT stage task is of primary importance. The leaderís major focus is on the task, what does he or she want the team to do — “Whatís the agenda for the first meeting?” What the team needs most from the leader at this point is to have a clear plan of action and to get things under control.

Once the leader has presented the plan, and the team has agreed to go along, the leader must keep the team focused on the task. This will require close facilitation, especially of group discussions. Group discussions can quickly get off topic and waste time, or spend too much time on a minor point if they are not closely facilitated. Therefore the main process role of the team leader is to just keep things moving.


In the ORGANIZE stage the team must come to consensus on its mission, goals, strategies and structure. The leaderís role is to maximize team member ownership and commitment them. The leader will need to develop and facilitate a highly participative process that maximizes ownership and commitment through active participation in the process. A highly participative process provides the critical thinking and challenging of ideas needed to ensure the team does the right things. It will also provide the participation needed to create ownership and commitment.

Mission, Goals, Strategies, Structure

In the ORGANIZE stage the team must achieve consensus on its mission, goals, strategies and structure. Achieving these milestones turns a collection of individuals into a team. But this is also a very emotional and high risk stage. A team that has not gotten beyond the politeness of the ORIENT stage may reach premature consensus as team members just go along to get along. When this occurs the leader may have to raise the level of risk taking by using a process that facilitates disagreement and critical thinking; and then closely facilitating the process to ensure no one gets hurt, angry or rejected. So, to a large degree, leadership in the ORGANIZE stage is about finding the right level of risk taking.


The dependency on the leader in the ORIENT stage turns into a counter-dependency in the ORGANIZE stage as team members begin to assert themselves in both the task and process. This often puts them at odds with the team leader who is trying hard to closely facilitate both. Team members may move the discussion off the agenda to a topic they feel is more important, and then rebel when the team leader tries to pull them back onto the agenda. This puts the team leader in a position of having to make a call, does he or she pull these people back onto the agenda, or should they change the agenda. How the leader makes the call will directly impact team performance for better or worse. But no matter how the leader makes the call, some team members will not like it and they will let the leader know they do not like it.

Teams often break into political sub-groups who support different positions in the ORGANIZE stage. Each of the sub-groups is looking for the leader to agree with them. The side the leader agrees with will think he or she is a strong leader who listens well. The side the leader disagrees with will see the leader as political and stubborn. Therefore a team leader should never get caught choosing up sides. The role of the team leader is to get all sides on the table and come up with a process for resolving the disagreement.

High Process & High Task

This is the most difficult stage for a leader because task and process are of equal importance and focus. In the ORGANIZE stage the leader is always doing two things at once; and failure on either task or process will reduce performance and slow team development.

In the ORGANIZE stage the process of how the team reaches consensus on its mission, goals, strategies and structures is of equal importance to the task of developing them. The leader must be focused on maximizing ownership and commitment through participation in the process. High levels of ownership and commitment indicate that team members spent the time and effort necessary for them to believe in what they came up with. This usually indicates the team developed the right mission, and they have taken ownership for the team. At the end of this stage team members are self-directed in their actions and willing to share leadership responsibilities.

This is a very high risk stage for team members. It is often marked by bids for power over control of team actions, and things can get emotional when team members are arguing for and against each otherís positions. Team members are looking for the team leader to closely facilitate the process and provide protection before things get out of hand and somebody gets hurt, angry or rejected. Therefore the team leader must closely watch the process and be ready to intervene when it starts to damage the teamís personal, interpersonal or group dynamics.


In the ACTION stage the team starts to implement its strategies in order to achieves its goals and mission. The role of the leader is to keep the team focused as it takes action on many fronts and to ensure the team adjusts to learning and changing circumstances.

The leader must also capture learning that the team can use to adjusts its goals and strategies. A team must make many assumptions in the ORIENT and ORGANIZE stages. During the ACTION stage the team will learn if these assumptions prove to be true. If they are not, the team will have to go back to the ORIENT and ORGANIZE stages and make the necessary changes.

The leader must also monitor the external environment so that the team can respond to changing circumstances. Teams develop specifically to achieve a specific task in a specific situation. When the situation changes, the team will have to change as well. Teams that fail to make this adjustment often end up doing the wrong thing, right the first time.

The leader must allow and encourage team members to lead specific actions. Sharing leadership in this ways avoids overloading the team leader until he or she becomes a constraint in team performance.

Meetings, Norms

There are two major milestones in the ACTION stage — establishing efficient and effective team meetings and establishing norms for acceptable behaviors.

Team meetings become the command and control center for all team actions. Therefore running efficient and effective team meetings is the major leader responsibility in the ACTION stage.

Teams operate with a great deal of freedom. To ensure that freedom is not abused the team must establish strong norms that set the boundaries of acceptable behaviors. The leaderís role is to model these behaviors in his or her actions and to enforce these norms with team members and key stakeholders.


In the ACTION stage team members are more self-directed as they start implementing the team strategies. Everyone is clear on what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing it. Therefore they are more independent of the leader and in service to the processes the team has established.

The shared leadership of the ACTION stage also creates independence from the team leader. Many of the strategies identified in the ORGANIZE stage will be led by someone other than the team leader. In complex teams this can result in the establishment of sub-teams with their own mission, goals, strategies, structure and leader.

High Process & Low Task

In the ACTION stage the the tasks have been largely established and there is a growing independence from the leader. This allows the leader to focus attention largely on the process of keeping the team focused and adjusting to learning and changing circumstances. In this stage everyone else is so focused on the task that they tend to ignore the process altogether. Therefore the team leader must be inspecting process on a regular basis to ensure they are maintained and operating at a high degree of efficiency, and to identify when they should be changed to increase team performance.


In the the RESULTS stage the team is ensuring its actions are fully implemented and it is maximizing its results through documentation, providing recognition and capturing learning. The role of the leader is to push to maximize results and bring closure to the team.

Implement, Document, Recognition, Learning

Fully implementing team actions often requires a great deal of creative problem solving; and if that fails, escalation of the issue to upper management. The team leader may lead these efforts or provide support to other team members who are leading specific efforts. But the key role of the leader is to keep up the pressure to push things through to get results.

The leader maximizes team results by ensuring the team documents its actions, captures and shares learning, and provides recognition for contributions to the team. These final three milestones bring closure to the team and maximize the organizationís return on its investment in developing the team.


In the RESULTS stage there is a strong interdependence between team leader, task leaders and team members. Everyone is depending on everyone else to do their job and do it well. On high performance teams everyone takes leadership responsibility. If the leader cannot attend a meeting, no problem, someone else will jump in and take over. The leader gets pulled off the team, no problem, someone else jumps into the leadership role. This interdependence ensures that if the leader is gone for any reason, the team will continue on strongly.

Low Process & Low Task

The RESULTS stage is the easiest for the leader because the team is like a well oiled piece of equipment — it just keeps moving along. Every person on the team is taking leadership responsibility, whenever necessary to achieve results. The team has become a self-maximizing system that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Comments Welcome!

Click here to go back to Innovative Ideas