Become a high performance team: How to navigate the stages of team development



“I’m part of a leadership team that has two new members and one person who’s moving into the top role after being part of the team for a long time. Stating the obvious, we’re dealing with changes in the team as we deal with change within the company and in the market we operate in. Can you give us some practical tips for working on our team effectiveness?”

I will address the reader’s question within the context of the classic team development model characterized by the stages of forming, norming, storming and performing. Along the way, I will make reference to the three facets of growth that are associated with these stages: intrapersonal, interpersonal and team growth.
The issue the reader references is an increasingly common one for Wisconsin-based employers. Our state has a graying workforce (it has one of the highest percentages of baby boomers of any workforce in the U.S.) and we have seen trends of “brain drain” (exit of younger, credentialed employees) and job loss over the past decade. Coupled with fast-paced changes associated with the technology-fueled global economy, leaders of some organizations have struggled to make timely fine-tuning adjustments to promote organizational adaptation. Cast in this context, responding to changes within the leadership team is an important issue for the team to confront.
The reader references changes to the composition of the leadership team. Three changes have recently been made (i.e., one person has a new role and there are two fresh faces). In my opinion, for the team to optimize its effectiveness in light of these changes, they would be well advised to spend some time clarifying what they wish to accomplish as a team. To what heights does the team aspire? What could the team become if it were to fulfill its full potential?
One of the things that I find interesting in working with teams within organizations of all kinds is that often the individuals who comprise the teams have some formal experience with past teams upon which they can draw. Individuals have been part of sports teams, musical or theater groups, school project teams, and so on. Individuals can often recite in great detail the formal processes in which these teams engaged to integrate and synthesize individual contributions with team-based pursuits.
On the other hand, all too often it seems that individuals have not been part of a formal process of team development within the workplace. They have been deployed into teams and told, in essence, to “make it happen.” They have not been provided with a playbook or practice schedule, just told to perform at a peak level during game conditions with precious little guidance or preparation.
That would be like the Green Bay Packers playing the first game of the upcoming 2014 NFL schedule without having spent any time in organized team activities or training camp and expecting to win that game and all the rest on their way to a Super Bowl title! It would be, in short, wishing on a prayer!
The Packers and the rest of the NFL know better; so, too, should any team in any organization, especially a leadership team.
The reader asked for some practical team development tips. The graph table accompanying this column is filled with just such insights and suggestions. First, it is worth noting that on the horizontal axis, the four stages of forming, storming, norming and performing are predictable phases through which any team must pass to achieve its full potential. Great teams do not “just happen” any more than great individual performance “just happens.” Hard work and effort must be offered to develop and hone the elements that undergird successful team performance.
To navigate the stages of team development most effectively, care must be taken by each member of the team to pay attention to the facets of team development that are shown on the vertical axis of the table (i.e., intrapersonal, interpersonal and team). Let me emphasize this last point: each member of the team must pay attention to each facet of team development. For just as the weak link in the chain determines the strength of the chain, so, too, does the weakest member of the team dictate the strength of the team.
Let’s explore these facets in some detail:
• Intrapersonal growth
The key question answered here is, “How am I doing?” True and authentic self-awareness is the goal. Am I doing everything I can to be the best I can be as an individual and as a teammate?
• Interpersonal growth
The key question answered here is, “How are you and I doing?” Partnership and collaboration are the cohesive agents that bind any team together. Like a bicycle wheel, the team’s spokes (i.e., its members) must join and connect with one another. That means building “relationship capital” among all members of the team.
• Team growth
The ultimate question asked and answered is, “How are we doing?” Self-interest must be subordinated to a greater cause. Personal criteria must give weight to aggregate criteria. As the highly team-oriented San Antonio Spurs recently proved in its decisive NBA championship triumph over the individual-talent rich Miami Heat, the sum of the whole can, indeed, be greater than the parts!
Ultimately, team effectiveness is driven by the extent to which the individuals who comprise the team are committed to something greater than they could achieve on their own. Superordinate goals must trump individual goals. As UCLA’s legendary men’s basketball coach John Wooden (coach of 10 NCAA champions in a 12 year span), selected by Sporting News as America’s greatest team coach during the 20th Century, observed, “It takes 10 hands to make a basket!”
Daniel A. Schroeder, Ph.D. is president of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants Inc. (  He can be reached at (262) 827-1901 or


Figure: Diagnosing the Stages of Team Development
Will I be accepted?Will I be respected?How can I help the team?How can we do better?
IntrapersonalWho’s here?What ideas, experiences, expertise can I contribute?Here’s how I do it on my shift/in my roleFree to share ideas, opinions, feelings.
What’s my role?Do I agree or disagree?Feel comfort or discomfort about role I’m playingUnselfish enthusiasm for group members, the task.
     – GatekeeperWhat’s in it for me?Want to helpFeel a need for closure
     – HarmonizerWhat do I like?
     – OrganizerDislike?
     – Leader
     – Fact finder
Feel uncertain
Feel tentative“I”“WE”
PolitenessBid for PowerCooperationEnthusiasm
InterpersonalSmall talkWho will lead?Self-disclosurePraise and criticism
GeneralitiesWith whom can I align?Here’s how I do itStraight talk
Limited disclosureCompete with others based on personal agendasRecognizing ideasHaving some
Relationships begin to form“Fight or flight”Listening more carefullyParaphrasing and perception checking occur more naturally
Quiet apprehensionsCommitment to emerging leadership
OrientationOrganizingData FlowProblem Solving
TeamWhy are we here?What’s the real problem?Open exchange of ideas and informationCollaborative decision making
What’s our assigned task?Resistance to others’ ideasProblem definitionIntensity about task completion
Identify strengths of the teamWhat’s our mission, goals, strategy?Urgency to ID/evaluate solutionsRelationship and results oriented
How will we proceed?Shared responsibility

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