Skip to content

The Five Levels of Teams: Where Are You on the Team Performance Curve?

December 10, 2017




In the previous post we looked at the six basic elements of what constitutes a team, and specifically the two key ingredients of teamwork: a common purpose and interdependency of effort.

Now we’ll move into understanding the five levels of teams. Using the questions posed in the first post will help a group determine if it’s a team or has the potential to become one. The next step is to understand the degree of teamwork to which a group of people can aspire.

The five levels of teamwork can be plotted on an X-Y axis to form what Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith call the team performance curve. It’s essentially a J-shaped curve, starting on the Y (vertical) axis, then sloping down to touch the X (horizontal) axis, and then bending back upwards to the right. The five levels of teams are located along the curve.

1) The Working Group

The members interact mainly to share information and best practices and to make decisions. There are no common purpose or performance goals that require mutual accountability. The purpose of this group is only to specify the roles of its members and to delegate tasks.
Its members only take responsibility for their own results. Therefore, the focus is on individual performance. The key here is there is no significant, incremental performance need or opportunity that requires the group to become a team. Working groups are found throughout organizations, whether in business or government.

2) Pseudo Team

There’s a potential for significant, incremental gain here. The team has not, however, focused on collective performance. The members don’t want to take the risks necessary to become a potential team. They are not interested in creating a common purpose or setting performance goals.
The pseudo team resides at the bottom of the performance curve and is the weakest of the five levels. What is especially dangerous about the pseudo team is that the members believe that they are a real team, yet they produce inferior results.

3) The Potential Team

There is a significant, incremental gain in performance with this type of team. The members are working hard to achieve a higher level of performance. However, the members must work on developing a clear purpose, goals, and common approach. The members must also agree on mutual accountability. This form of teamwork is very common in organizations. This is also where the greatest gain in performance comes, from being a potential team to a real team.

4) The Real Team

This consists of a small group of people who share a common purpose, goals, and approach to work. The members have complementary skills. They hold themselves mutually accountable for their results. The performance impact and results of the real team are much greater than the potential team and working group.

5) The High Performance Team

This has all the characteristics of a real team, but the members are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and development. They far out-perform all other teams. An excellent example are special ops teams, such was the one shown in the above photo.

The members of a high performance team form powerful relationships. Moving from a real team to a high performance team requires a very strong personal commitment. In effect, what’s needed is a leap of faith.

So where does your team sit on the team performance curve?

Navy SEALS say when you’re under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. Train well.
—Jon Gordon (Leadership author and speaker)

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.


Is Your Team REALLY a Team? Why Instant Pudding Doesn’t Cut It

December 3, 2017




Teamwork is talked about widely in organizations, but often with little understanding of what it means. Management typically wants immediate results—teams that are formed and ready to go overnight–something like an instant pudding.
This post looks at the six basic elements of teams. First, here’s one definition of a team (from Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith):

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Think about that definition for a moment. What’s your reaction?

There are two key prerequisites to becoming a team. One is that the group of people involved has a shared, common purpose; the second is interdependence among the members. Without BOTH of these present the group will never become a team. It’s impossible.

It’s essential that the members of a team be committed fully to their common purpose and performance goals. A common purpose takes time to develop, but it gives the team an identity. Remember this: team purpose = team performance. They’re inseparable.

To determine if your group is a team, or has the potential, answer the following questions.

1) How large is your group?
• Is communication frequent?
• Do you meet often, and are discussions constructive?
• Do people understand their roles?

2) Are their sufficient, or potential, skills to achieve your goals?
• Are the three types of skills present: interpersonal, technical, and problem-solving?
• What skills are missing?
• Are people willing to learn new skills and to help one another?

3) Is there a clear and meaningful purpose to which people will strive to reach?
• Is it a team or organizational purpose?
• Does everyone understand it the same way?
• Do people think it’s important and inspiring?

4) Are there specific performance goals that everyone agrees on?
• Are they organizational, team, or the leader’s goals?
• Can they be measured easily?
• Do they allow for small wins along the way?

5) Is there a commonly accepted approach to work?
• Does it maximize the contributions of people?
• Does it allow open interaction among people to solve problems?
• Are new ideas encouraged?

6) Is there mutual accountability among people?
• Is there individual and mutual accountability for the group’s performance and results?
• Are people clear on what they’re accountable for, individually and mutually?
• Is there the view that only the team can fail?

These questions need to be asked and reflected upon to determine whether any elements of teamwork are present in your work setting. Pseudo teams abound in organizations. However, what we’re striving for is a common purpose and interdependency of effort as the key ingredients. The rest will come with dedicated effort.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.
— Andrew Carnegie

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

Lessons in Teamwork: Winning Despite Trenchfoot, Leeches and Hunger

November 26, 2017

Malaysia 1.jpg

Many years ago, I watched Eco-Challenge 2000 on the Discovery Channel (a show that ran from 1995 to 2002), a fascinating event encompassing teamwork and leadership. This was my first experience watching Eco-Challenge, the highlights of which were broadcast over five evenings. I was skeptical at first about what I would get from this program. However, my interest in outdoor learning and team dynamics drew me to it.

Eco-Challenge was created in 1995, billing itself as the world’s premier expedition race. The first event was held in Utah, with subsequent ones being held in different countries. In 1996, for example, British Columbia hosted the event in Pemberton. Eco-Challenge 2000 was held in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The theme was Malaysia’s wildlife. Of particular significance is the very strong conservation ethic that accompanies Eco-Challenge. For example, participants who do not adhere to the event’s strict environmental rules are forced to withdraw. As the saying goes: Pack it in, pack it out.

The event consisted of a brutal 500 km (300 mile) course involving sailing, hiking, biking, swimming, scuba diving, rappelling, and canoeing in indigenous craft. People from around the world participated, for a total of 76 teams. Canada sent four teams. Each team consisted of four people, with at least two females. For a team to have officially completed the race, it must have remained together throughout. If one member withdrew (e.g., injury), the team was disqualified. This set the stage for a high level of teamwork if all of the members were to succeed. Of the 76 teams, 44 completed the race, but of these some were disqualified for various reasons. However, they were permitted to continue in order that they could experience the course.

The top finishers completed the course in six days. However, many teams took up to 12 days to reach the finish line, the last of which was a 40 kilometre open-sea canoe paddle. Of special note was the decision to allow for the first time what could be called “non-professional” teams to participate. In the past, the participants were individuals who engaged in extreme sports, and who were “ranked” in terms of the likelihood of their winning an Eco-Challenge. Consequently, the mixing of neophyte and experienced teams in this event provided some illuminating contrasts and lessons.

It’s amazing what the human condition can endure in incredibly difficult circumstances. Virtually of the participants suffered from trenchfoot, some horribly. Persistent and aggressive land leeches proved to be one of the most taxing factors contributing to the mental stress of the participants. While physical conditioning and preparation was obviously a critical factor to the success of teams completing the course, perhaps more important was the mental stamina of the participants and how they supported one another.

This leads me to share seven key lessons that I saw emerge from Eco-Challenge. These lessons have direct application to the effective functioning of organizations. Here they are:

Malaysia 2.jpg

1) Park your differences; focus on what needs to be done.
Those teams that ranked in the top few that completed the course in six days refused to argue among themselves, even when the stress became almost overwhelming. They parked their differences and focused on the task at hand. This contrasted with many teams, some that were new to this type of event and others with some experience. In these cases, differences of opinion or viewpoint emerged, along with interpersonal conflicts. This led to these teams wasting time arguing and bickering. For example, at the check points, the high performing teams spent only a few minutes before moving on. However, other teams sometimes spent up to several hours deciding how to proceed.

2) Take time to share in the joy of your experience.
Teams that let themselves get sidetracked through in-fighting not only performed poorly (in some cases dropping out of the race) they also lost the opportunity for sharing the positives of their experience and in learning as a team.

3) Don’t criticize other team members behind their back.
In some cases, shown through one-on-one interviews with the participants as the race unfolded, team members criticized a particular team member. A case in point is Carlo, who constantly whined about his foot blisters (which were actually mild compared to most participants) while one of his team members became very ill for a few days. This led the three other members to ostracize Carlo and speak negatively about him. But it didn’t appear that the three members made a strong effort to bring him into the team and re-orient his behaviour.

These types of incidents contributed to a high level of team disfunctioning and very hard feelings. Whatever joy and team learning that could have occurred was overcome by a high level of negativity. The team members not only had to endure the toughness of the course but also the stress caused by their behaviors.

4) Commit to the team.
Although some teams were disqualified during the race (e.g., getting lost and then found, injury, and illness), many decided to complete it for both personal reasons and commitment to one another. This was the real learning in Eco-Challenge. While it was impressive to see, for example, the team from France finish in the top few, it was the novice teams that most impressed me. They refused to let the many hardships and obstacles they faced diminish their spirit. This meant carrying a team member on one’s shoulders at times because their trenchfoot had become so severe. And what’s remarkable is that these teams were not attempting to rank in the race. Their shared purpose was for the entire team, all four members, to complete the course together, even if it took 12 days.

5) Maintain a sense of humour, even when everything seems lost.
The teams that maintained a sense of humour were able to deal with the adverse conditions they faced. Although they suffered from dehydration, diarrhea, trenchfoot, sprains, hunger, and aggressive leeches, they still managed to laugh. Team members found humour in their situations, cracking jokes. Humour helped them to ease the pressure they felt, which was often overwhelming.

6) Celebrate your wins, however small.
Teams celebrated their small victories along the way, such as reaching the top of a mountain after a gruelling climb, or after making it through white water rapids without capsizing. Celebrating served to create the necessary energy and resolve for the team to tackle the next challenge.

7) Support one another, in both good and bad times.
When a member became ill or was injured, the others on the team supported him or her, both physically (carrying extra gear) or mentally (words of encouragement). Moreover, team members hugged one another when a member was having a particularly bad day. These effective teams did not criticize the sick or injured members. Poorly functioning teams, in contrast, did not provide the necessary support to those members who needed it. The consequence was that it became much more difficult for these teams to regain their spirit, sense of shared purpose, and collective energy.

Of important note was the presence of shared leadership in the well functioning teams. Although each team had a designated leader, leadership was indeed shared at the appropriate times. One case in point was when one of the team leaders, a male in his fifties with many years of experience with Eco-Challenge, was unable to walk due to severe trenchfoot. The team’s members rallied around their leader, sharing the leadership. While the team was eventually forced to withdraw from the race because of the seriousness of the leader’s condition, they persevered until the end.

Leadership in a well functioning team is not a dictatorship. Leadership must be shared. And when placed under pressure it is remarkable from where leadership often emerges from a team’s members.

Malaysia 3

Final Thoughts
The lessons learned from Eco-Challenge have clear applications to organizations: how people learn, collaborate, share leadership, achieve results, and celebrate. The team from France, one of the top finishers in the race, could be called a high performance team (characterized by two key traits: shared common purpose and inter-dependence of effort). The members of this team were focussed through a shared purpose and inter-dependence of effort, two cornerstones of strong teams. They were well organized and prepared, committed to one another, cared for one another, and enjoyed themselves (but intent on winning the race).

For those teams that didn’t enter the race to win but rather to have the experience of pushing themselves to their limits and to share in the joy of completing this odyssey together, Eco-Challenge proved to be the ultimate challenge.

Some questions for team reflection
1. What can we do to bring joy back into the workplace, where laughter and smiles prevail?

2. What can we do to ingrain a deep sense of commitment to one another, not only in the sense of accomplishing our work but also in our learning and the fulfillment of our personal growth and development?

3. Connected to #2 is how do we begin to show a mutual caring for one another, especially in times of stress and crisis (a hallmark of high performing teams)?

4. How do we reestablish what is important in our work, with respect to value-added to citizens, and get off the treadmill of “doing” and move into the realm of “being?” And from there, how does this contribute to our achieving mastery in work-personal life balance?

5. From the above, how can we begin to translate this into team and organizational learning, and subsequently into the creation of new knowledge that is then diffused throughout our organizations?

Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.
— Casey Stengel (Baseball outfielder and New York Yankees coach)

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

Are YOU a Passionate Leader? Creating and Inspiring Your Followership

November 19, 2017


In this post, we’ll look at why passion is a key ingredient of a leader’s effectiveness and success. Having a broad repertoire of leadership styles is important if we’re to meet the needs of our followers.

One specific area that’s vital in our personal leadership is organizational “know-how.” This refers to the small “P” politics (how work gets done), a good understanding of the organization, and the big picture of where it’s moving and the key external influences affecting it. However, to achieve a high level of performance as a leader, it’s next to impossible if we don’t have a passion for a cause that relies on the collaborative efforts of people.

When we speak of “walls” that inhibit collaboration, we’re referring typically to the functional silos that separate people–physically and emotionally. At a deeper level, we may even be referring to the unconscious, shared assumptions that contribute to these walls.

But there’s another level to this, and that’s the personal one: what we perceive as the safe and familiar routines with which we’re accustomed. Breaking through our personal barriers to take that leap of faith to openness, inquiry and acceptance will lead to new insights and practices.

To propel an organization forward, it’s not structure and process that are key. Rather, it’s the core values and purpose of the organization. As passionate leaders, our role is to inspire and enrol our co-workers by sharing our passions and visions. What’s most compelling about this is that it has nothing to do with compliance. Instead, people feel part of a cause, but at the same time they are free to choose.

This is an extremely important leadership lesson: the subtle yet distinct shift from compliance to enrolment. But to achieve this requires a very different approach to leadership. Having a burning passion is a prerequisite to instilling a sense of mission among your followers.

Take some time to reflect upon the following questions as you proceed on your own leadership journey:

1) When am I most energized?

2) How could I spend more time in this “state?”

3) How can I infect my followers, superiors and peers with my energy and enthusiasm?

4) When will I take the first step to live my passion?

I have never seen results accomplished without passion. –
- Peter Drucker

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

Accountability and the Role of Leadership: Are You Sharing the Power?

November 12, 2017

Accountability 1

Accountability has become one of those words used in organizations that make people wince. Many years ago, when I was getting initiated to the leadership field, it seemed that almost every second word emanating from people’s mouths was ‘accountability,’ tangled up with another popular word: ‘empowerment.’ The two became almost brother and sister, rolling off people’s tongues as if to signify their enlightened understanding of leadership. However, if accountability is to have any substantive mean in organizations, a lot of work is needed to restore its credibility.

To begin with, we need to understand just what is meant by the word accountability. Perhaps we need to reposition it in the vocabulary of organizations. In some ways it’s become a pejorative word. When organizations introduce initiatives aimed at empowering employees while ensuring that they are accountable, they’re in effect bureaucratizing the effort to foster initiative.

To engage the hearts and minds of people requires, among other things, the creation of an environment in which they want to take initiative, be creative, and accept the consequences for their actions. This points to the dominating factor in organizations, and it is leadership: how it is espoused and practiced.

To advocate accountability among employees while in the same breath not modelling the necessary behaviours undermines management’s efforts. When employees truly believe that they’re able to share power and decision-making, there will be the beginning of a torrential release of creativity and innovation.

People cannot be empowered; instead, people empower themselves. Creativity and innovation will only happen when people feel safe to experiment and take calculated risks to improve work processes and serve clients and citizens better.

Confident Business Team

It’s important to underscore the distinction between empowering people and people empowering themselves. Too often, we hear about staff being empowered by managers. But are people really ‘empowered?’ Or is it a process of self-initiation, in which the individual personally assumes the responsibility to take initiative and to motivate herself? Managers set context, an enabling environment. This is a cornerstone role of managerial leadership.

In his book The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Accountability Roger Connors presents a definition of accountability:

“An attitude of continually asking ‘what else can I do to rise above my circumstances and achieve the results I desire?’ It is the process of ‘seeing it, owning it, solving it, and doing it.’ It requires a level of ownership that includes making, keeping, and proactively answering for personal commitments. It is a perspective that embraces both current and future efforts rather than reactive and historical explanation.”

The essence of what he’s saying is that we need a mental shift in how we approach accountability. Trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions only leads to further frustration and stress on the part of everyone. Management becomes frustrated with how long it’s taking to change behaviours and to see results. Staff are suspicious of new initiatives, riding them out until new ones come along. Middle management feels torn between the two groups as it tries to respond to the needs of both. The consequence is stressed out middle managers.

To transcend to a new state of co-creation means that the culture of victimization must end. Connors describes this culture as the refusal to take ownership for one’s behaviour and actions. Excuses are the norm, with blame being attributed to wherever it flows the easiest. There’s a creative tension between the rights of employees, which is well established, versus responsibility and accountability, which is less well developed.

Until we collectively achieve a common understanding of the issues surrounding accountability, it’ll be very difficult to realize the creation of strong learning cultures in organizations. Here are six questions that will contribute to the dialogue that’s necessary in organizations. Of particular importance is to approach such a dialogue from an integrated perspective, in which the elements of the learning organization are included.

1. How do we get off the turntable and begin to collectively co-create organizations that are founded, in part, on the principle of personal responsibility and accountability?

2. If we fail to embrace the idea of individual accountability, what is the impact on service to customers and clients?

3. What are the long-term consequences of not paying heed to this and initiating a dialogue and action to make change?

4. What is the role of managerial leadership in this regard. In particular, what are the consequences when managers abandon their staff who take risks but who make mistakes?

5. How do we distance ourselves from a culture of blame and embrace a culture of learning from mistakes?

6. How do we transcend from the level of personal accountability to one of mutual accountability (i.e., among teams)?

As we proceed along the path towards personal and collective enlightenment, we need to continually remind ourselves of the interconnection among the many elements that are affecting the future of our organizations. Accountability is intertwined with the components that form the basis for the creation of learning cultures. Of importance is that we must constantly remind ourselves that accountability is not a thing; rather, it’s about people. And as such, accountability needs to become part of this important conversation.

“Accountability:” It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.
—Molière (French playwright and actor)

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

What’s Next on Baby Boomers’ To-Do Lists? Time to Think About Our Succession Plans

November 5, 2017


I admit to being a task-oriented type of guy, despite being known for generating ideas and preferring the big-picture over details. And as a Boomer in his early sixties, I’ve been down the proverbial “Been-there, done (most of) that” routines. Let’s take a look, and if you’re a Boomer compare notes.
Caution: If you’re Gen-X (37 to 51) and you’ve done all the below, then you’re a Boomer-Wannabee.

• Wanted children? Yep, had four (now between 28 and 38). None of that 1.9 kids per family unit for this guy
• Grand kids? Check, have six (for now)
• Built a successful career? Did okay on that front
• Did the obligatory graduate studies? Earned two masters while helping to raise four kids
• Went fitness crazy? Yeah, for a long-time, but have come to my senses, where health and moderate activity are more important. Proud of my love handles
• 40th birthday (stage one mid-life) crisis? Oh yeah! Went nuts with outdoor recreation, from whitewater canoeing to off-trail mountain biking to camping.
• 50th birthday (stage two mid-life crisis)? Of course, but got smart this time and embraced my childhood passion of playing the piano. Now own two. Still cycle, but more sedately. Camping? No more of that sleeping on the ground; I like my back
• Downsizing/re-orged to death? Yes, but fortunately didn’t suffer as much others who were dealt with brutally. But got fed up with being told to bend over (you know the rest)
• Went consumer-spending crazy? Nope on that one, but not completely innocent either. Too busy supporting a family of six on one salary for many years
• Love being an empty-nester? Entered that world a few years ago.
• Feeling really sandwiched? You bet–between our kids and a 98 year-old mom
• Feeling ready for retirement? Oh yeah. Check that off
• Want a simpler life? Pleeeaaase yes! Essential to not just a post-corporate career but also to practicing more stewardship in helping care for our planet
• Anything I’m missing? Add your comments


Senior Couple Exercising In Park
As we Boomers begin to exit from the labor force in increasing numbers over the next ten years, it will provide much-needed opportunities for Gen Y to secure employment. This generation has had (to be blunt) the crap battered out of it since the onset of the 2008-09 Great Recession. Last-in, first-out, as the saying goes in organizations.
Gen X, which has had to endure living in the Boomers’ omnipresent shadow, is actually fortunate since they will succeed the exodus of managerial Boomers. Their situation may possibly reflect the job market my dad faced post World War II, during which a pulse was all you needed to find a job.

For us Boomers, our next task is to create a new task-list of what we want to accomplish during our silver years. Here’s an idea: why not commit to becoming leaders of stewardship for our planet? Many Gen Yers already get it; it’s now our turn.

I can’t imagine anything more important than air, water, soil, energy and biodiversity. These are the things that keep us alive.
—David Suzuki (Canadian environmentalist and broadcaster)


Click here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

GOT MY BACK? Mean What You Say–Why Promise-Keeping is Key to Your Inner Leadership

October 29, 2017



Trust Fall

When was the last time you said to a co-worker, friend, family member or even an acquaintance, “Don’t worry, I got your back.”

But did you?

Sure, we can say it’s a figure of speech, representative of today’s hip expressions, in effect a worthless statement of support or promise-keeping. But there’s more to this expression than that.

Would those who like to utter “Got your back” want to admit that it’s as substantive as a balloon full of hot air? Probably not. Yes, it’s said in humour at times, such as when my 34 year-old son says it to me on occasion. However, we both know the context in which it’s said.

I like to think that Gen Y, enthusiastic purveyors of “Got your back,” generally mean what they say. Having raised four kids to Gen Y status (one of whom is borderline Gen X), I see a very different set of values than my peer self-indulged Baby Boomers. Gen Y does seem to be more supportive of one another than older generations.


With over three decades in the workforce and battle scars-a-plenty from downsizing exercises and office politics, my view is that Baby Boomers are not the nicest people with whom to work. To have said during my career “Hey Frank, I got your back” would have been laughed at, for we Boomers learned to excel at backstabbing, deceit and self-promotion. There were too many of us in too compressed a time period, during which it was very competitive to advance in the workplace. Unfortunately, Gen X has learned some of our bad habits, being the generation that has been forced to live in the shadow of the Boomers.

Here’s a question for you to reflect upon:

To what extent would you go to back a colleague or subordinate at work if the individual were in trouble but not necessarily guilty of anything? And what would be your limits?

The greatest lessons learned as we develop our personal leadership come NOT during the easy times of economic growth and workforce expansion, but when we are under personal stress as aspiring leaders and when we’re facing uncertainty. I’m a testament to this, but only realized this decades later in life.

We can quickly obtain technical skills and a certain degree of knowledge. However, wisdom comes only with time as we reflect upon our experiences, synthesize our learning, practice patience and move forward. There is no other way to acquire wisdom–it’s not instant pudding. Take a moment to read Paddling in Organizational Whitewater.

So, I ask you again: “Do you have my back?”

Please take a moment to comment and share your experiences.

You never find yourself until you face the truth.
 –– Pearl Bailey

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.