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The Five Levels of Teams: Where Are You on the Team Curve? (Part Three of a Series)

February 26, 2010


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

So where does your team sit on the curve?

Next Post: How Do You Build Team Performance?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2016 2:21 am

    This helps a lot for my research on my proposal. 🙂 Thank you! 🙂

  2. March 3, 2015 5:04 pm

    great ! thank U .

  3. December 29, 2011 4:21 am

    Hi Jim,

    How does your work The Five Levels of Teams relate to Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team?

  4. roy permalink
    December 27, 2011 6:59 pm

    Thans a lot this is really good!! im gonna apply it to my team in future.

  5. October 10, 2011 12:57 pm

    I recommend this to my friends in Facebook.

  6. Duane Penaflor permalink
    October 10, 2011 12:50 pm

    This is a great eye-opener to some who just comes across it. Especially for the part of the psuedo team. For those who knew team dynamics, this is a great article. I like it a lot. Thanks for posting it.

  7. February 27, 2010 10:49 pm


    In a real team or high performance team, is there usually a team leader? It almost sounds like the team members are all equal, and that’s what makes them so successful.

    • February 27, 2010 11:43 pm

      Great question, Susan. Yes, you’ll typically have a designated team leader with a high performance team. An excellent example of a HP team is a Navy Seal team. There’s definitely a designated team leader, but because of the nature of their work they must understand their respective roles and each member ready to step forward to assume the leader’s role.

      In the late 90s, the concept of “self-directed teams” became very popular. This incorporated shared leadership, in which the team leader role could be rotated. In theory, this is appealing but in practice it requires a huge amount of communication, trust, role clarity, a crystal clear vision and mission, and the parking of egos. Well-functioning SD teams, in my view, is a rarity in organizations for that reason.


  1. How Do You Build Team Performance? (VERY CAREFULLY) (Part Four of a Series) « ChangingWinds

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