We all know already that teamwork is the key to success in most realms of life and business. Only through teamwork can we combine different, complementary points of view to identify and seize hidden synergy opportunities, overcome difficult obstacles and achieve challenging objectives.
However, teamwork is a challenge in and of itself. It requires that people manage their egos, develop humility, communicate effectively, resolve conflicts and, above all, commit to one another and to a common goal. Anyone who has worked on a team knows that the only way to do so successfully is by assessing oneself honestly and becoming the best person one can be. In this regard, not only does teamwork increase performance, it also promotes the development of better citizens and societies.
In order for a group of people to become a high-performing team, its members must undergo five transformational stages, which were masterfully described by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith in what they called “The Team Performance Curve,” presented in their book The Wisdom of Teams. The five stages are:
1. Working Group
A working group is nothing more than a collection of individuals who make independent contributions to a common objective, thus requiring low levels of integration and alignment. Working groups function well in certain contexts where complexity is low and the objectives are straightforward. However, they become less and less effective as the environment becomes more complex and the objectives become more challenging. More specifically, when identifying and seizing synergies become a prerequisite for survival and long-term sustainability, working groups must evolve into teams or else they will drift away into oblivion.
When the members of a working group first decide to become a real team, their collective performance will tend to decrease as a result. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Working groups do not require that their members be fully integrated and aligned strategically and operationally. They operate under the premise that its members work individually and, later, someone else, a coordinator, will be responsible for integrating the results of their work.
Therefore, when members of a working group first attempt to work as a real team, they have to face inevitable misunderstandings and frictions resulting from the natural differences among their personalities, work styles and personal goals. As a result, climate and performance deteriorate. Despite this difficulty, every team member, especially the leader, must be determined and patient, and allow this stage to occur in its entirety while not letting it define the team’s future. This is where effective leadership starts to play a crucial role.
3. Potential Team
Once a certain level of familiarity and camaraderie develops among the team members, they start to agree on preliminary objectives, work methods, communication protocols, etc. Also, as they start to reach agreements, they also start to develop a culture of their own. This allows them to feel comfortable with one another, anticipate each other’s moves and have a glimpse at what they could achieve together. This gives them strengths of untold potential: trust and hope. The nascent integration among them and their willingness to learn from one another will allow them to reach performance levels that were literally impossible when they were just a working group.
4. Real Team
After establishing common objectives, work methods and communication protocols, newly formed teams develop a culture of their own and start to function like a unit. They visualize a shared future, motivate each other, learn from each other, resolve disputes and perform their jobs in ways that strengthen the overall system. In this way, they finally start to identify and seize synergy opportunities that were previously invisible. This is the mark of a real team.
5. Extraordinary Team
When a team develops a culture based on humility, hard work, excellence and learning, its members become able to translate both their victories and their failures into inputs for continuous improvement. Additionally, each member starts to develop unique, specialized skills that increase the team’s inventory of competitive advantages. Furthermore, they periodically reinvent themselves and the way they work, thus quickly adapting to, and sometimes generating, industry trends. All this allows them to achieve extraordinary results with increased frequency, thus becoming an extraordinary team.
The evolution from stage 1 to stage 5 is an arduous one that only a few get to complete successfully. In a way, these five stages also describe the development of human consciousness, sustainable economies and democratic societies. Teamwork is one of those topics where organizational theory, business management, political theory and human psychology meet to reveal a great deal of knowledge and wisdom that applies to every realm of life.