Four Stages of Team Evolution

Are you satisfied with your leadership team’s performance and culture? Do you think they can achieve more? Trust each other more? Every team goes through a natural evolution of four predictable and manageable stages to reach optimal performance. However, most teams need help to reach the final stage. Recognizing and understanding these four stages helps you to confidently lead your team to success.

1) Dependence – The Honeymoon

When your team formed, most members were optimistic and enthusiastic. Everyone was energetic, cooperative, patient, and open to direction. There was excitement about their shared mission to address an enterprise need. Any minor irritants – pebbles in the shoes – weren’t a problem. Things were good.

2) Counter-dependence – Conflict

Trouble arrives in the second stage when the honeymoon ends. Those pebbles in the shoes are making blisters. Everyone is settled in and comfortable enough to push back. Personal and departmental agendas come into play. People become impatient and argumentative and draw lines in the sand. You are spending too much time managing blow-ups, misinterpretations, and lost trust. Frustrated leaders usually call us for help when a team is stuck in this stage.

3) Independence – Harmony

By stage three everyone has survived the battles. They occasionally bump into one other but mostly respect each other’s boundaries. However, instead of working as a team, they work in independent silos.
Many self-described high-performing teams have only reached this third stage. While there are some good results, the team hasn’t yet achieved their highest possible level of performance.

4) Interdependence – Teamwork

High-performing teams have reached this final phase. Team members have a high level of trust and a sense of responsibility for the team’s success. Even though each member is responsible for only one area (such as medical staff, operations, and IT), everyone has a joint sense of ownership and accountability for the whole enterprise. No one feels threatened when someone else raises a concern, an idea, or provides direction for their area. This productive conflict creates new ideas, strategies, and direction and leads to joint commitment to the team’s success. Members believe “Your win is my win. Your struggle is my struggle.”

Reaching High Performance

Wouldn’t it be great to jump directly to the final stage? Unfortunately, that’s not the way teams work. Your leadership team must work through all the stages and may even repeat stages when you add or lose members. There are no shortcuts.

Most likely, your team is operating in the counter-dependence or independence stage. This is where we find most teams we’re called in to help. Usually, the leader and the team members either aren’t aware of their current state or have never taken the time to assess where they are.

When we work with teams, the first thing we do is assess their existing state. This includes interviews, assessing the vision and goals of the team, and sometimes observing their behavior and interactions.

Next, we work with the team to define their desired end state. Yes, the goal is to move the team to interdependence, but it’s important to create a vision that takes into account their unique situation. It’s usually best for the team to create this vision together.

Also, it’s important to remember that the team is made up of unique individuals. We work with the team members to increase their self-awareness through assessments that help them understand their perceived behaviors, individual preferences, and motivators. Coaching the team members on individual leadership competencies and goals helps with team member interactions and relationships, enabling a culture that is ripe for interdependence.

We Can Help

Our team of coaches loves working with new and stuck teams! We provide tools to help you navigate your team’s evolution, identify blind spots and self-protective strategies, and coach you to lead your team to their highest performance level. We work with you and your team members to put new leadership principles into practice, applying them to real-work situations that will not only enable a strong team culture, but also help you reach your team goals. If you’d like support in moving your team forward, Schedule a complimentary discovery review today:

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