by Colin Adam, Director of People Development, Ennea International


A team or not?

Before starting to work with a team developmentally, it’s important to know whether or not this group of people is, in fact, a team. For this purpose one needs to form a view of exactly what defines a team. There are many definitions of the concept “team” but most people would probably agree, at least, on the following:

  • A team comprises several people and can be as few as two. In many organisations it’s not unusual to find “teams” comprising as many as eighteen to twenty people. However, these larger groupings need to be looked at carefully to determine whether or not they are in fact teams. Sometimes they consist of a collection of smaller teams, and sometimes a group of individuals who simply report to the same person but not a team.

(Interestingly, Meredith Belbin did extensive research on teams that demonstrated the optimum team size to be eight roles plus a specialist. He found that fewer than five members results in decreased perspectives and reduced creativity; and more than twelve members increases the likelihood of negative conflict and a greater potential of fragmentation into sub-groups.)

  •  The members of a team work towards and contribute to a common outcome or set of outcomes.
  •  Individual team members often have different tasks and outcomes to achieve within specified time-frames with relatively close interdependence amongst the members.
  •  There is generally a clear team leader who monitors collective and individual progress and connects into the higher leadership echelons of the organisation. This person is primarily held accountable for the team’s success or failure.
  •  Although many teams comprise members who work in close physical proximity this is not always the case. The rapid explosion in the use of sophisticated electronic communications technology means that “virtual” teams can easily operate with large geographical separation of the members.

One could go on to list other features of teams but those indicated above would be central.

Defining the territory:

When deciding how to help teams shift their level of operation to high performance it’s useful to have a set of grounded assumptions or beliefs about high performance (i.e. what it looks like and what it takes to achieve this state). The team needs to position itself relative to these grounded assumptions about high performance and this position is the team’s starting point. This essentially answers the question: “Where are we right now?”. The concept of high performance defines what its destination will be (i.e. “Where are we going?”). The team needs to have a solid sense of what the land of high performance looks like and to get excited about getting there. As you follow this line of thinking the territory that the team needs to cover begins to emerge and it becomes possible to start defining a route. At this point some likely obstacles may come into view which prompt thinking about how to overcome them.

Charting the route to high performance:

The route needs to be carefully plotted from starting point to destination. In so doing, it’s necessary to remember that while team members will be journeying together they each have their own unique path to walk. This implies that the team as a collective (the “WE”) needs to do certain things differently in order to reach the desired destination. This will inevitably lead to changing some behaviours, building new practices, habits and ways of doing things that impact and involve everyone in the team. Similarly, because each team member is unique having their own strengths, non-strengths, knowledge bases, competencies, personalities, and so on, each person has an individual journey, or development plan to follow (the “I”) which needs to be specifically crafted and supported.

The leader as a special case:

The team leader, although an individual in the team, has an unusually complex role to fill. In addition to defining and working on his or her own personal development journey, the leader is joint-custodian of each team member’s development and as such needs to support it, monitor it, and ensure that each individual is making progress.

The leader also needs to monitor the collective development journey of the team (the “WE”) and be sure that progress is made in this aspect. In order to do this the leader needs to hold the map and the compass and lead the team towards its destination.

A further complexity is that at different stages in the journey, the leader needs to adapt his or her leadership style somewhat in order to ensure progress at the “WE” level. This relates to the team stage model mentioned later in this article. The leader therefore needs special support in the broader team development process.

Some important models:

George Box the statistician once said: “essentially all models are wrong but some are useful”. Whilst a model doesn’t necessarily provide us with an absolute truth, it can act as a lens through which we are able to view the world, and which enables us to make sense of what at first appears chaotic and random.

With George Box’s quote in mind, it’s important to be discriminating when deciding which models to work with. Often, models that have stood the test of time and have a body of experiential and scientific evidence to support them are the ones to consider seriously.

Two important models that underpin Ennea International’s approach to team development are Bruce Tuckman’s team stage model, first developed in the 1960’s and added to in the 1970’s; and the Enneagram, an ancient well-established model of the human condition – the human operating system if you like. When used intelligently in conjunction with an assessment methodology these powerful models can be combined to establish an individual’s and a team’s starting point, and provide strong indications of specific developmental paths to be pursued individually and collectively.

To Summarise: key questions to consider in developing team effectiveness:

  • What is a team?
  • What does a high performance team look like, and how does it behave?
  • Where is the team relative to this high performance state, and how will this be evaluated and tracked?
  • What models and assessment methodology will be used to define the team’s stage of development and what it needs to do to develop further?
  • What model and assessment methodology will be used to define the team members’ stages of development and what they each need to do to develop further?
  • How will the leader be additionally supported in his or her developmental journey given the complexity and importance of this role?

Ennea International has carefully considered these and other important questions regarding team and leader development and has developed a unique set of processes, methodologies, and tools that combine into holistic effective solutions. The results achieved to date, particularly in the corporate business setting, have been truly outstanding, as can be seen by the many testimonials received.