What Kind Of Team Are You In?


Over the years practitioners have given various names to the different types of teams.  In my experience, they all amount to four distinctive levels of teams:


Dysfunctional Teams are sadly surprisingly common in organisations. They are characterised by two types of team members; those with strong opinions, often delivered in unhelpful ways who tend to dominate; and those who have effectively checked-out and contribute little, only responding when directly called upon.

Finger-pointing and failure to accept responsibility are often common currency. Trust is inevitably limited and frustration levels run high. As a result, meetings are generally unsatisfying and unproductive.

These behaviours drive silos further down in in the organisation as team members work to experience a level of control at least over the area of the business they have responsibility for.


Effective Teams are the historical benchmark for teams. They are characterised by team members who are experts in their functional areas, happy to contribute that expertise to the team.

Team members are willing to accept responsibly for their own areas and there is trust in each other’s ability to deliver. Meetings are efficient and productive, although the focus is more tactical than strategic.

Team members are still primarily concerned with delivering the results required of their own functional areas. As such there is little abiding interest in the wider issues of the business, particularly where these do not obviously intersect with their own function.

Although the intentions of team members are generally more constructive, the result is still largely a collection of individuals.

High Performing

High Performing Teams have recently become the standard teams aspire to. At this level, there is a shared purpose and agreement on common goals and the work of the team is focused on achieving these.

Team members feel free to express ideas and opinions. There is shared understanding on how the team works together and ground rules are adhered to. Trust levels are high and team members feel safe in engaging in robust debate.

These behaviours drive greater engagement across the organisation and positive leader behaviours are seen more frequently modelled by team members – both inside and outside of the team.

Game Changing Teams

Game Changing Teams are those that lift teamwork and results to another level. Team members see their role as leading for the success of the organisation first, and delivering their functional results second as a means of contributing to this.

The foundations of Game Changing Teams are the same as those of High Performing Teams. But for Game Changing teams the stakes are higher and as a result the level of focus, energy and commitment are higher too.

Team members consider it a privilege to be on the team. Relationships are deep and trusting and team members relish the cut and thrust of working together. Participants are invested in developing their own skills and those of their fellow team members to deliver the work of the team.

The edge team members bring is a willingness to engage with disruptive ideas that will leap frog the organisation forward.

A game-changing team is the once in a career dream team that everyone is proud to have participated in. They are the teams that leave legacies that people are still talking about years later.

Thinking about the team you lead or participate in, which kind of team are you in? How much of an impact is that having on the quality of your work life and your level of engagement?

As in all things, having agreement on your starting point is the first step in journeying from wherever you are to where you need to be.

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The Trouble With Team Building

Twenty years ago, team building was about team exercises like making towers out of pipe cleaners or trusting each other sufficiently to fall backwards hoping we’d be caught by our colleagues.

Ten years ago, it was sharing experiences – frequently involving heights – like abseiling down a cliff face or climbing a rock wall. 


Today, team building is about conversation, encouraging trust by being honest about who we are and what we’re concerned about.

The problem with all these approaches is that while the intentions behind them are laudable, they rarely hit the intended mark of changing the game back in the workplace. There are three reasons for this.

1.  An event not a journey

When we embark on teambuilding we instinctively think of it as an event. A one-off that means we’ve ‘ticked the box’ on building the relationships within the team, at least for this year. 

The trouble is that even if the conversations are useful on the day, inevitably without continued attention and focus, most of the impact ebbs away as the real-world crashes in. What’s more its simply not possible to build the relational foundations necessary for an effective, let alone a game-changing team, in a single session.

2. Unnatural and disconnected

In addition to being a one-off or annual event, team building generally occurs away from the office. If we’re lucky it involves a nice location, good catering and leisurely breaks. Similarly, the nature of conversations are not ones we would generally have back in the office.  

The trouble is that even if these conversations and ways of structuring our days deserve to be part of standard work, they’re not. What’s more they require a different focus and type of energy resulting in an artificial ‘high’ that is hard to mimic back in the office.

3. Outcomes not easily measured

The focus of team building is usually on relationships rather than results. While strong relationships are critical to effective teamwork, the work of strengthening them is notoriously hard to measure.

The trouble is this fuzziness is generally reflected in the agreed outcomes of teambuilding sessions: getting to know each other better or developing a more nuanced understanding of team member’s preferences. While these are helpful outcomes, it is difficult to gauge their usefulness over time, or to measure progress. It is also hard to hold ourselves accountable and others responsible.

Yet here’s the conundrum: senior teams tasked with changing the game for their organisation simply cannot do this without working as a team. Yet investing in their capacity to work together effectively is generally way down the agenda for the reasons outlined above. Building a Game-Changing Team is a critical element of individual leader’s success. What is required is a new approach to team building which focuses equally on results, relationships and reflection.

Next time you’re contemplating getting the team together, consider how the agenda might reflect these three things so you ensure real work is done, results can be measured and the process of building the team continues back at work.

Until next time,


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Are you prepared?

Most of us are aware we need to be prepared for a future we’ve yet to get our heads around. A future that involves driverless cars, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data. A future shaped by changing demographics and geo-politics. A future we can’t yet imagine.

We know it’s coming. We see the signs in what we watch and read. We know our organisations are contemplating what we must do to stay relevant. But few of us have taken the time to really think about what this will mean for us, or those that matter to us.

Yet our job as leaders is to lead – and leading today no longer means leading for business as usual. Rather it means leading others to a future that we only have glimpses of. But how do we prepare for a future we can’t even predict?

This question is at the crux of the difference between leading change and leading transformation. Leading change is like training be a Territorial. We go through drills to help us prepare to handle similar situations to those that have happened before e.g. disaster relief. The scale of the change might be different – but the change itself will be recognisable and our response will be predictable.

Leading transformation is like training for the SAS. The stakes are higher and the situations we are likely to find ourselves in are utterly unfamiliar. It’s not a case of running drills to deal with the familiar. It’s about focusing relentlessly on developing the mindset, disciplines and practices to be prepared to handle whatever comes up.

In preparing ourselves and those we lead to meet the challenges of an unknown future, we, like the SAS, must prepare differently. 

We must develop new insights into our motivations, tendencies of response and identities and adopt different mindsets. We must develop new disciplines that enable us to model with more precision, learn faster and perform better. We must up our game so we can ruthlessly focus on what really matters and push ourselves so we become masters of our own destinies – personally and organisationally.

So how do we begin? We start by learning to pay attention. Much as we are advised to keep up with our professional and industry reading, we must be equally diligent in keeping up with future trends. 

We begin by keeping a list for ourselves that’s marked ‘The Future’. Every time we see something, read something or have a conversation about anything that could possibly have an impact on the future (no matter how seemingly insignificant) we make a note. At this point we're not considering what this could mean, we're just getting into the habit of paying attention.

For example, recent entries on my list include:

  • The possibilities of cars powered by poo
  • The impact of pop-up office spaces rather than being tied into multi-year leases
  • Prediction that by 2020, 50% of workforce will be free-lancers
  • Shopping malls declining in favour of big-box stores
  • A prediction that within twenty years the number of accountants in NZ would drop from 17,669 to 19

What’s on your list?

Interested in knowing more about the challenges of leading transformative change? Come and join us for our Two-Hour Special Event.

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