The Wisdom of High Performing Teams

Anthony Mersino
June 29, 2016

Are you interested in creating high performing teams? Would you like to understand why some Agile teams perform better than others, or to objectively evaluate the condition of your current team? In The Wisdom of Teams; Creating the High Performance Organization, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith dive deep into team anatomy and paint a vivid picture of what makes a high-performing team. One of the more useful takeaways for me was the framework for understanding team performance relative to maturity. In this framework, Katzenbach and Smith show 5 maturity states for all teams. Let's explore each of these. 

5 Maturity States for All Teams:

  • Work Group - The Work Group is the lowest in terms of maturity. Work groups are not so much teams, as collections of individuals formed by natural affinity classes, for example, everyone in the same department or all the students in the same class. In a Work group, there is little need or attempts to perform well together as a team, and little care for the development of others members of the group.
  • Psuedo Team - Next in terms of maturity is the Psuedo Team. The Psuedo Team is a team in name only. Though set up to look like a team, individuals in the Psuedo Team are not trying to maximize the performance of the team. If anything, they are trying to maximize their own personal benefit without regard for other team members (and sometimes at the expense of the other team members). Giving these groups a “team” moniker is actually a disservice to all teams. Psuedo Teams have the lowest collective performance of any other type of team we will explore. They also lack trust of each other. Fans of Patrick Lencioni will recall that lack of trust is one of the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Examples of Psuedo Teams include most committees, councils, and nearly all government organizations.
  • Potential Team - The Potential Team is one that actually has the opportunity to become a real team. Most of our “teams” in the corporate environment would fall into this category of a potential team. In contrast to the self-serving behavior of Psuedo Teams, Potential Team members are focused on improving the performance of the overall group. They are called potential teams because they have the potential to be a real team. They are just missing a couple of key attributes: accountability and
    complementary skills.
  • Real Team - Real teams are those Potential Teams that have matured to the point where they are holding each other accountable. This relates to another of Lencioni's team dysfunctions - the Avoidance of Accountability. Real teams also differ from Psuedo Teams in that the team members are diverse and have complementary skills.
  • High-Performance Team - High-performing Teams share all the characteristics of Real Teams. In addition, they have two characteristics that set them apart. With High-Performance Teams, the individuals are deeply committed to the growth and development of their team mates. They are also committed to the success of each team member and the group as a whole. The implication is that the individuals truly care about each other, and are willing to risk upsetting their team mates to support them. This relates closely to a third Lencioni’s team dysfunction: fear of conflict. If I am afraid of conflict, I am unlikely to tell the truth about your performance and how it affects me and the team. We will be superficial and kind so that we avoid conflict.

High Performing Teams Self-Assessment

​​Take a moment to think about the Agile or Scrum team or teams that you are currently on or that you currently support. How would you categorize them based on the 5 types above? What would you need to do to move them to a higher level of team performance? Read this related post for ideas on how to setup the conditions for high performing teams.
 

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

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