Groups and Teams

Before we look at the leadership needs of a team we will take a few moments to look at various types of team from the context of willingness and ability of team members to cooperate.

As we have already seen, cooperation between team members is essential for a team to be effective and the development of high levels of cooperation is a top priority of the leader. We are going to develop a chart that will show you why.

As with all good charts there are two axis. The first is the “willingness to cooperate”. As we have already discussed, team members are in fact volunteers and willingness to cooperate is an important factor. However, one may have all the willingness in the world but if you don’t have the “ability to cooperate” then it’s not much use. So these are the key axis we will use to examine team effectiveness.

This approach was taken by Pat MacMillan and he identified a number of types of groups of people, some of which could justifiably be called a team and others could not.

Unhealthy Group Types

The Unruly Mob

Stuck down in the left hand corner the Unruly Mob’s members have neither the willingness nor the ability to cooperate. In fact their ability and willingness would both score negatively if you measured them. They are quite simply all over the place, at best achieving nothing and worst having a negative impact on each other. Examples include groups where the members are people who have worked as individuals for years, doing things their own way, and that was OK as an individual. Force them together in a team and it all goes wrong.

The Confused Crowd

This group want to cooperate but they don’t know how. They have great intentions but negative ability. This is perhaps because they have not been trained in working together or perhaps because the composition of team members is wrong. We will look at team member composition later.

Warring Factions

These people have the ability to work together but they have no intention of doing so because of lack of trust, internal politics or they are just so competitive they have to beat the next guy. Their trust accounts are empty and no-one will take the risk of being dependent upon any of the other members.

Individual Stars

These are people who have the skills to cooperate but they are in it for themselves. They recognise that a little bit of cooperation can help them achieve their own personal goals. The team goals don’t really come into play except in as much as they may serve the individuals.  Pat MacMillan likens them to racing cyclists. They are prepared to take turns to lead the group, breaking the wind resistance for those that follow. But when it gets close to the finish they focus only on themselves as they sprint to the line. It is very rare for these teams to recognise that there are better results to be had if they collaborated more. They achieve little more together than they would if they worked independently.

Now we come to the 4 positive team types. They represent a development path and life cycle as the team grows towards achieving its full potential.

The Trajectory to Achieving Full Potential

We’ll now take time to look at healthy teams.

The Basic Group

This is the most common form found in organisational settings. People brought together by “the boss” to set about some task. At this stage they are not working collaboratively so it’s really a set of individuals and as such achieves only the sum of the individual contributions.   There are two prime issues that they face which the leader must address.

  • They are not aligned in outlook and objectives because members’ concerns tend to be about whether the group is heading in the direction that they want to go. – Is belonging to the group in their own best interests? It may be that team members don’t know each other or are uncertain of the others abilities and intent. Consequently, the members are hesitant about committing to cooperative working.
  •  Also they may lack the skills needed to work cooperatively and so overall it’s easier for individuals to get on doing what they can do alone.

The big issue for the basic group is alignment. Are they all going in the same direction?

The ‘Adolescent’ Team

When the team members have become convinced that their best interests are served by belong to this team they move into this stage of ‘adolescence’.

As team members they have individually bought into the team’s objectives and begun to get to know each other. Now they begin to focus on interpersonal concerns. The fundamental issue to be addressed now is trust. As we just discussed in a team this needs two questions answered: Have they got the necessary competence to do what is asked of them, and will they do what they say they will?

As they work together they get to know each other, understand their respective competencies and integrity. Appropriate expectations of each other are developed and trust builds up. There is greater willingness to risk relying upon other team members and with that the team becomes more willing to work cooperatively.

The Learning Team

Two things now begin to happen:

  • Based on developing trust the team begins to talk about how to work together better. They tend to consider the processes they use within the team, especially ones that don’t work well, they clarify roles so that everyone knows who is doing what.
  • Team members begin to help each other; they become adaptable and are prepared not simply to stick to the defined process but to adapt what they do to make it easier for others to do their job.

As a result of this developing maturity and ability to cooperate, synergy begins to emerge and effectiveness increases. A concern begins to develop not simply for “my task” but the corporate success of the whole team.

The High Performance Team

At this stage the team is able to balance the tensions between individual needs and team needs. They are able to clearly divide the task and operate individual roles while remaining committed to the whole task.

Founded on the maturity developed in the preceding stages the team now becomes concerned about how to do things better.  This means that they are able to assess their own performance, and that implicitly means the performance of individuals as well as the team as a whole. As they work out how to do it better, the overall performance of the team continues to increase to a place well beyond that which was achieved by the same people when they were still a “Basic Group”.

Team Performance

Pat MacMillan sets out these group and team types based on his experience. They are not an attempt to set out some kind of theory but are a recognition of observed, practical realities.

The Basic group is the most common form of team but its performance is only that of a set of individuals getting on with their own jobs.

The negative types are essentially counterproductive and their members end up working against each other and so their performance is worse than if the individuals worked alone, sometimes considerably worse.

The positive types can properly be called a team according to any of the definitions we considered and once they have moved beyond adolescence, performance becomes greater than the Basic Group; the sum of the parts. This is synergy. As they develop into The High Performance Team, achievement significantly outstrips that of the Basic Group.

Achieving One’s Full Potential

The goal of the servant leader is that the individuals they lead should achieve their full potential. They can achieve their full potential as an individual but even this is far less than their full potential as a member of a High Performance Team. So it’s easy to see that developing their team along this path is a priority for the Christ-centred servant leader.

More than this, the outlook of a High Performance Team is that of serving fellow team members as together they seek to fulfil the common and shared purpose. In short it inherently develops the servant character in every team member and this character works out in practice. This too is a goal of the Christ-centred servant leader, to grow more Christ-centred servant leaders.


Take a Moment:

  •  How do you react to what we have just discussed?
  • In this spectrum of groups and teams, where would you honestly place the team or teams to which you currently belong?


Take a Moment:

  • Review the nature of the Christ-Centred Servant Leader we discovered in the first module – Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom
    • Identify the characteristics of a High Performance Team resulting from its growth path through the healthy team types.
    • What do you discover when you compare them?

You see a significant similarity when you consider the nature of a High Performance Team, as described by Pat MacMillan, against the characteristics of a Christ-centred servant leader.  The character and heart of the servant leader on the part of team members is key to the team achieving its full potential. If you want to consider the stages of development further I recommend that you read Pat MacMillan’s book: The Performance Factor.

The Characteristics of a High Performance Team

Having overviewed team types and considered how they perform we have seen that there is a way for a group of people to work so cohesively and collaboratively that they are capable of extraordinary achievement. This way enables them to achieve their full potential, which is the goal of the servant leader.

Now we can develop some of the things we have learned about teams and examine the characteristics of a team that achieves its full potential. Pat MacMillan identifies six characteristics. We will summarise these here and then look at each in more detail in turn.

Common Purpose

A team needs a clearly defined purpose that is understood by all team members and to which they each subscribe and own. Without this, confusion reigns because no one knows what they are seeking to accomplish. It’s why they are all there in the first place.  This adoption and ownership of the shared, common purpose ensures everyone is pulling in the same direction and it’s called “alignment”.

Crystal Clear Roles

For any system to work its parts must have specific functions which do not clash and enable it to do exactly what is needed. The same is true of a team. Clearly defined roles for each member are required such that between them they cover all the activity that is needed. This doesn’t happen by accident, it needs careful consideration and design. This is often a difficult thing to achieve.

Accepted Leadership

Competent leadership is essential to keep the team on track; to keep it aligned and collaborating. As we discussed earlier, team members are volunteers and they volunteer to be led, to follow the leader.  A leader can be assigned, but unless the members of the team choose to accept them, that leader will be ineffective. In the previous lesson, The Effective Practices of a Servant Leader, we discovered that being honest, forward-looking, inspiring, competent and spiritually mature are characteristics required in a leader by those who accept their leadership.

Effective Processes

In order for team members with clearly defined roles to work effectively they must have effective processes. These process answer the question: “Who does what, when, where and how?”  But these are not simply the technical processes required for the individuals to fulfil their technical function but about how the team works together. They include things like how decisions are made; how meetings are run; how problems are solved; how progress is monitored and performance improved and so forth.

Solid Relationships

This is not about being best friends, it is about understanding each other in terms of what each team member brings to the common task. It is about understanding competencies and having high levels of trust. These are things that get the team through the bad days; the crisis and the tough times. The best and most effective teams are diverse in terms of the character and capabilities of their members – i.e. they are different, sometimes very different. This means that deep friendships all round are very unlikely, in fact such diversity can lead to tensions. Solid, well founded relationships enable the team to deal with those tensions, leveraging the resultant creativity without allowing the potential conflicts to become destructive.

Excellent Communications

This is the oil that enables teams to work. Excellent communications enables misunderstandings to be minimised, problems to be clearly explained and shared and ideas to flow.

This is so important that next module  –Leading Through Relationships – will focus on this. Consequently, we will not examine the topic further in this lesson.

It is these six characteristics that bind the team together and enable it to achieve exceptional things. We will now take a look at these characteristics in more detail.