Stages of Building a Team

02 Mar Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: 5 Stages of Building a Team

After five days in Orlando with 45,000 people, my swelling feet have finally subsided, I can sort of think clearly, I’ve updated my media contacts (thanks to being able to break network news) and I am still debating whether Orlando is truly the happiest place on earth.

But what I did get to see was how a strong team can move mountains.  How did they get there?

There is a great book titled, The Wisdom of Teams, which outlines the five transformational stages to become a high-performing team.  If you are leading a team, read it — it is an amazing read.  The authors Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith discuss the five stages a team must go through to achieve high performance.

The five stages of building a team are:

Working Group

A working group is a group of people who make independent contributions on a common objective. The group doesn’t require much integration or alignment, and function well on simple tasks with straightforward objectives. As opportunities grow, the team becomes less effective as tasks and objectives become more complex.


When a working group initially becomes a pseudo-team, collective performance typically decreases. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it really makes sense – working groups don’t require member integration, strategically or otherwise. A working group operates as individuals, with a coordinator responsible for integrating that work.

So, when a working group initially tries to work as a real team, members face misunderstandings and friction. As a result, climate and performance deteriorates. But despite these difficulties, each team member and particularly the leader, should remain determined and patient. This initial stage must occur in its entirety, yet not define the team’s future. This is where effective leadership starts to become crucial.

Potential Team

Once a certain level of familiarity and camaraderie develops among the team members, they start to agree on preliminary objectives, work methods, communication protocols, etc. The members start to agree and develop a culture, which allows them to feel comfortable with one another, and anticipate each other’s moves. At the point the group also starts to see what the members can achieve together.

This gives them strengths of untold potential: trust and hope, which allows the team to reach performance levels that were previously impossible.

Real Team

After establishing common objectives, work methods and communication protocols, newly formed teams develop a culture of their own and start to function like a unit. A real team visualizes a shared future, and its members motivate and learn from one another. The members also resolve disputes and perform in ways that strengthen the overall system.

At this stage, members start to identify and seize opportunities that were previously invisible – this is the mark of a real team.

Extraordinary Team

When a team develops a culture based on humility, hard work, excellence and learning, its members become able to translate both their victories and their failures into inputs for continuous improvement.

Additionally, each member starts to develop unique, specialized skills that increase the team’s inventory of competitive advantages. Furthermore, they periodically reinvent themselves and the way they work, thus quickly adapting to, and sometimes generating, industry trends. All this allows them to achieve extraordinary results with increased frequency, thus becoming an extraordinary team.

I was able to see my client’s team evolve over the last three years of transitioning through these five stages of building a team. And let me tell you, it has been pretty amazing to witness.  Our press coverage of their messaging has tripled, the team is clearly recognized as a leading industry voice, and finally, this team is a lot of fun to work with and be a part of.

Teamwork is a challenge in and of itself. It means checking your ego, developing and maintaining humility, communicating effectively, resolving conflicts—quickly—and making a commitment to each other and to the team. Finally, it requires honesty and being the best individual possible.

And without teamwork, you are holding your messaging back.

So get your team together, and the opportunities will be knocking at your door in no time.