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Lynn Scott

Lynn Scott Coaching Ltd

Leadership and Team Coach

Read more from Lynn Scott

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Team types – which one are you?


Six years ago my colleague Lois Burton and I identified five different team types – this was not an academic exercise - (goodness knows, there’s enough theory about teams out there to last a lifetime) - but one based on our experience of working with numerous leadership teams across all sectors over a ten year period. 

We wanted to help team members have a common language to describe their team and also to help them start a dialogue about what was working in the team and what wasn’t. 

We wanted to help them in very practical ways rather than giving them reams of data, information or theory which might be interesting – but doesn’t help them to make significant change.

The five team types

  1. Seriously Dysfunctional
  2. Mediocre
  3. Resistant
  4. High Potential
  5. Winning Team

It’s important to stress that any one of these teams may ‘get results’ but that’s a red herring – we’ve come across teams who ‘get results’ but with significant pain.

Or teams who ‘get results’ – but could get even better results if they focused on the right things.

Rather than the easy things, the safe things or the ‘same-old-same-old’ things.

Two questions:  

  1. ‘What is it costing you to get these results?’
  2. ‘If you were a different type of team would you be getting better results more easily?’

Let’s look at each of these team types in turn.

1. Seriously Dysfunctional

Examples of behaviour in a seriously dysfunctional team include: high degrees of blame; overt or covert sabotage; no psychological safety; passive or overt aggression (or both); an unwillingness to tell or hear the truth; command and control leadership; climate of fear.

If I walked into your team meeting I’d be able to cut the atmosphere with a knife and feel the tension. I’d probably be fearful; in ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode.

Yes, these teams are in the danger zone.

Now, it’s important to state that the individuals in the team are not necessarily ‘dysfunctional’ but rather it is the team dynamic that creates the dysfunction - or sometimes the behaviour of one or two members of the team – or the team leader.

How to get back on track

Two options. Seriously dysfunctional teams need disbanding or professional mediation depending on the nature of the dysfunction. These teams cannot continue to operate in this state. Don’t even think about trying an ‘awayday’ to sort things out.  This team needs radical surgery not a sticking plaster.

A word to the team leader

Are you the leader of this team?  Then I hate to say it, but you might be the problem here. What are you not taking responsibility for? Is your leadership style causing the serious dysfunction? What are you avoiding? Seek urgent, professional help. Wise HR Counsel is a good place to start. 

2. Mediocre

Jim Collins famously said that ‘good is the enemy of great.’ Examples of behaviour in a mediocre team include: ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, low energy; ‘agreement’ but no real commitment to do things (which means they often don’t get done); cynicism; people set in their ways; a sense of everyone on ‘automatic pilot’; complacency.

If I walked into your team meeting  I’d feel de-energised, tired and probably bored. You’ll be going through the motions – again.

How to get back on track

What gets mediocre teams moving is a strong motivation for change, a wake-up call or a shock – that’s an extreme example, of course.

Sometimes a new team member or leader with fresh ideas can shake things up a bit (although they can also be ignored if they lack assertiveness and impact).

Mediocre teams can often get re-energised by experiencing new things. A change of environment; a visit to a supplier or customer, an opportunity to do something outside their comfort zone (but with lots of support); to meet informally with teams they don’t normally ‘do business ‘with to get some new ideas flowing.

Often you need to start with small things… then move onto something bigger.

It’s fair to say that often mediocre teams contain individuals who, frankly, have been there way too long.  They’re getting by but they’re not setting the world on fire. 

3. Resistant

These teams resist what they see as forced change. 

They’ll hark back to the past; resent those whom they see as implementing the change; work hard to protect their personal interests. These teams often form cliques - those who are really up for change vs. those who aren’t – and there’s a lot of backbiting, points scoring and withholding information.

If I walked into your team meeting  I’d get a sense of ‘them and us’.

How to get back on track

Often the leader is the one trying to implement change (maybe with the support of some, but not all, of the team). We recently worked with a resistant team and what got them focused was an understanding that they were all trying to achieve the same thing (they had a shared common purpose and values). 

So asking members from each ‘clique’ to work together in pairs on key projects was key.  The leader also had to stop being the middle man. Rather than listening to each clique moaning about the other he asked them: ‘how can I help you have that conversation with them’?

4. High potential team

These teams are good teams which recognise they could be even better. They generally like and trust each other. They have an appetite and energy for change.

They are naturally curious about themselves, each other and the team as an entity.  However, it’s vital this energy and potential is given direction otherwise it could fizzle out very quickly.

If I walked into your team meeting, I’d feel at ease and sense the easefulness that you have when you are together. There would be energy in the room. A quiet energy or a very boisterous energy. Both are powerful in their different ways.

How to grow the high potential team

This is a team that is open to feedback and challenge. Ask them WHAT they think they could do better and they’ll tell you. (Although they won’t necessarily know HOW to do it.)

Ask them to give feedback to each other and they will do so (albeit tentatively as they don’t want to offend each other). These teams are excited about fulfilling their potential.

We recently worked with just such a team. The newly promoted CEO had to implement radical culture change in the organisation if it was to thrive. She knew ‘what’ but it felt so overwhelming that she didn’t know ‘how’.

So she was prone to ‘meddling;’ focusing on the work she’d done before (in her comfort zone) and avoiding the difficult stuff

 She was willing to hear feedback from her team about what they needed from her (she had to ask!) and, with their support; she made the changes happen very successfully over a period of time.

5. The winning team

Winning teams are trailblazers – they ‘make tracks through wild country’.

A trailblazing team, often the top team, transforms organisations. The team works ‘on themselves’ as much as they work on the products and services they provide. Think premier league or elite sports teams.

They acknowledge mistakes without fear or rancour, have brave and honest conversations and work as a team when they are apart – as well as when they are together.  They acknowledge, and play to, their collective and individual strengths and celebrate success.

They trust that each and every one of their colleagues is working for the common, collective good.

If I walked into your team meeting it would have ‘winning team’ written all over it. I’d see humility and focus, equal ‘air time’ in your discussions, a willingness to give and receive constructive challenge, appreciation and celebration.

However, winning teams also realise that very few, if any, teams are trailblazing all the time. And winning teams know when to rest and take time out to re-focus and re-energise. That’s one of the things that keeps them at the top of their game.

So – which team are you and what would you like to do about it?

Lynn Scott is the author of The Effortless Leader Revolution: The Four Pillars of Effortless Leadership, available for download free today.

Author Profile Picture
Lynn Scott

Leadership and Team Coach

Read more from Lynn Scott

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