As I’ve written about before, I started working diligently to understand teams and what makes them work over 20 years ago. In the mid 90’s, I read a book by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith called The Wisdom of Teams. In it, I discovered a picture to illustrate the journey we were on as an organization.

Jon and Doug called this the Team Performance Curve. It was extremely helpful. We had seen the types of teams they described, and we had already discovered the path they outlined – we just didn’t have language for it yet.

There are 5 different mile markers on the team performance curve. Each has its own defining characteristics and challenges. Try to identify where your team is on your journey as you read each of the following.

1 = Work Group  This is when individuals work independently and pool their collective output. This is not really a team. It is a pre-team condition. There is no synergy or attempt to work together. The work group can be represented by the simple equation: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.

2 = Pseudo Team  After a workgroup decides, or its leader decides, to become a team, there is the inevitable downturn in performance. It is similar to a golfer who rebuilds her swing – for a time, her scores will deteriorate. This is a very dangerous place for a team to be and you don’t want to be there for long. It may LOOK like a team from the outside, but the output tells the real story. This stage can be thought of like this: 1 + 1 + 1 = 2.

3 = Potential Team  The path from Pseudo Team to Potential Team is paved with discipline and hard work. If a team is persistent, they will reach the output levels they enjoyed previously as a workgroup. Unfortunately, many teams abandon the journey at this point. In their mind, it’s just too much work to be a team. If this happens, they never get to taste the victory just ahead. Here’s what the Potential Teams equation looks like: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. 

4 = Real Team  This is where the journey begins to pay off in real terms. The team that sticks with it and practices the skills will reach a point in which their output exceeds their input – synergy is realized! The equation for this is: 1 + 1 + 1 = 4

5 = High Performance Team  This should be the ultimate goal for every team. Unfortunately, few teams ever realize this level of performance. Why not? The reason is twofold – most don’t know this higher plane even exists. Or, for those who do see the possibilities, rarely do they know how to get there. It is an exciting place for the most elite teams. It can be represented like this: 1 + 1 + 1 = 10+

In my book, The Secret of Teams, I wrote about our 20-year journey to understand and create high performance teams like Jon and Doug described in their work. I also shared some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way and some pitfalls you may want to avoid.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks and I’ll write about each stop on the team performance journey.[GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.