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Let's Stop Pretending - Real Team or 'Pretend' Team?

I have been working in and with teams for over 40 years. I have been a team member, a team manager and a team coach to many teams across a number of industry sectors, predominantly pharmaceuticals. The challenge has been that in numerous instances, whilst the groups of individuals have called themselves a team, they have been in effect a 'pretend' team, 'playing' at teamwork and never fully realising their full potential as a group of (in most cases) talented individuals. In their excellent book, "The Wisdom of Teams' , Katzenbach & Smith describe the various 'teams' that exist - 'groups', 'pseudo' teams, 'potential' teams , 'real' teams and 'high performance' teams.

I am not going to go into all the definitions of each stage (you can get these from 'The Wisdom of Teams' or my own book, 'Team Champion - Taking Teamwork Seriously' but I do want to focus on the low performance end of the Performance Curve. I prefer to call 'Pseudo' teams. 'Pretend' teams. Let me explain.

These are not true teams. In many ways they are simply working groups of individuals called a team historically by senior leadership. They are expected to perform as a team, hold meetings together, socialise together at company meetings, and play along with the 'teamwork' behavioural indicators contained within a company's competency framework. The team meetings tend to focus on 'updates' as regards how the overall 'plan' is going and how each individual is performing against their own individual objectives. This is a very common scenario with sales and account teams. There is no real interest in the 'team's' overall goals as it is only the team manager or leader who is actually measured on these goals. The individual team members are only measured on their own individual objectives. The result is that in such 'update' meetings, individual team members 'check out' when other team members are presenting their 'update' as the other team members are only focused on themselves. There is no real individual member link (emotional and measurable) to the team goal. You can also find that agendas of these meetings are 'busy' with other 'updates' from perhaps other functions out-with the team and whilst there may a strong link to these other functions as regards the team's plan, again team member 'check out' can be very common. These busy agendas can mean that vital learning and development time (where the team builds its knowledge and skills) and 'problem solving' sessions (looking for solutions to challenges) don't happen. High performance teams make these important sessions happen regardless of pressures from other functions. 'Pretend' teams go with the flow, 'bowing' down to senior stakeholders and pressure from other functions. If the team also works in a competitive culture where, perhaps, there are league tables of performance (including the dreaded red, amber, green , or 'traffic light' classification) then sharing of learning from both success and challenge is exceedingly limited, if it happens at all. The 'Pretend' team exists on a constant 'hamster wheel' of tasks with the result being average or under performance. Even if the 'pretend' team hits its targets, then perhaps the targets and goals were not high enough.

So how, can you move a 'Pretend' Team towards a 'Potential' Team and then eventually to a 'High Performance' Team?

  1. Ensure the team has a true purpose that everyone engages with. A sales target for example, is not a purpose, it's a goal. A team purpose is about why the team has been created, what is it there to do, and who are they doing it for. it should engage the emotions. If you want examples then DM or email me and I'll send some across.

  2. Make sure there is a team goal or goals that each and every team member firstly understands and (this is crucial) that they have a % of their measurement linked to it. Just relying on individual measurement won't fully engage the team members to what the team is aiming to achieve overall. It drives competitiveness, indifference and may mean team members keep knowledge to themselves. If the culture is individualistic, then team members who are having challenges maybe to fearful to bring their challenges to the team.

  3. All team members should have clarity as regards their own roles and responsibilities. Just check that they all do ( and this includes yourself as a team manager) and take some time to share these across the team so that everyone in the team knows exactly what everyone else is doing and what they have to achieve. And again this includes you as a manager. This builds awareness and trust along with the ability to 'step in' whenever a team member is off ill or leaves the team or company.

  4. Work on, and complete a 'working' team charter which outlines the team purpose, the team's goals and the behaviours and expectations that the team promises to abide by. Give the responsibility to one of the team to keep it alive and make sure that it is reviewed at least twice a year.

  5. There are bound to be common areas of development across the team, whether this is knowledge or skill (usually both) so create a simple, straight-forward team development plan that the team can work on. Make space on team meeting agendas (or arrange dedicated time) to execute the plan. Again, delegate responsibility to a team member to take responsibility for it.

  6. As part of the team development plan, it is always useful to do team and individual assessments. Social styles, resilience assessments and strengths profiling are great awareness tools and teambuilding exercises which can be done quickly and at low cost.

  7. Put in place a robust review process so that performance is reviewed regularly to ensure the team is on track. You should also put in place time for the team development plan and the team charter to be reviewed. Regular review keeps the team's overall performance on track as well as ensuring that development is ongoing and learning is taking place routinely.

  8. It is important that the team have a reward process both one which rewards effort and performance. Reward processes can take the form of a simple, 'well done', and 'thank you' (amazingly powerful motivators) through to formal incentive and reward schemes and competitions. Where formal schemes are in place just ensure that the team members have clarity on how they work. I've seen some sales incentives schemes that you would need a masters' degree in astrophysics to fully understand so try and keep them as simple as possible!

  9. An exercise which also increases cohesiveness in the team is Stakeholder Mapping. Very few teams actually take the time to analyse who their key company stakeholders are, and how they are going to engage with them positively and constructively. Having senior stakeholders on the team's side can enhance the team's standing in the company and ensure that extra support is gained in the pursuit of the team's purpose and goals.

  10. If you are a team leader or manager then don't just lead the team based on 'gut feel', instinct or what you have experienced as a team member. Make sure you get the right development in terms of understanding how teams are formed and how they function. Many management development programmes tend to be very light on team leadership so if this is the case then seek out more detailed programmes that can assist in enabling you to develop your team leadership skills. If you have access to a team coach then all the better.

So, you can see that there is a lot more to a team than just 'lumping' a group of people together. Don't just accept being a 'Pretend Team', be a 'Real Team' - better still become a 'High Performance Team'. Make sure you hit your true potential.

If you would like to know more about our 'Resilient PARTNERS' team development programme then simply direct message me through LinkedIn or via email at

Alternatively call me on ++ 44 (0) 776 416 8989

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