4 Stages, 3 Questions

Published: June 18, 2019

Every team is in a state of transition. Some are regrouping following a major change. Others are building a culture of trust and accountability. Still others are using that platform of trust to generate something new. Many teams are anticipating a transition and bracing themselves to cope. Whatever stage your team is managing, there are always three questions to ask.

Question 1: What stage are we navigating?

Investment: Resetting norms and goals following a transition and learning how to manage conflict productively.

Trust: Harnessing respect and connection to empower a culture of safety and accountability.

Innovation: Leveraging the foundation of trust to explore, discover and create new ways of solving problems.

Distancing: Embracing the change we’ve created or endured by refueling and refocusing on our new circumstances.


Question 2: Why are we in this stage?

Investment: Our team has cycled through a change and has a window of opportunity to reestablish norms and direction.

Trust: Our team has come together to achieve a common goal and we need to build a reliable platform upon which to grow.

Innovation: Our team is ready to stretch, experiment and explore.

Distancing: Our team needs to step back, gain perspective and replenish our energy to face the new challenges ahead.


Question 3: What actions will move us forward?

Investment: Gain clarity on workplace culture and shared vision. Learn how to invite respectful differences as fuel for future innovation.

Trust: Equip everyone on the team with an imaginary referee whistle to call a gentle foul whenever a teammate steps outside the agreed culture.

Innovation: Embrace fear as a normal emotion and allow it to fuel smart risk-taking.

Distancing: Take time to mourn what has been lost so the team can regroup and re-energize for the next round of investment.

The four stages are always cycling. Knowing here you are and why you are there enables you to chart a path forward. Whether proactive or reactive, always ask three questions.


Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.