All Teams are Seasonal

Published: December 17, 2019

Ground delivery services and retail outlets ramp up manpower during the holidays. Sports teams begin each campaign with new rosters. Educational institutions make transitions based on the academic calendar. Corporate teams recalibrate when quarterly or annual goals are not met. Like families, team dynamics get refreshed every time you add or subtract a member. What holds everything together when membership is always changing?

Living things seek comfort. Science teaches the phenomenon of homeostasis – the tendency for a system to seek internal stability when adjusting to changing conditions. Music theory teaches the occurrence of cadence – the movement from tension to resolution. When teams are disrupted, the natural inclination is to find anchors – the people and process that will stay the same when things have been turned upside down.

Team transitions happen in predictable cycles so there’s always a path to stability and resolution. Once the team determines where they are in the cycle and why they are at that stage, the actions that anchor the group will become clear. Begin with simple diagnostic questions:

Investment: Are we reestablishing our norms, rules, roles, boundaries and goals following a period of disruption?

Trust: Are we navigating the consequences of a breakdown in respect, connection, accountability or psychological safety?

Innovation: Are we struggling with resistance to change, fear or the failure to harness the strengths of our diversity?

Distancing: Are we needing to step back, gain perspective, refuel, and reengage with our new circumstances?

These diagnostic question lead directly to solutions:

In what stage is your team? Why are you in this stage? What will move you forward?

Investment: Discuss role clarity. Restate mission, values and vision. Embrace conflict with professionalism.

Trust: Hold yourself and each other accountable. Have crucial conversations. Celebrate connection.

Innovation: Leverage differences to empower smart risk taking. Explore, discover and create change.

Distancing: Mourn what has been lost. Refuel depleted energy. Refocus on the new opportunities the transition ignites.

Change becomes much more predictable when you evaluate the cycles of the team’s lifespan. Every team is always either moving through, stuck in, reacting to or preparing for one of the four stages. In what stage is your team? Why are you in this stage? What actions would move your team forward?

If you’d like to dig deeper, The 4 Stages of a Team… How team thrive and what to do when they don’t provides a toolkit for the life of the team.

Photo of The 4 Stages of a Team book

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.