Holding the Team Together When Everything is Falling Apart

Published: November 17, 2020

A year ago, a typical work day included face-to-face conversations, small groups seated around conference tables, and larger gatherings in auditoriums. While the geography of interaction has become socially distant, the volume of exchange has grown for many working professionals. Many spend their days in back-to-back virtual meetings in front of a screen. Change of this magnitude is best managed when something tangible is staying the same. What hasn’t changed is the fundamental principle of teamwork. Let’s take a closer look at the infrastructure that anchors teams during periods of disruption.

This is the Team Clock®. Take a quick walk around the cycle of team growth.


The 12:00 spot on the clock represents a significant change. At 1:00, teammates re-invest in a vision and some basic norms that shape the way work gets done. At 2:00, the team tests out their new circumstances before committing to move forward together by a common set of ground rules. At 3:00, teammates lock their future together toward a shared mission. At 4:00, trust strengthens as partners stay true to team values and goals. At 5:00, the team enjoys the cohesiveness that many describe as “all for one, one for all.” At 6:00, group attachment allows everyone to feel connected and moving in the same direction.


Attachment at 6:00 provides a platform of accountability and psychological safety for the team to explore, discover and create new pathways to solve new problems. At 7:00, teammates harness their commitment to the vision to support innovation. At 8:00, the risk tolerance they have earned allows for the trial and error needed to adapt to the next round of change. At 9:00, teamwork shifts to independence and triggers the next round of disruption. At 10:00, teammates distance themselves from the way it used to be in order to get perspective on the magnitude of change they are facing. At 11:00, the team experiences separation from previous rhythms and must find a way to let go. At 12:00, teammates mourn the loss and begin to accept the conditions of their new circumstances.

And the cycle begins anew. The team adjusts to the disruption and rebuilds the foundation to support the next round of growth. Significant change is seen as a natural phase of a repeating cycle rather than a disabling tragedy. Constant adaptation becomes the norm that holds the team together when everything is falling part. Fortunately, everyone is capable of this ability to adapt; more so when we work to support each other in this process.

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.