The Four Teams Everyone Experiences

Published: November 14, 2013

Take a look back through your work history and evaluate the various teams you've joined. Everyone has experienced at least one of the following situations: "We just knocked it out of the park! How do we elevate our team to the next level?" "Wow! Everything is changing! Can we slow down for a while and get our bearings?" "We really under-performed this year but it's hard to know what to fix to make this better." "This is the most dysfunctional group I've ever seen. This is toxic!"

Team Profile #1: We just knocked it out of the park! How do we elevate our team to the next level?

Some teams are energized by continuous improvement. They see their life together as an evolution where the investment in the mission, the degree of trust and accountability, the itch to innovate, and the thrill of transformation continuously deepens. Teams like this are always hungry for the next challenge and they’re willing to experience whatever discomfort is necessary to keep growing.

Team Profile #2: Wow! Everything is changing! Can we slow down for a while and get our bearings?

The natural reaction to change is resistance. The science of humanness is to seek and protect sameness and stability. It’s more comfortable – even when staying the same isn’t healthy. Constant change can be energizing and depleting at the same time. The trick is to use the lulls and plateaus as rest stops. The functional value of exhaustion is the creation of an opportunity to recuperate and deliver new energy to the next challenge.

Team Profile #3: We really under-performed this year but it’s hard to know what to fix to make this better.

Everything is clear in hindsight. Until the diagnosis is made, however, clarity is on hold. Often, it takes someone from the outside to serve up the objectivity to see the things that are right under our noses. Find the themes and patterns. Follow the pain from the symptom to the cause. Leverage strengths. Convert vulnerabilities to opportunities.

Team Profile #4: This is the most dysfunctional group I’ve ever seen. This is toxic!

There are so many variations of this dynamic. The workplace bully is the most common. More subtle examples include the culture that punishes excellence and the sanctioning of mediocrity. Not everyone has the rank and authority to call foul when a teammate says or does something that hurts the team. Strong workplaces empower everyone with that authority. The result is mutual accountability for organizational health. Depending on how high up in the organization the poison lives, this job is either simple or arduous.

Now What?

The common theme of each of these is the need for action. Whether taking it to the next level, navigating a significant change, diagnosing an obstacle, or eradicating a toxin, every team has key decisions to make about their next steps. On which team do you participate? Why is your team experiencing these challenges? What actions should you be engaging today?

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.