Notes on

Teams are THE way to organize these days. They provide a new way to coordinate people and tasks in large organizations. The popularity of teams in modern organizations is one reason why there is so much emphasis on team assignments at BC -- employers want to hire college graduates that have experience working in teams.

Let us consider two questions about teams. First what typically happens in teams? Second, how can we make them work better?

What happens in Teams

Teams go through four predictable stages: Orientation, Conflict, Group Formation, and Differentiation.

1. Orientation: The team is formed.

Member behaviors: most comments directed to leader. Lots of questions about direction and goals. Status in the group mostly determined by roles outside the group (sex, age, race, position in the company) and by majority/minority status (only male in group of females). People fail to listen, resulting in non sequiturs and repeats.

Member concerns: what is my role? Can I do this? Who is the leader?

Ideal leader behavior: provide structure and clarity. Establish norm of non-domination by anyone. Share all information. Facilitate members learning about each other.

2. Conflict: Conflict over control with leader and with other members.

Member behaviors: attempts to gain influence. Suggestions, proposals. Subgroups and coalitions form, with possible conflict between them. Leader tested and challenged. Members judge and evaluate each other, shoot down ideas. Task avoidance.

Member concerns: what is my place in the pecking order? Who likes me? What are my issues?

Ideal leader behaviors: engage in joint problem-solving. Establish norm of supporting expression of different view points. Discuss the group's decision-making process.

3. Group Formation: Development of solidarity.

Member behaviors: Members can disagree with leader. Group laughs together, has fun. Jokes made at leader's expense. A sense of we-ness develops. Group feels superior to other groups in the organization.

Member concerns: How close should I be to other group members? How do we compare with other groups? Can we accomplish our task?

Ideal leader behaviors: Start sharing issues and concerns like any other member. Have members manage agenda items (especially those in which you have a stake). Give and request feedback. Assign challenging problems requiring consensus (e.g., budget allocations). Delegate as much as possible.

4. Differentiation: Development of differentiation and productivity.

Member behaviors: Roles are clear and each person's contribution is distinctive. Members take initiative and accept initiative of others. Challenging each other leads to creative problem solving. Members seek feedback to improve own performance.

Member concerns: None.

Ideal leader behaviors: Jointly set goals that increase group's scope. Question assumptions and traditional ways of behaving.

What Makes a Good Team?

Researchers have studied hundreds of successful and unsuccessful teams and compared them. Here is a list of characteristics shared by most successful teams and lacking in most unsuccessful teams.

Awareness and attention paid to group processes.

Common goal or vision



Shared knowledge of the groups goals and methods

Awareness of the group's place in the larger organizational context

Personal security of individuals not an issue

Copyright 1996 Stephen P. Borgatti Revised: January 22, 2001 Go to Home page