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The Five Levels of Teams: Where Are You on the Team Curve?

Jim Taggart

The modern workplace has moved away from the lone expert grinding away at her craft, to a landscape dominated by teams and group activity.  This trend will only increase as Gen Y and Gen Z - with their propensity for working in groups and sharing information and ideas - enter the workforce.

Because of the this traditional, individual focus on work, performance management has also focussed on the individual.  However, the new reality of team effort requires that we view the performance metrics of teamwork in a standard framework as well.  In response, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith have identified five levels of teamwork and have mapped them on the Team Performance Curve.

The five levels of teamwork can be plotted on an X-Y axis. It’s essentially a J-shaped curve, starting on the Y (vertical) axis, then sloping down to touch the X (horizontal) axis, and then bending back upwards to the right. The five levels of teams are located along this curve.


1) The Working Group

The members interact mainly to share information and best practices and to make decisions. There are no common purpose or performance goals that require mutual accountability. The purpose of this group is only to specify the roles of its members and to delegate tasks.

Its members only take responsibility for their own results. Therefore, the focus is on individual performance. The key here is there is no significant, incremental performance need or opportunity that requires the group to become a team. Working groups are found throughout organizations, whether in business or government.

2) Pseudo Team

There’s a potential for significant, incremental gain here. The team has not, however, focused on collective performance. The members don’t want to take the risks necessary to become a potential team. They are not interested in creating a common purpose or setting performance goals.

The pseudo team resides at the bottom of the performance curve and is the weakest of the five levels. What is especially dangerous about the pseudo team is that the members believe that they are a real team, yet they produce inferior results.

3) The Potential Team

There is a significant, incremental gain in performance with this type of team. The members are working hard to achieve a higher level of performance. However, the members must work on developing a clear purpose, goals, and common approach. The members must also agree on mutual accountability. This form of teamwork is very common in organizations. This is also where the greatest gain in performance comes, from being a potential team to a real team.

4) The Real Team

This consists of a small group of people who share a common purpose, goals, and approach to work. The members have complementary skills. They hold themselves mutually accountable for their results. The performance impact and results of the real team are much greater than the potential team and working group.

5) The High Performance Team

This has all the characteristics of a real team, but the members are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and development. They far out-perform all other teams. The members form powerful relationships. Moving from a real team to a high performance team requires a very strong personal commitment. In effect, what is needed is a leap of faith.

So where does your team sit on the curve?

This post originally appeared on Jim Taggart's Changing Winds blog as part three in a multi-part series on teams and team developement. You can read the original post here.

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About this Article

Posted by Jim Taggart
Posted on February 1, 2011

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Categories: hr & talent management, leadership, performance measurement, project management