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Pseudo Teams

How trying to become a team can backfire

Have you ever been in a team that has painfully toiled away, trying to act like a team, but without achieving any collective impact?


If so, chances are you and your team might have been going through the valley at the bottom of this chart, which is the stage of being a ‘Pseudo Team’.


If you read on, I’ll share how you can break out of the valley and emerge as a real team.

Building on the work of Katzenbach in The Wisdom of Teams

Here are the 4 developmental stages of a team, building on the work of Katzenbach and Hawkins and others. Where are you and your team on this journey?



Stage I: The working group

Where you get together to co-ordinate activity and share information. Focus is on day-to-day deliverables. Group members attend to represent their area of the business.



Stage II: The pseudo team

Some members of the group decide we need to act more like a team – which means having shared goals, helping each other on whole of business issues, and maybe even going on team offsites. But not everyone is aligned, so the team’s agenda is not clear, and members have different expectations. Below is Peter Hawkin’s definition of a pseudo team in his book Leadership Team Coaching.



In a recent Exec Retreat, I put this definition on screen and opened up a powerful conversation as people highlighted words and phrases which resonated with them. As a group, they realized, “we haven’t done the work to be a real team yet”.


Looking back at the graph, being stuck as a pseudo team means making LESS impact than being a simple working group. That’s because you’re putting a certain amount of time and energy into the pseudo team without any hope of real collective payoff. You haven’t got everyone aligned, and you haven’t got the operating systems in place.



Stage III: The real team

To become a real team you need to answer and align on four fundamental questions: -

  • WHY do we exist (our purpose or mandate)?

  • WHAT should we focus on now?

  • HOW should we operate?

  • WHO is in the team and how will we build good relationships?


These four questions allow you to become a real team which has ambition, focus, good systems and constructive relationships.



Stage IV: The high impact team 

At the end of the recent Exec Retreat, the CEO was clear on the journey for the rest of the year.


“Let’s put in place the foundations over the next 2-3 months, and then let’s get to making a real impact as quickly as we can. I want to get to the place where we spend our time working on tomorrow’s opportunities, not just today’s problems.”


That’s a high impact team.


Dealing with today’s issues AND finding the time and space to lead, to build the culture, to create the future.



What you can do?

If the graph or the quote resonate with you, then it can help to run a Leadership Team diagnostic to capture everyone’s views about where the team is located on the graph. You’ll probably find some different views visible in the data, which can then be used to open up the conversation with the team.


You can get in touch on the links at the bottom of this email if you want to run my Leadership Team diagnostic, or if you want to design a breakthrough conversation with your team.



What else life is teaching us this month

Here are three topics that I’ve been exploring.


The article in the most recent newsletter called “50 things I’ve learnt about Life and Leadership” has been very popular, so if you haven’t checked it out, you can download it here.


Facing your fears. One of the things I learnt in that list was to 'Find something you fear and do it anyway'. Here’s a post I wrote about facing my fear of heights.


Communication culture. We’re running a poll to understand whether organisational communication is getting better or worse over the last 2 years. We would love your vote. And if you vote, you can see how other people are voting too. Vote here.

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