These 3 Stages of Team Development Are Everything to Building a Better Business

Updated: Nov 8, 2019


A satisfied team is a great team. They can get the job done, and get it done well.


An engaged team is even better. This team is always learning, always growing.


But an inspired team? If your team draws meaning and purpose from the company mission, you as their leader, and each other…then you have something truly special.


Of course, by “truly special,” I’m talking about measurable results, not just feel-good sentiment. In fact, according to research by Bain & Company, team members who call themselves “inspired” are more than two times as productive as those who label themselves “satisfied”. Inspired teams are more loyal, content, results-oriented, and likely to remain on board.


So how can you, as their leader, facilitate team development that ultimately drives inspiration?


How can you take a satisfied team, help it to become an engaged team, and then turn that team into a group of truly inspired individuals?


There’s no doubt about it: team development isn’t easy or straightforward. The road to creating a high performing team is marked by conflict and challenge. It requires you as a leader to know yourself better, and work hard at developing and modeling your own most inspiring traits. And above all else, it necessitates an understanding of what healthy team development looks like—because it might not look the way you expect it to.


The three stages: satisfaction, engagement, and inspiration


Bain’s research, conducted in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit, gives us precious insight into the fundamentals of a high performing team. In order to reach that highest level of performance—inspiration—a team must pass through stages. In each stage, team members have their needs met, allowing them to perform at a higher level.


Here’s what those stages look like:


Satisfied Team

The satisfied team has their basic workplace needs met, including:

  • A safe work environment

  • The tools, training, and resources to perform well

  • Fair rewards

  • The ability to work efficiently without excess bureaucracy

Engaged Team

The engaged team is on a meaningful mission, with the following needs met:

  • Participation in a team producing above-average results

  • Autonomy

  • Continual learning and growth

  • The ability to make a difference and have an impact 

Inspired Team

The inspired team draws deep and lasting purpose from work, with the following needs met:

  • Inspiration from the company’s mission

  • Inspiration from the company’s leaders

When a team has all of its “satisfaction”, “engagement”, and “inspiration” needs met, it can begin to shift into a truly phenomenal level of performance. Bain’s research bears this out. They surveyed over 300 senior executives from around the world, asking them to assess the relative output of dissatisfied, satisfied, engaged, and inspired team members.


The results?


Satisfied team members are productive at an index level of 100. Engaged team members produce at 144. And inspired team members score a whopping 225.


In other words, if you have a merely satisfied team, it needs to be more than twice the size of an inspired team to get the same amount of work done.  


The role your leadership plays


Healthy team development is facilitated by meeting the individual and collective needs of its members. Safety matters. Training matters. Non-bureaucratic workflows matter. A culture of autonomy, free from micromanaging, matters.


But here’s the potentially tricky one: as Bain’s research reveals, in order to reach the level of “inspired,” you as a leader must be inspiring. So…do you feel inspiring?


The good news is that “inspiring” comes in many different variations: 33, in fact. According to Bain’s survey of 2,000 employees, there are 33 main traits that inspiring leaders possess.

These 33 traits are divided up into four categories:


1. Leading the team

  • In other words: your formal leadership skills

  • For example: Focus, which allows you to orient the team towards the most relevant outcomes

2. Connecting with others 

  • In other words: your ability to connect one-on-one with others

  • For example: Listening, which allows you to pay close attention to others’ comments, ideas, and feelings

3. Developing inner resources 

  • In other words: your ability to handle or carry yourself

  • For example: Stress Tolerance, which allows you to handle stress in a positive and constructive manner

4. Setting the tone

  • In other words: your style when you work in groups, not necessarily in a leadership role

  • For example: Follow Through, which allows you to practice consistency in word and action

To be an inspiring leader, you certainly do not need to possess all 33 traits. But you do need to identify which ones are most natural for you and develop those strengths as much as possible. Your team will be much better for it.


The role healthy conflict plays


Of course, when we talk about developing a high performing team, we can’t forget to address conflict.


Too many assume that conflict is automatically a sign of team development gone wrong. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Healthy conflict signifies a team that is well on its way to becoming inspired.


Bruce Tuckman’s classic model for team formation describes four phases: forming, storming, norming, and performing.


To sum it up briefly, forming is when a team first forms goals and begins to tackle challenges. Storming is when that team builds trust by expressing opinions and engaging in conflict—hopefully of the healthy variety, as managed by a good leader. Norming is what emerges after that period of healthy conflict: greater intimacy and cooperation. Finally, performing is exactly what it sounds like: the team is empowered to succeed together. 


As you are leading a team from satisfaction to inspiration, don’t discount the positive potential of conflict. When team members are able to express themselves in a safe environment, trusting bonds are formed and true magic occurs.


Developing inspired teams


Want a next-level team? There’s a pathway that’s not easy to follow but will produce undeniable results.


First, meet your team members' needs—from the basic to the enhanced. (And don’t forget that you and I could have a great conversation about how to meet many of those critical employee needs through better systems and processes!)


Second, model inspirational leadership traits. And, finally, tolerate and facilitate healthy conflict. These are the three pillars of inspired team development. If you do these things, you can expect your team members to double their productivity, love their work, and remain loyal. What more could you ask for?


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