Sir John Whitmore and Team Development

Which team development model is best? Tuckman’s (forming, storming, norming and performing), or Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions (trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results)? Or are there other models that we favour? For example, I was recently reminded of John Whitmore’s simple and lesser-known 3-stage model that is inclusion, assertion, and cooperation and is outlined in his book ‘Coaching for Performance’.

John Whitmore has a straight to the point approach that has made ‘Coaching for Performance’ a best seller. His model of team development follows this same path.

The first stage en-route to high performing teams is inclusion. This is when people come together and individually decide if they are part of a team or just a group. Inclusion is about being accepted, respected, listened to, valued, and a feeling of belonging. A lot of thought and energy goes into the team members’ own emotional needs and so productivity is not high in this stage. The team leader acts as a role model and if they display positive inclusive behaviour, other team members will follow suit.

Assertion is the second stage of team development. Individuals express power and establish boundaries.  Roles are solidified, and competition is high with individuals vying for position and proving their strengths. Energy is focused on internal competition. This drives up individual performance but at the cost of team cohesiveness.  A team leader encourages members to take responsibility and so satisfy their assertion needs.

Cooperation is the final stage. Energy is directed outward towards a common goal. The overall team needs are greater than those of individuals. Members support each other through difficulties, while jointly celebrating the success of other team members.

team picture for blog

John Whitmore also describes these stages in other terms: Dependent (as team members are dependent on the team leader in the inclusion stage), independent (as team members take on responsibility and find their own way in the assertion stage) and inter-dependent (as members work collaboratively for mutual benefit in  the cooperation stage). These are familiar phrases that you will also see in chapter 10. ‘The Deeper FACTS’, of Challenging Coaching.

There are a number of interesting conclusions that come from briefly reviewing this model:

  1. The role of the leader as coach is crucial in helping individuals through the stages of this process, setting the tone for how the team will work, working with individuals to create inclusivity, and managing constructive tension to aid performance.
  2. John Whitmore says that the majority of business teams do not advance beyond the assertion stage. Individual needs seem to have the greatest weight.
  3. This model, along with other team development models, are intuitive, that is they have not been proven in studies. So Tuckman is as valid as Lencioni, who is as valid as Whitmore. So the choice of which model to use is as much about cultural fit with an organisation as it is about trend and popularity.

As we have seen with leadership models, no one model is the best and leaders are being encouraged to focus upon being authentic and flexible. So maybe it is time for authentic team development by becoming aware of individual and collective strengths, needs and values and through collective courageous goals creating an organic high performing team in which individuals are fulfilled and there is sustainable organisational achievement?

Thanks to Bob Thomson at Warwick Business School for the very interesting discussion that sparked this blog.

If you know of any team development models that have been tested more scientifically let us know.

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