Thomas A. Alspaugh

What does it take for a group to be a team?

Moxon's criteria are:

  1. The members share a common purpose (or at least a consensus on the common core of their individual purposes).
  2. The members recognize they belong to the team.
  3. The members are interdependent on each other.
  4. The members agree on norms or values that regulate their behavior.

From this definition we can see several ways a group can fail to be a team:

  1. no common purpose (N.B. common purpose is more often a consensus than a complete agreement).
    1. no consensus.
    2. consensus in initial circumstances but not later under different circumstances.
  2. lack of personal bond among all team members.
  3. no feeling of interdependence.
    1. one or more members do not think they depend on others.
    2. one or more members do not believe others depend on them.
  4. insufficiently shared norms or values.
    1. no shared values to direct individual work that is to be combined later.
    2. no norms to regulate how members interact with each other.

Roles within a team

Leader or facilitator (optional)
Guides the team's work; responsible for getting the team to succeed and achieve its goals.

The leader may be imposed from the outside, be chosen by the group, or volunteer in a crisis. A team can depose its leader if s/he fails to gain and keep the confidence and support of the team; indeed, it must depose such a leader in order to continue to function and survive.

The leader is responsible for the team's success, but the success must be the result of the entire team, and the team not the leader gets the credit for it.

Presenter (when needed)
Presents a point of view (not necessarily his/her own) or the work of the team, to other team members or to people outside the team; responsible for presenting it clearly and fairly, without bias or personal interest.
Scribe (when needed)
Records the deliberations and results of the team as a whole; responsible for producing a useful and unbiased record for immediate or future reference. The scribe often then takes on the role of presenter of what was recorded, in summary or if necessary in detail.
Other roles
Each team member is responsible for finding his/her way to contribute to the team, and for being valued by the rest of the team and seen as making a contribution.

If a team member continually fails to contribute and to be seen as contributing, s/he may be expelled from the team.

Theory of team formation

In Moxon's theory, teams form in four stages, each of which has a rhyming mnemonic:

Stage Description What members ask themselves
1. Forming Initial awareness Why are we here?
Will I be accepted?
2. Storming Sorting-out process Who has what kind of control and power?
Will I be respected?
3. Norming Self-organization How are we going to work together?
How can I help this group?
4. Performing Maturity Rock and roll! (okay, that's not really a question)
How can we do better?

Stage 1: Forming

  1. Generally, people are on their best behavior as they try to come to a consensus on the team's purpose
  2. Cliques may form as members try to accept each other and look for allies, and find some team members easier to bond with
  3. If there is a designated leader, then members look to him/her to guide them

Stage 2: Storming

The most painful, most important stage.

  1. Now that the team has some cohesion as a group, members work to gain back enough of their individuality.
  2. Competition between members surfaces.
  3. These techniques don't work, in general:
    1. voting
    2. compromise
    3. arbitration

    They just postpone the real business, which is settling how the team will function.

  4. Typical comment: I could do this faster/better/more effectively by myself!
  5. Any cliques formed in Stage 1 get in the way now.
  6. Conflicts may seem to be win-or-lose battles, with no middle ground.
  7. The leader is challenged by team members.
  8. Members stake out roles they wish to play.
  9. There is no cookbook strategy for getting through this phase -- it's difficult, and each group is unique.
  10. Best advice: establish a strong group feeling in the first phase.
  11. A goal to aim for: that everyone is doing effective things, not destructive things.

Stage 3: Norming


  1. Members collaborate rather than compete.
  2. Cliques dissolve.
  3. Effective interpersonal behaviors emerge:
    1. active listening What I hear you saying is …
    2. check what you hear with others, not just the speaker.
    3. if you disagree, say so.
    4. if you don't understand, ask questions then.
    5. no interrupting (or limited interrupting).
    6. everyone participates actively.
    7. say what you mean, and mean what you say.
    8. honesty.
    9. constructive criticism
      1. start feedback with something positive.
      2. describe rather than evaluate.
      3. take responsibility for your criticism.
      4. offer alternatives.
      5. always leave the recipient with a choice.
      6. be self-aware: what does your criticism say about you?
    10. decide what to do with each criticism (don't leave it hanging).
    11. you must accept and act on at least some of the feedback you are given, or else your teammates will stop giving you any.
    12. stay on track
    13. share the responsibilities of leadership.
    14. find and follow systematic ways of working.
    15. be prepared.
    16. members are receptive to their teammates' ideas.
    17. see conflicts as mutual problems to be resolved.
    18. self-disclosure.
  4. Creativity is high now.
  5. The leader becomes a facilitator rather than a tyrant or pathfinder.
  6. Teammates have roles but the role boundaries are fluid.
  7. Teammates tolerate and compensate for each others' weaknesses.

Stage 4: Performing

  1. The effective patterns of behavior are now the norm.
  2. The team achieves more than the sum of what its members could individually.

How can you identify a dysfunctional team?

It's pretty easy, and usually visible from a distance! Dysfunctional teams display one or more (usually many) of these characteristics:

  1. They don't sit together.
  2. They don't sit in a compact group.
  3. They don't sit so that each member can see and be seen, and hear and be heard.
  4. Not everyone speaks.
  5. (If the teams name themselves) They can't come up with a name for the group.
  6. They argue about unimportant things (in order to establish status).
  7. They agree about absolutely everything (in order to hide conflicts).
  8. When they argue, no conclusion is reached (because they don't share a common purpose or don't agree on values that justifications could be based upon).
  9. The workload is not balanced among team members.
  10. They don't come to meetings (an especially bad sign if they don't tell their teammates in advance).
  11. They don't look at each other.
  12. They snarl at each other.
  13. One member is clearly dominant.
  14. They aren't happy.
  15. They aren't enthusiastic.

How to become an effective team

  1. Go whitewater rafting together (OK, maybe that's a bit ambitious).
  2. Set meeting times and show up for them.
  3. Start on time; end on time.
  4. Set agendas and cover them (or get consensus on what you do instead).
  5. Be open and honest, as individuals.
  6. Accept feedback, as individuals.
  7. Settle on an appropriate level of teamwork.
  8. Look at root causes, not symptoms; save conflict for substance, not fluff.
  9. In a conflict about fluff, look for the substance behind it.
  10. Listen to each member's contribution, because the team needs each member to contribute.
  11. Protect the team from too-loud and too-quiet members.
    1. Ask quiet ones what they think.
    2. Politely cut off loud ones if they go on too long
      (e.g. by summarizing and then passing control to someone else:
      So John, what I hear you saying is '…'. Bob, what do you think about that?)
  12. Reward publicly, chastise privately.
    1. If you have praise for a team member, tell them in front of the team.
    2. If you have criticism for a team member, tell them in private.

'Group Skills Pledge'

Here is an interesting checklist.


Most of this material is based on Peter Moxon's excellent book.


Peter Moxon. Building a Better Team: A Handbook for Managers and Facilitators. Gower, 208 pages, 1993.

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