Frequently Asked Questions About The Four Evolutionary Stages Of High-Performing Teams

We have applied the evolutionary stages of high-performing teams model with hundreds of teams. This post includes frequently asked questions.  

The Evolutionary Stages To Becoming A High-Performing Team

As they develop, all executive teams go through four predictable stages. The stages can be shown on a clock. And, clock times can be used to represent developmental milestones.

At each stage, a different logic for success dominates. In Stage I, a team is a loose confederation of individuals, in Stage II a team has a directive business leader, in Stage III a team focuses on developing a complete system-of-roles and in Stage IV, a team becomes high-performing.  

Evolutionary Stages 

At Growth River, we offer workshops and coaching to help leaders and teams accelerate through these stages.  

Frequently Asked Questions

1) At higher-stages, does higher sustainable performance become inevitable?

Yes? At each stage, the team culture becomes more effective and the business model becomes stronger.  

2) Can a team skip stages?

No! Caterpillars precede butterflies. This process is a journey not an event. Leaders need to take it milestone by milestone and breakthrough by breakthrough.  

3) Does this approach yield tangible results?

Yes! It is based on a systematic leadership approach called context thinking. The goal of this approach identifying and resolve primary constraints in order to attract and to sustain the right opportunities. And by definition, investments that resolve primary constraints have the highest possible returns!  

4) Can a team get high-level results and not be high-performing?

Can a team get high-level results and not be high-performing? Yes, in lower competition environments! However, in higher competition environments, teams are forced to evolve or die. The beauty of the evolutionary stages is they can be applied as a roadmap to make this process intentional.  

5) Does each stage build on the previous stages?

Yes, but how strengths are applied evolves. For example, a directive leader has a strong focus on managing activities in stage II but in stage III their focus is on delegating to system-of-roles. In both stages the top leader has a directive style but in different ways.  

6) Can a team have attributes of multiple stages?

Yes, but the essence of one stage will always dominate at a given point in time. You need to consider the overall pattern. This App will lead you through that process.  

7) Does this model reveal next steps?

Yes, it reveals next milestones to a higher stage! The times on the clock represent these.  

8) Can a smaller team become high-performing?

Yes, if team members play multiple roles well! However this requires a high degree of self-awareness and discipline. For example, one of the tricks we counsel smaller teams to use is to declare the hats they are wearing -- “in my role as an owner, wearing my owner's hat, I believe that lowering wages is a good idea, however wearing my CEO's hat, I have deep concerns that could undermine company morale, which could negatively impact our customer's experience.” Now I have to get clear how to integrate these two perspectives into a solution which will lead to higher-overall performance!  

9) Does this framework apply to non-profits?

Yes, however the metrics for competitive advantage may be different? For example, in non-profits "return" often need to be measured in other ways besides profit — for example "additional value created to the poor per dollar donated".  

10) Does this framework apply to large complex organizations?

Yes! The trick is to begin with the top team. Once that team’s performance reaches a certain level, then the approach can be cascaded down and out through an organization.  

11) Are irrational or emotional leaders willing to embrace such a logical framework?

Yes, given two conditions. First if leaders are committed to higher-performance for their team above their own self-comfort. In other words, they have to actually care about becoming higher-performing. And second, if they take the journey milestone by milestone -- breakthrough by breakthrough. Becoming high-performing is a journey not a project or event. Leaders have to be willing to confront the reality of where they are now and what is and is not possible in the present. And, then they need to work step by step to open greater levels of possibility.

Simply put, we are talking about wrestling to overcome the human condition. Models like the four stages and leadership apps like this one help lay that condition bare. However leaders and teams then have to engage. This is the work we help teams to do through workshops and coaching.  

12) Does this framework apply to complex multi-stakeholder organizations in which different factions operate?

Yes, it can provide a road map and shared approach for aligning. The toughest part is often agreeing on a mechanism for making key strategic decisions and for maintaining alignment.  

13) Does this framework apply to post-merger or -acquisition integrations?

Yes! About 80% of all post M&A integrations fail to yield expected value. However, we have experienced a much higher success rate applying this framework. Imagine a stage II slower growing company acquires a stage IV faster growing one. As a result, the stage IV company drops back to stage II and the performance and value of this company collapses.

Now, instead imagine the two organizations apply this framework. They use it to align towards a new organization that at operate at a higher-overall stage. One with a better culture and better business models than either predecessor.  

14) Does this framework apply to cross-cultural integrations?

Yes, it provides a blueprint for all kinds of organizational integrations. Like with post merger or acquisition integrations it can be used to integrate multiple organizational cultures.  

15) How long does it take most teams to get from stage I to stage IV?

Eighteen months is typical. But progress is always a function of how quickly the top leadership team is willing and able to develop. And, performance increases from stage to stage can be very significant!  

16) Is the goal of this framework more money?

Not necessarily! The goal is to accelerate innovation and growth towards a shared vision. Money is one kind of metric but there can be others.  

17) Does the journey to high-performance ever end?

No, there are always new challenges! However, leaders and teams can learn to recover from shocks and setbacks quickly.  

Links To See

The Journey To Becoming A High-Performing Team  

Translating The Formula For High-Performing Teams