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The Historical Development of Business Teams in North America – Part Three

By May 2, 2014Team Development



This excerpt is taken from “Champions: How to Build High Performing Teams” 

The Historical Development of Business Teams in North America

In part one of this three-part series, we explored the first attempts at team research  and development as conducted by Elton  Mayo.

We also looked at the philosophical questions his work spawned and their implications to team building, even to this day.

In part two we detailed the theories of group development, their essence and their history, most notably found in the work of two distinguished scholars,  Kurt Lewin and Bruce Tuckman.

In part three we will explore the work of Hersey and Blanchard and the other central researchers who furthered Tuckman’s theories.



Hersey and Blanchard

 In the 1960s, Paul Hersey (born in 1931) a behavioral scientist developed the Situational Leadership Theory.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Hersey and Ken Blanchard both developed their own models for group development using the situational leadership theory.

The fundamental underpinning of the situational leadership theory is there is no single “best” style of leadership.

Effective leadership is task-relevant and that the most successful leaders are those that adapt their leadership style to the maturity (the capacity to set high but attainable goals, willingness and ability to take responsibility for the task, and relevant education and/or experience of an individual or a group for the task) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead/influence.

That effective leadership varies, not only with the person or group that is being influenced, but it will also depend on the task, job or function that needs to be accomplished.

The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model rests on two fundamental concepts; leadership style and the individual or group’s maturity level.


Leadership styles



Hersey and Blanchard characterized leadership style in terms of the amount of Task Behavior and Relationship Behavior that the leader provides to their followers.

They categorized all leadership styles into four behavior types, which they named S1 to S4:

S1: Telling – is characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines the roles of the individual or group and provides the what, how, why, when, and where to do the task

S2: Selling – while the leader is still providing the direction, he or she is now using two-way communication and providing the socioemotional support that will allow the individual or group being influenced to buy into the process.

S3: Participating – this is now shared decision making about aspects of how the task is accomplished and the leader is providing less task behaviors while maintaining high relationship behavior.

S4: Delegating – the leader is still involved in decisions; however, the process and responsibility has been passed to the individual or group. The leader stays involved to monitor progress.

Of these, no one style is considered optimal for all leaders to use all the time. Effective leaders need to be flexible, and must adapt themselves according to the situation.



Maturity Levels

The right leadership style will depend on the person or group being led, the follower.

The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory identified four levels of Maturity M1 through M4:

M1 – They generally lack the specific skills required for the job in hand and are unable and unwilling to do or to take responsibility for this job or task.

M2 – They are still unable to take on responsibility for the task being done; however, they are willing to work at the task.

M3 – They are experienced and able to do the task but lack the confidence to take on responsibility.

M4 – They are experienced at the task, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. They are able and willing to not only do the task, but to take responsibility for the task.

Maturity Levels are also task specific.

A person might be generally skilled, confident and motivated in their job, but would still have a Maturity level M2 when asked to perform a task requiring skills they don’t possess.


Developing People and Self-Motivation

A good leader develops “the competence and commitment of their people so they’re self-motivated rather than dependent on others for direction and guidance.” (Hersey 91)

According to Hersey’s “the situational book,” the leader’s high, realistic expectation causes high performance of followers; the leader’s low expectations lead low performance of followers.

According to Ken Blanchard, “Four combinations of competence and commitment make up what we call ‘development level.”

D1 – Low competence and high commitment

D2 – Low competence and low commitment

D3 – High competence and low/variable commitment

D4 – High competence and high commitment



Tubbs’ Systems Model


Tubbs “systems” approach to studying small group interaction led him to the creation of a four-phase model of group development:


1. Orientation:

In this stage, group members get to know each other, they start to talk about the problem, and they examine the limitations and opportunities of the project.


2. Conflict:

Conflict is a necessary part of a group’s development. Conflict allows the group to evaluate ideas and it helps the group avoid conformity and groupthink.


3. Consensus:

Conflict ends in the consensus stage, when group members compromise, select ideas, and agree on alternatives.


4. Closure:

In this stage, the final result is announced and group members reaffirm their support of the decision.


Fisher: the “Decision Proposal Coding System”


Fisher outlines four phases through which task groups tend to proceed when engaged in decision making.

Fisher noted how the interaction changed as the group decision was formulated and solidified.

His method pays special attention to the “content” dimension of interactions by classifying statements in terms of how they respond to a decision proposal (e.g. agreement, disagreement, etc.).


1. Orientation:

During the orientation phase, group members get to know each other and they experience a primary tension: the awkward feeling people have before communication rules and expectations are established.

Groups should take time to learn about each other and feel comfortable communicating around new people.


2. Conflict:

The conflict phase is marked by secondary tension, or tension surrounding the task at hand.

Group members will disagree with each other and debate ideas.

Here conflict is viewed as positive because it helps the group achieve positive results.


3. Emergence:

In the emergence phase, the outcome of the group’s task and its social structure become apparent.

Group members soften their positions and undergo an attitudinal change that makes them less tenacious in defending their individual viewpoint.


4. Reinforcement:

In this stage, group members bolster their final decision by using facilitative verbal and nonverbal communication.


Poole’s Multiple Sequences Model

Marshall Scott Poole’s model suggests that different groups employ different sequences in making decisions.

Poole suggests three activity tracks: task progress, relational, and topical focus.

Interspersed with these are breakpoints, marking changes in the development of strands and links between them.

Normal breakpoints pace the discussion with topic shifts and adjournments.

Delays, another break-point, are holding patterns of recycling through information.

Finally, disruptions break the discussion threads with conflict or task failure.


1. Task Track:

The task track concerns the process by which the group accomplishes its goals, such as dealing doing problem analysis, designing solutions, etc.


2. Relation Track:

The relation track deals with the interpersonal relationships between the group members.

At times, the group may stop its work on the task and work instead on its relationships, share personal information or engage in joking.


3. Topic Track:

The topic track includes a series of issues or concerns the group have over time.



Breakpoints occur when a group switches from one track to another.

Shifts in the conversation, adjournment, or postponement are examples of breakpoints.


Wheelan’s Integrated Model of Group Development

Building on Tuckman’s model and based on her own empirical research as well as the foundational work of Wilfred Binian, Wheelan proposed a model in which “early” stages of group development are associated with specific issues and patterns of talk.

These are issues such as those related to dependency, counter-dependency, and trust which precede the actual work conducted during the “more mature” stages of a group’s life.

The stages below describe each one of these phases.


Stage One: Dependency and Inclusion

The first stage of group development is characterized by significant member dependency on the designated leader, concerns about safety, and inclusion issues.

In this stage, members rely on the leader and powerful group members to provide direction.

Team members may engage in what has been called “pseudo-work,” such as exchanging stories about outside activities or other topics that are not relevant to group goals.


Stage Two: Counter-dependency and Fight

In the second stage of group development members disagree among themselves about group goals and procedures.

Conflict is an inevitable part of this process.

The group’s task at Stage Two is to develop a unified set of goals, values, and operational procedures, and this task inevitably generates some conflict.

Conflict also is necessary for the establishment of trust and a climate in which members feel free to disagree with each other.


Stage Three: Trust and Structure

In this stage the group manages to work through the inevitable conflicts of Stage Two, member trust, commitment to the group, and willingness to cooperate increase.

Communication becomes more open and task-oriented.

This third stage of group development, referred to as the trust and structure stage, is characterized by more mature negotiations about roles, organization, and procedures.

It is also a time in which members work to solidify positive working relationships with each other.


Stage Four: Work and Productivity

As its name implies, the fourth stage of group development is a time of intense team productivity and effectiveness.

Having resolved many of the issues of the previous stages, the group can focus most of its energy on goal achievement and task accomplishment.


Final Stage:

Groups that have a distinct ending point experience a fifth stage.

Impending termination may cause disruption and conflict in some groups.

In other groups, separation issues are addressed, and members’ appreciation of each other and the group experience may be expressed.

In her empirical validation of the model, Wheelan (2003) has analyzed the relationship between the length of time that a group has been meeting and the verbal behavior patterns of its members as well as the member’s perceptions of the state of development of the group.

Her results seem to indicate that there is a significant relationship between the length of time that a group had been meeting and the verbal behavior patterns of its members.

Also, members of older groups tended to perceive their groups to have more of the characteristics of Stage Three and Stage Four groups and to be more productive.

Based on these results, Wheelan’s position supports the traditional linear models of group development noted earlier and casts doubt on the cyclic models and Gersick’s punctuated equilibrium model.



Morgan, Salas & Glickman’s TEAM Model

Combining multiple theories and the development models of Tuckman and Gersick, Morgan, Salas and Glickman (1994) created the Team Evolution and Maturation (TEAM) model to describe a series of nine developmental stages through which newly formed, task-oriented teams are hypothesized to evolve.

The periods of development are labeled “stages” and conceived to be “relatively informal, indistinct, and overlapping”, because “sharp demarcations are not often characteristic of the dynamic situations in which operational teams work and develop”.

According to this model, teams might begin a given period of development at different stages and spend different amounts of time in the various stages.



Teams are not Always Expected to Progress in a Linear Fashion Through all of the Stages

A team’s beginning point & pattern of progression through the stages depend on factors such as:

  1. The characteristics of the team and team members
  2. Their past histories and experience
  3. The nature of their tasks
  4. The environmental demands and constraints.

The core stages of the model are preceded by a pre-forming stage that recognizes the forces from the environment (environmental demands and constraints) that call for, and contribute to, the establishment of the team.

In other words, forces external to the team (before it comes into existence) that cause the team to be formed.

The last stage indicates that after the team has served its purpose, it will eventually be disbanded or de-formed.

The TEAM model also postulates the existence of two distinguishable activity tracks present throughout all the stages.

The first of these tracks involves activities that are tied to the specific task(s) being performed.

These activities include interactions of the team members with tools and machines, the technical aspects of the job (e.g., procedures, policies, etc.), and other task-related activities.

The other track of activities is devoted to enhancing the quality of the interactions, interdependencies, relationships, affects, cooperation, and coordination of teams.

The proponents of the model did not test its components or sequence of stages empirically.

They were able however to confirm that the perceptions of team members concerning the performance processes of the team are perceived to include both:

  1. Team-centered Activities
  2. Task-centered activities

These perceptions seem to change over time as a result of team training.



Please note how consistently the two criteria, task and relationship are determined to be cornerstone realities for team development.

The importance of team leader (facilitator) role in helping the group move quickly, easily and safely to the next stage.

Some researchers have pointed out (e.g. Tuckman, 1965) group development models often provide only snapshots of groups at certain points of their history but do not fully describe the mechanisms of change, the “triggers” that lead to change or the amount of time that a group might remain in a stage.

Furthermore, naturally occurring groups tend to be highly sensitive to outside influences and environmental contingencies, but few models account for these influences.

I hope this study has been helpful in furthering your team leadership philosophy.

I should mention that if you want to know more, there are four team development books I have written in my corporate strategy series, which address the task – relationship issue in teams.

These three articles on “The Historical development of Business Teams in North America” are portions from the chapter two in  “Champions: How to Build High Performing teams.

For more on this topic, we recommend the following



How to Build High Performing Teams

Click Here For Video and Full Description


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