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Developmental Phases

The way that people work together in organizations has at least two dimensions and there are different levels in each dimension.  Every organization goes through these levels, which I’ll call developmental phases:

  1. Natural Groups in Organizations – Team Effectiveness
  2. Organizational Maturity Levels – Team Capabilities

Natural Groups in Organizations (Team Effectiveness)

I found Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John Kin, and & Halee Fischer-Wright to be both enlightening and depressing (see Dave Logan’s Tribal Leadership TED Talk for a quick overview).  The book made me realize that at the very best, the organizations that I had worked for and with over the last 30+ years had only been a Level 3 with a couple of Level 4 people in them, which leaves so much room for improvement.

My interpretation of the 5 Tribal Stages looks like this:

Natural Groups

Level 1 – Disengaged – typically bitter employees with low productivity that spread their poor attitude like a virus.  Sometimes they are actively disengaged people who spend their days sabotaging the efforts of others, sometimes for their own gain or in retribution for an actual or perceived injustice.

Level 2 – Separated – people low in self-confidence and struggling to survive.  To help them evolve rather than devolve we need to show them that what they do matters, shine a light on their strengths and how they can improve over time.

Level 3 – Self-Absorbed – includes most professionals like attorneys, doctors, engineers, architects, accountants, and the like.  Many businesses fall into this category.  To help them evolve it’s important to help them recognize the limits of a single individual compared to the level of accomplishment that can be achieved by the organization as a whole through collaboration.

Level 4 – Collaborative – includes organizations that routinely collaborate with one another without limitation.  They easily form cross functional teams to address issues that arise.  They are focused on being the highest performing organization in their field.

Level 5 – Cohesive Teams – includes the highest performing teams in organizations that have evolved beyond being industry leaders and simultaneously work towards making the world a better place in their own way.  They no longer spend time and energy thinking about the competition; instead they are driven to some other higher purpose…

Three additional points from the book that I’ve drawn from include:

Giving Each Other a Hand-up!

EEs Helping One Another

Tribal members support one another by giving each other a “hand-up” without waiting for a designated “leader” to “take care” of each member of the group.  Additionally, each person has to start where they are and move through each remaining stage.  There is no skipping ahead, the human condition prevents it.  And just as easily as a person evolves, they can also devolve as a result of life’s circumstances.  This is a never ending process.

Triads Have Built in Strength!

Forming Triads is essential to the tribal growth process.  When just two people (dyads) are involved, it’s easy for one person to dominate and the other to be submissive.  When the inevitable conflict arises, the relationship can be easily damaged or terminated.  Having the third person adds balance and stability to the group.  Anytime conflict arises, the third person serves as the adhesive that keeps everyone focused on the objective and facilitates the repair of the relationship.


Group Limits

Organizational Tribes



Groups of people are generally effective up to about 150 participants.  The group level is determined by the individual stage of the majority of its participants.  Even though the stage of individual leaders and managers does influence the group (both positively and negatively), their influence dissipates the farther the rest of the team is from their influence on a routine basis.  It’s important to recognize what level each person is at, so that a progression plan can be developed to bring them up through their remaining levels, ideally to get everyone to level 5.

Organizational Maturity Levels (Team Capabilities)

Generally speaking organizations fall into one of four maturity/capability levels, according to Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change.  The following is may interpretation of those four levels plus an aspirational Level 5:

Organizational Maturity Levels

Level 1 – Newbies – This is where chaos reigns.  The founders have an idea that they are trying to make commercially viable.  Everything is an experiment.  Change is constant.  Risk of failure is around every corner.

Level 2 – Getting it Together – The team is still small but growing and has identified what is believed to be a viable path forward.  Consistent processes are in the early stages of development but not yet stabilized or error free.  Days are filled with crises management.  The culture of the core team is being diluted and not everyone has a clear sense of the founder’s purpose and vision.

Level 3 – Average Organization – This is where parts of the organization have evolved processes and have stabilized their day-to-day operations with limited interaction or support of or from other areas of the organization.  A type of status quo has been reached, with just enough stability for fairly routine daily operations.

Level 4 – Industry Leader – At this level collaboration and cooperation between the parts of the organization are common.  Performance levels trend up through the use of industry best practices.  Often the greatest danger is a natural tendency to become complacent, that’s why they say getting to the top is only half the battle.

Level 5 – Game Changing Superstars – These organizations excel at doing two things simultaneously.  They take not only their organization but their entire industry to a higher level not seen before, serving as a role model for others to follow.  As a result of their organizational purpose, they are at the center of a network of stakeholders whose efforts have been combined to add value to their customers in ways never previously imagined while using systems and processes that contribute to making the world a better place.

In my mind there is a direct correlation in the level of the people in the organization and the capabilities of the organization as a whole.  The two groups of descriptions are intentionally similar but separate and distinct.  A key to Level 5 maturity in organizations is their use of dynamic capabilities.