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What it Takes to Bring a Team Together

My recent experience in working with the Waratahs Rugby


Stages of Team Development

As I worked with the NSW Waratahs & NSW Rugby to help the entire team play to their full potential this season, I have focused my support on facilitating growth in the stages of team development. The four linear stages that form the horizontal axis are forming, storming, norming, and performing. The vertical stages are dependent, independent, and interdependent. As teams go through the process of ‘forming, storming, norming, and performing’ (a model you’ll almost certainly recognise from developmental psychologist, Dr Bruce Tuckman) they are doing so at each of those levels in a ‘dependent way, independent way, and interdependent way’.

When working in a dependent way, the team is told how to form. They are directed through the storming, they are shown how to norm, and they are given direction in how to perform. In an independent way, each of the players on the team is working out how to form, determining what their part is in storming, and figuring out what they are comfortable with in the norms. Their focus here is on individual performance. When they reach a state of interdependence, then the forming is happening as a group. The storming is occurring not between individuals, but with transparency between everybody within the group. At this stage, individual players begin to come together as a team which facilitates the de-normalising of frames, structures, and behaviours. This develops into an interdependent, cohesive team that actualises itself in peak performance.


From Dependence to Interdependence

From a team perspective, it has been interesting to witness how the Waratahs have moved from (in 2017) a dependent model into independence (in the 2018 pre-season). From there, they have became aware of their potential, and the coaches have come to understand that the next step is to bring the team into a state of interdependent team performance.

I think with the first game back after their tour of South Africa and Argentina (Waratahs 51/ Rebels 27 on 18th March 2018), the coaches began to see a glimpse of the possibility of a fully interdependent team. From a maturation perspective, the coaches could see their roles as facilitators, handing responsibility back to the players for coming together interdependently.  The team had learned to take responsibility for their success by holding each other accountable. They shifted their focus from the individual to the collective.


Evaluate Your Team

These lessons can be just as productive in the workplace as they are on the rugby field. Team leaders, especially at the executive level, need to be able to evaluate their team to understand what needs to shift and change.  As a leader, you need to ask yourself difficult questions:

  • Is the team struggling to overcome mediocre performance?
  • How do I lead change from dependency to independence, from independence to interdependence?
  • How do I lead the horizontal movement from forming to performing?
  • How am I part of the problem and what do I need to do to become part of the solution?
  • Where am I guilty of perpetuating the cultural frameworks of the team?
  • How do I start having conversations and communications that facilitate forward thinking?

When you ask yourself these questions, you may start to see the opportunities and potential of the team.  You’ll have a vision of where the team could lead the organisation. This is about understanding how a team can actualise their highest capabilities in terms of key performance indicators and ultimate objectives.  


Everybody Can Score Once

To bring it back to rugby, anybody can get over the line and score at least once. Leading a team to success is about putting the (internal and external) structures together to facilitate consistent high performance.


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