Leading A Team From The I-Stage To The We-Stage

Teams, like people, grow through developmental stages. I would like to focus on one of the key challenges a Team[1] faces: moving from the I-Stage (where everybody is focused on personal knowledge and expertise) to the We-Stage (where the group becomes a genuine Team that is synergizing their collective abilities).

This is a big move for a Team. I’m talking about the moment when a Team realizes that what it accomplishes through working together is always larger than what any individual can figure out on his or her own.

I’m talking about the moment when a group of people recognizes that they have expertise together and abilities together that they don’t have and can never have as individuals. This is a moment in which a group recognizes they have become a real Team, and this comes along with a strong feeling of gratitude and a desire to take care of and preserve the Team.

But how does this happen? We know it doesn’t happen automatically! We’ve all been on groups of talented people that — despite the huge amount of brain power in the room — never gelled into a strong Team.

What makes the quantum leap from the group of individuals to real Team? And what obstructs this shift? Because it’s not just an incremental gaining of abilities and knowledge – it’s far more than that – it’s an actual felt change in the way group members see themselves and each other on a daily basis, and how they can extend themselves to each other, support each other, and work through difficulties together, to get the work done.

Evolving A New Kind Of Team Confidence

Team Confidence - Leading A Team From The I-Stage To The We-Stage - Development StagesAnd this change is catalyzed by, and “bakes in” a new kind of confidence on the Team. Prior to this change, people could only rely on their individual skills and abilities. After this change, there’s a firm basis of trust and more than that; there is the knowledge and confidence that when I face a problem as a Team Member[2], I’m not facing it alone. The brain power, imagination, and energy that I can draw on are not just mine but everyone’s.

Now, looking at organizational psychology and leadership research, we know that there are a number of things that need to happen for Team Members to gain this confidence in their Team.

Sharing The Value of Team Collaboration

Team Collaboration - Leading A Team From The I-Stage To The We-Stage - Development StagesFirst of all, peoples’ work needs to be structured in such a way as to foster collaboration rather than silos; and not only that, but people’s performance evaluations need to demonstrate that the organization places a premium on collaboration, not just individual accomplishments. The organization as a whole needs to reward people for working together, not for being lonely heroes.

If I repeatedly get the message that my pay, promotion, and status depend exclusively on what I can do “by myself,” then that’s where my energy is going to go, not into collaborative efforts. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen plenty of organizations which implemented Scrum and expected their people to mobilize in self-organizing Teams, while still treating them as individual contributors.

What does this have to do with confidence? It has precisely to do with the organization as a whole giving me the confidence that we share a value of collaboration, and if I extend myself beyond my narrow self-interest, and wholeheartedly try to build a collaborative environment with the others on my Team, I will be recognized and rewarded for that.

Fostering a “Psychologically Safe’ Environment

Safe Environment - Leading A Team From The I-Stage To The We-Stage - Development StagesSecond of all, an atmosphere needs to exist on the Team that promotes what the research calls “psychological safety.” That means people know that it is safe for them to share their ideas, take risks, and explore solutions together, without knowing the final answer. Because there are working agreements[3] on the Team, they are confident that it is OK to take these kinds of risks: people know they won’t be shot down or criticized by each other.

And how does that environment come about? It doesn’t happen on its own. Of course having a psychologically safe environment depends on having people who are capable of relating to each other decently–but even more than that, having a supportive atmosphere on a Team requires good leadership to set and maintain that tone!

Having a Good Team Leader

Why is good leadership so important for fostering this confidence?

Team Leader - Leading A Team From The I-Stage To The We-Stage - Development StagesBecause it’s the Team Leader who sets the Team norms and tone, and then helps Team Members hold each other accountable for preserving it. Now, your Team Leader may be a Manager, a Technical Lead, a ScrumMaster[4], or a Product Owner[5]. But whoever it is, she or he is the one person responsible for guiding the Team in establishing a healthy environment for collaboration and helping them to confront issues or behaviors that threaten to undermine that.


Individuals coming together as a Team is a magical thing, and doesn’t happen automatically. It happens because people become confident that the Team will be stronger than the individuals alone, and as they gain confidence that they can trust and depend on their teammates.

The word confident in English comes from the Latin word confidere[6], meaning having full trust or reliance. Trust in who? Trust in my Teammates, trust in the Leader who is guiding our work, and trust in the business as a whole – not to be perfect, not to be infallible, but to be fundamentally behind us. To have our backs when we stumble and to support our taking the risk to find out that what we can accomplish together is always greater than what we could accomplish by ourselves.

Looking to go more in depth on this topic?
Here’s a short video blog to view.

Thinking your Team could benefit from learning more on this subject?
We’ve got consulting for that.

As Always. Stay Agile.

Notes and Sources

1 – 5 “Team”, “Team Member”, “Agreements”, “Scrum Master”, “Product Owner.” ScrumDictionary.com. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://scrumdictionary.com/

6 “Confide.” Merriam-Webster. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/confide.