How is Your Team Doing?

Most of us work in groups or teams at some point in our careers. Volunteer activities typically involve working with groups as well. Sometimes, organizations provide formal team-building resources to help accelerate the development of productive teams. In other circumstances, groups are structured (or emerge) less formally and people are left on their own to manage group interactions and overcome any obstacles to collaboration.

Photo by Kevin Dooley, Flickr

Whether you’re being supported through a team-building process or striving to meld together a more organic cluster of co-workers, here’s a set of criteria you can draw on to evaluate how your group is doing.

Five Ways to Measure Team Function

The following five dimensions are adapted from the work of Dr. Hedley Dimock[1] on how to observe and evaluate groups.

  1. Climate: This dimension refers to the atmosphere, energy level, openness, etc. The climate is what we you immediately aware of when you enter a room where this group is meeting. In most groups you can quickly sense whether things are pleasant or unpleasant, comfortable or uncomfortable – or maybe somewhere in between. Over time, as a group evolves and solidifies, the climate should become more pleasant and comfortable.
  2. Involvement: This measure refers to the group’s level of self-direction, self-management, shared initiative, degree of commitment and motivation. Another way to think of involvement is the group’s ability to focus. A highly involved group may lose awareness of what’s happening around them or outside the room because they are so focused on the task at hand.
  3. Interaction: When observing for progress on this dimension, look for connections between individual group members and the overall connectedness of the group. Indicators of involvement include the level of rapport observed and the degree to which leadership is shared.
  4. Cohesion: Over time, an effective team will develop a sense of cohesion. The level of solidarity, commitment or togetherness experienced by the group reflects the degree of cohesion the group has achieved. In a highly cohesive group or team, members begin to think in terms of “we” rather than “I” and almost instinctively function as a unit.
  5. Productivity: When the four preceding dimensions are well-developed, a group typically becomes more productive. In observing for improvements in productivity, look for improved problem solving capacity, task completion, shared responsibility, and increased activity leading to measurable achievements.

Who Should Evaluate the Team?

In an ideal world, evaluating team development is the joint effort of everyone involved. In some cases, however, you might be an external observer (or manager) assessing the group. In either case, multiple observations over time are required to determine whether a particular group of people are becoming an effective team. Assuming your team is interested in their own development, the process would work as a form of debrief at the end of a working session.

Evaluating Team Development

Before jumping into evaluation, it’s important that everyone agree on the “rules of the tribe” to ensure safe and respectful dialogue. These ground rules might include; maintaining mutual respect, no personal attacks, being open and honest, focusing on the growth of the team, valuing everyone’s input, etc. Once the necessary guidelines have been set, members of the group can start sharing their observations. To mentally separate from the work session just completed, move to another room or to another part of the room.

Each member:

  • Take a few minutes to jot down a brief assessment of how the group functioned with respect to each of the five dimensions described above. These notes should be saved and used as reference points during future discussions.
  • Share and discuss what was observed in a general way and then zero in on each of the five dimensions.
  • Provide examples from group behavior to illustrate comments as they are shared.
  • Listen with an open mind and absorb what’s being shared.
  • Confirm commitment to work together to accomplish the objectives of the group.

As the group continues to work together and collectively evaluate their development as a team, progress along all five dimensions should begin to emerge.This process of consciously and collectively self-assessing group function typically leads to growth and improvement. Occasionally, things go sideways and a team fails to progress or becomes dysfunctional. When that happens a different approach is called for.


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[1] Dr. Hedley Dimock is the Director of the Centre for Human Resource Development, an independent consulting and research organization in Guelph, Ontario.

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