Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” I’ve learned something over my years of travel: Folks running around wearing the same soccer jerseys are not necessarily a team. Sometimes teamwork happens; sometimes it doesn’t. Fortunate is the occasion when some relatively likeminded folks get together, and the psychodynamics result in successful interaction and accomplishment. 

One of my most enlightening but disappointing experiences happened in Krasnodar, Russia, near the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. A group of nine people from a large organization in Arizona requested that I take them with me to the old Soviet Union. Following the collapse of the Soviet Federation, they had selected an ethnic group close to the border of the Georgian Republic to adopt. All of the team members claimed common objectives and articulated well their sincere desire to help this group. They had even selected one person to be their team leader. Project C.U.R.E. was donating about half a million dollars’ worth of medical goods to the project.

We all traveled together from Los Angeles to Moscow in an uncomfortable, smelly Russian Aeroflot plane, simply because one of the group members had discovered that it would save them one hundred dollars. By the time we reached Krasnodar, I sensed quite a reservoir of ill will among members of the group, even though they had been long-standing acquaintances. At a formal dinner in Krasnodar, a prominent member of the delegation decided to unleash a salvo directed at the elected leader. It all went downhill from there.

It was agreed at one of our prebreakfast meetings that I would take only two of the men with me to my meetings with the ministers of finance and health in Krasnodar. The others agreed to stay busy shopping. But as it turned out, they had other plans. Instead of shopping, they waited in an outer office at the ministry building until the agreed-upon delegation arrived. Then the entire group suddenly appeared from around a corner, followed us into the minister’s office, and made themselves quite at home. It wasn’t just awkward; it was diplomatically unconscionable.

My efforts to correct the errant ways of the disjointed group weren’t successful. And even though the half-million dollars’ worth of donated medical supplies were delivered and distributed to the appropriate medical institutions, the full potential of doing good in Krasnodar was wasted. The members of this group were all wearing the same jerseys . . . but they certainly weren’t on the same team!

Fortunately, over the years I’ve had the rewarding privilege of being part of many productive groups that have interacted successfully and accomplished significant goals.

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As I’ve observed hundreds of successful groups make a positive difference, I’ve noticed a specific process that takes place as a group comes together, finds its identity, and moves toward accomplishing its goals. This team-building process is characterized by five distinct stages:

  1. Groping —The first stage is marked by an incessant flow of questions. Groping for validation, clarification, and significance is a natural first response in a group: “Why are we here?” “What is our specific task?” “Is this worth my time?” “Do we need a mission statement so we can validate our findings?” “Are we sure we need to try to solve this problem? Who cares?” 

  2. Griping—Not surprisingly, group members begin to gripe during the next stage. Working through differences is completely normal as individuals with unique personalities, interests, and abilities come together to form a unified group identity: “This isn’t a good location for us to meet.” “This isn’t very convenient.” “I have to take my kids to day care, so I can’t meet this early.” “Can’t we meet at the coffee shop?”

  3. Grasping—Eventually the new cluster of individuals begins to focus and engage their common intellect as they deal with the assigned issue and start to understand its scope and sequence.

  4. Grouping—As the new group consciously works at interacting with one another, a certain magic takes place. The group experiences a melding, a bonding, a solidifying of purposes and personalities.

  5. Group action—In the final stage, individuals have melded together into a unified whole and use their collective strengths to implement the appropriate plan of action.

As coach Vince Lombardi used to say, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society.” 

Isn’t it delightful to see people who are wearing the same jerseys actually become a team?