Reflecting on The Grove’s Team Performance System


Recently I gave a presentation to about 220 people about the origins and theory behind The Grove Consultant International’s Team Performance System (TPS). I did it on my 80th birthday, May 29, as a first part of what we at The Grove are calling the “Sourcecode Project.” Its focus is to explore our foundational understandings about how groups and organizations work that can provide a stable basis for our collective future. While many are experiencing massive amounts of change (not to mention AI, climate change and rising authoritarianism), there are some things that don’t change as much, and might provide navigational guidance, much the way a gyrocompass does for a ship in the fog. The ideas underlying the TPS are those kinds of ideas. They have guided The Grove’s methodological and tools development since 1977 when the company began.

Here is a link to a full video of the presentation on The Grove’s You Tube Channel if you want to experience it first hand. I gave it using a new streaming studio I am creating that allows for good storytelling through a teleprompter camera, tablet work, writing on PowerPoint, and integrating actual work on a wall. Now I’m using text. During the Zoom talk I told the story of my ten years of development conversations with Allan Drexler, a true expert on teams. I also shared the story of how Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process shaped my own understanding of process and provided a template for our eventual Team Performance Model. And twice during the talk I opened up to questions, using real paper and an easel as shown here to support the interaction. I noticed how being freed from the presentation technology of PowerPoint let my stories come alive. Here is a picture of the questions that Joran Oppelt and Erik Rolland, my two Grove colleagues, harvested from the chat. I noted them on large sticky notes. tp-questions

I’ll let the video answer some of these questions if you want to dig into this topic. Here I want to use writing to answer some of the questions that didn’t get a response. I start with some application questions.

To what extent is this model also valid for teams in Start-ups/ scale- ups?

If you appreciate this kind of model as a framework and each challenge as a kind of “lens” of perception, then you can look at anything and get insight. The model illustrates the most fundamental elements of teaming on the left and the levels of higher performance possible on the right, but does NOT imply that teams go through the challenges in precisely this order. It’s designed to show a default process, since many times beginning with fundamentals is a smart way to go. But some teams jump into Commitment or Implementation well before understanding that is foundational for these to be resolved. The arc of process can help a person look at any level of scale.

How does a team flow through the model when the teams that have “churn” in team membership, i.e. people going in and out of the team on a regular basis?

In my experience having a common language in an organization is even more important if there is a lot of churn. And having a visual model that can be explained easily also helps when new people join.

I believe Is there any thought around translating the model into other languages?

The full system is available in German through TMS Zentrum. The model has been translated into other languages as well, mostly in books like Meryem LeSage’ts Manager Intuitive in France.

How do you navigate different levels of sense making with leaders and teams (and how they use these tools), and meeting them where they are? 

The system is designed to provide a basis for exchange and inquiry about what people perceive looking through each of the seven challenges. Leaders with more developmental understanding will see a lot more. Different levels will also have different kinds of practices available for meeting the challenges. While the “resolved” and “unresolved” keys to each challenge are written generically, arguing with them is the best way to get people to talk about how they personally understand the challenges at whatever level they work. Keep in mind that “teaming” is shaped by culture, and culture by language, and the variations are significant. Having a starting point for engagement that takes a systemic perspective from the beginning is the purpose of the TP System and quite helpful.  

How might we make a case with groups for using graphic charting on paper on walls– it can be viewed as outdated and suspect?

I love this question, and another that wondered how I made the case for using graphics with Allan. Since humans have trouble keeping more than 4-5 things in mind without some kind of visual support, most people see the value right away, if you simply use charting without making a fuss about it. But a way to frame this in a more contemporary way is to say something like “let’s talk informally at this point to support our being more personal and creative. I’ll just take notes here on this chart. We can type it all up later.” This is more difficult in applications like Miro and Mural, which bias toward typing, but the drawing functions do work pretty well if you learn how to use them. In any event you need to be convinced of the value of slowing down and thinking more deeply, which is what handwriting allows.


What definition of trust do you use? How much is that definition provided or is it created by the clients?  May have missed that earlier.

Allan and my definition of trust is embedded in the “keys”—Mutual respect, forthrightness, and competence. Jack Gibb feels that trust arises from people being authentic with each other, beyond roles and requirements. However, I would bias toward getting the team involved in answering the question themselves. We often teach about this by having small groups share about their best team experience, and then generalize about what cuts across the stories. Trust is always present and there would be good examples of what it means.

Can you please clarify again the AEIO descriptions?

AEIO are names for the four levels behind the model. In some ways these are four levels of “reality” or four worlds of perception. ATTENTION is imaginary, in that it is only “real”  inside our light sensitive nervous systems. ENERGY can be felt directly, but not always consciously. Its reality is its intensity, force, and direction. But these are not objective realities. They are sensed. INFORMATION is symbolic—words, images, or numbers, and the patterns of connection within display formats, grammars, and data frameworks. This reality is shaped by the rules of language, but always subject to interpretation and connotation arising from personal experience. OPERATIONS refers to the reality of the physical world and the infrastructures we count on. It includes our use of time as governed by timekeeping devices. It is objective and subject to cause and effect. Arthur M. Young liked to distinguish these mathematically  by the levels of constraint that is present in a physical sense. Level IV, the “O” is 3D constrained. Level III, the “” is 2D. Level II, “E” is 1D constrained,  and level I, the “A” has O constraint.

I have a comment and a request. I’ve used David’s model for 40 plus years and have found that conflict increases as you approach the turn. This has been valuable in working with groups and I’d appreciate his speaking to it.

Constraint increases with materialization of any project, and constraint can lead to conflict. One colleague, Sam Kaner, calls the turn the “groan zone” for this reason. But some people get more energized as things begin to materialize and feel conflicted earlier if things aren’t heading toward some kind of realization. The Tuckman model of teaming—Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing— suggests that a kind of conflict comes earlier. So much of this is dependent on context that I wouldn’t say it’s built into the model. Allan and I argued about this and chose the word “Trust” as the key second step. Constraint increases but not necessarily conflict. A lot depends on the maturity of the people involved.

What’s in the spaces between the balls? Are they liminal spaces?

I hadn’t thought of that but it feels right. Although this question suggests that the balls are actual spaces that have some constancy and coherence as entities. In a team experience that plans meetings and activities that correspond to the different challenges, the in-between times would be liminal periods, since it is a real shift to go from recruiting a team to figuring out plans to going for a budget. And there can be liminal times when implementation falters and the team is thrown back into reconsidering the basics on the left side. Seen as lenses instead of “spaces” the liminal idea isn’t so key.

How do you see artificial intelligence impacting this type of work?

This question invites me to understand what the questioner means by “this type of work.” If this means being conscious of group processes then AI is going to jump all of us into being more conscious (hopefully). At the same time I don’t underestimate human being’s attraction to certainty, especially the certainty of logical, validated, answers provided by real authorities. The impact of AI will have a lot to do with how much authority these tools gain. Will we trust Waymo in the future more than human drivers? Will we trust AI financial analysis more than our CFO’s and accountants? AI could be very helpful as a kind of librarian regarding best practices, and could even be programmed to become culturally sensitive about variations. But will it be a partner in our teaming or be  a bully whip for people who are trying to get others to produce more? I don’t think the need to cooperate and understand our workmates will decrease.

I love this model because it supports the dynamic nature of agility and change that is constant.  How do we overlay the change management model?  And, how can we make both  more visible in the model?

Overlaying mental models is like a musician blending two types of music. Each has its biases and flavors. If you know both, then overlaying can be very stimulating and creative, especially if you remain clear that these are not really “models” in the sense of describing how things actually play out, but are “frameworks” for understanding, and asking questions, and observing. I think the TPS would yield a rich amount of insight brought to bear on a change management challenge. Likewise change management tools can help inform how to sustain team performance after the change. 

David, are you in contact and exchange of ideas  with Otto Scharmer about the (in my eyes obvious) connections between the TEAM PERFORMANCE MODEL and the Theory U?

I am not in touch directly with Otto Sharmer although I have recorded sessions with him  about Theory U back at MIT in the 1990s when it was developing. There are some key differences. Suggesting that the “turn” is a smooth slide through, as the Theory U graphic implies, doesn’t yield as much insight for me as seeing a real “bounce,” a true turn in direction. But this is a matter of graphic preferences. Another difference is putting thinking above heart in the model. I appreciate that people come into many situations needing to “download what they know,” which is often informational, and don’t open to the heart until later. But I think the heart comes in earlier even if unconscious. Having Will at the bottom is interesting, since one of the graphic confusion in the TPS is flattening the torus pattern, and not seeing that having our consciousness (or will) come in at the point of greatest constraint at stage 4 is how the turn happens. I like the fact that the TPS is resonant with the arc of evolutionary process as described by science.

I learned from you, David, that the TPM is much more than a model: It’s based on a philosophy of the universe and a key to unlock universal power within a team/organization! What do you think, David: Why is the “toroidal pattern“ and the theory of process hardly received and taught? Is the time not yet ripe? Too “esoteric“ in a scientific and materialistic world???

As I said in the presentation I think the answer is in the question. It is hard to underestimate how much we are attached to materialism and materialistic explanations. However this all seems to be coming into question in our era of professional political mud wrestling and linguistic and social media free form bearing little relationship to objective fact. Our breathing follows a circulating, toroidal pattern. So does the Earth’s gravity field. Compression and expansion drives our machines. Maybe this idea is too basic.

Few models subsume materialism and consciousness as the elemental concepts. Please comment.

At the heart of this challenge is the evolution of ways of talking and representing all the four levels of “reality” that function like separate languages. Most of the words that point at these things have layers and layers of associated meaning. This problem is one of the things I like about Young’s representations using visual, geometric angles and patterns to hold the distinctions. They aren’t so overloaded with interpretation.

With the current pressures in business (and possibly the expectations around AI) it seems that leaders are moving away from this people-centric view to more of a production mentality……are you experiencing this as well? If so, do you have thoughts around this “boomerang” effect?

It’s possible that there is a general trend although I have no personal data to validate it. My own bias is toward the value of taking people seriously and that is the kind of world I’m hoping to support in my work. I’d keep doing that in the darkest of times I believe.

I would be curious to hear how facilitators that use the survey (like me) share the results? Do they share all results/a part/at what stage in the process (for example prior to/during/after/partly during a team development session?

Generally the survey results are shared with the team leader ahead of time, if there is one and especially if there are questions about the leader. It isn’t helpful to have them surprised in a team improvement meeting. Then the results are shared in the session. Reading and discussing the survey after being oriented is part of how the learning soaks in.

Question:  what are the “precursor” questions a team or a leader needs to ask before using this process model?

The TP Model could be introduced any time a group news some common language about teaming. The four page brochure has enough information to get conversations started. I’ll sometimes use this for an initial, intuitive diagnosis by asking a team where the current focus of attention is on the model. A precursor to using the survey would be to make sure that there are not problematic issues that require real discipline or even changes in assignment. We encourage clients to handle these things before a team improvement meeting.

For more information please check out The Grove’s Team Performance services at this link.

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