As anyone who has ever worked as part of a team can tell you, teams can be complex. While they tend to form in order to complete tasks and achieve a goal, there is much more to them than that.

Reflecting on my work within high performance sports teams, the goal has been very clearly held as the only thing that is important. Win medals, that’s it. The be all and end all. Every task is assessed to see if it is going to support that goal, and if it’s not then it’s taken off the list. Any issues that arose were rarely around clarity of what we should be doing, but were rather around how we were doing them, especially how we were doing them together.

There’s a wonderful model by Harrison, Short, and Scherer called the Waterline Model (Waterline Model of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Intervention (adapted from Harrison R, Scherer J, Short, RR. Waterline model. Kenmore, WA: Leadership Institute of Seattle; 2001; unpublished data) that makes the point that there is so much going on in teams that is invisible, or “under the waterline”. We get so focused on tasks that our teams rarely, if ever, take the time to make sure that the structure, group dynamics, interpersonal dynamics, and intrapersonal dynamics are functional well. Once they are functioning well, there is still effort required to maintain those dynamics.


This model can be used to proactively establish healthy teams, or as a diagnostic tool for teams that are working hard but not meeting their tasks and goals. What’s going on under the waterline, for instance what supportive systems and structures are in place, how do members understand and relate to each other, what tools are in place for conflict resolution, how does the team acknowledge and celebrate success? These used to be considered “soft” skills, although the terminology seems to be shifting towards the more appropriate “core” skills. They are essential, and it’s important to carve out time to work on them so that tasks and goals can be met effectively.

I like models that can help people find insight, and this one can do that in all kinds of teams. I’m constantly surprised and excited by the similarities between corporate teams and sports teams, and a model rings true for me when I can use it in both environments. Hope you find this helpful too!


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