7 Easy Ways To Tell If Your Team Is Really A Team

Are you on a team that’s only a team in name only?

If so, you’re not alone.This past week, I worked with a Executive Operating Committee (EOC) of a global pharmaceutical organization.  Twenty persons strong, EOC members had flown into New York City from around the world to spend two days together.

The EOC has a big role to play in the organization, and the new leader Edward, has a real vision for what he wants them to do.  There’s just one giant problem:  the EOC is not a team.  It’s not even a working group.

Edward is battling against a lot of inherited history.  His predecessor had a hands off leadership style.   In fact, he referred to the EOC as a “community”. That basically meant nothing.  Each member of the EOC had their own fiefdom, and worked hard to not have to work with each other.   Their semi-annual meetings were basically corporate theater where nothing got done.

In working with Edward and the EOC, we worked to establish a baseline level of trust so that we could name the elephant in the room:  You’re a team in name only.Once we got that in the open, we discussed the essential elements that separate real teams from pseudo-teams.



A pseudo-team comes together for organizational purposes.  It focuses on managing and administering directives.  A real team, on the other hand, shares a common purpose where each member is committed and realizes it can only be achieved by working together.


Pseudo-team members focus on their own part of the whole.  They know little (and care even less) about what others do or how they do it.  There’s no sense of how the various pieces actually fit together.

Within real teams, members are curious to gain wisdom about each other. This way they can both create support and discover synergies to become even more effective.


With Pseudo-teams, it’s quite possible to stay locked into a “You do your thing, I’ll do my thing” way of working for years.  In this case, there’s absolutely no need to have any interactions. Thus, no team.

Real teams have shared work products.  Structurally, this forces collaboration and allows people to start to draw on differing and complementary strengths.


Pseudo-team members have no skin in the game for the team.  They only care about their own personal goals, because they’re the only goals that seem to matter.  Whether or not others succeed or fail is irrelevant; in their world view, success is all about “me”.

Real team members know that if a teammate fails, we all fail.  They co-create shared goals and have both individual and mutual accountability.  They are humble enough to recognize that their own achievements only matter in the context of the results of the larger whole.


You can spot a pseudo-team a mile away by how it deals with disagreement.  When conflicts arise, blame and escalation are par for the course.  On the surface, everyone may seem “nice”, when in fact there’s a huge underground finger-pointing and triangulation industry busy at work.

Real team members have the courage to speak up.  They deal with disagreements directly, as they take ownership having functional working relationships with all other team members.  They only escalate after they’ve exerted their own efforts and need help.


The only version of trust that pseudo-teams know is predictive trust. That is the trust that arises when you can predict how someone else will act.   Pseudo-teams lack vulnerability based trust.  That’s the trust that arises when people take the risk to speak honestly and openly.

Google did research into what makes for the highest performing teams.  It turns out that creating psychological safety is the most important predictor of teams’ success.


Pseudo-teams don’t recognize achievements publicly or generously.  More often than not, when milestones are reached, there’s time to come up for one breath, than it’s back to work on the milestone.  If there’s any recognition to be had, it’s often claimed by the manager.

Real teams understand the power of celebration.  They know that people achieve better results when they experience overt positive emotion.  (The kind of emotion that comes from celebrating success.)  Recognition is a powerful fuel in the gas tank of performance.

What else separates real teams from pseudo-teams?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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