Team Development Curve





Dave has several hot food orders in the window, all at the same time. Chris begins to pick up one of the orders to run it to Dave’s table for him. Dave sees him and yells at Chris, “I don’t want anyone running my food for me!”

Chris is angry and confused. Karen set out the last bottle of a special wine that was being served by the glass. She needed it all for a table for four. David, who needed the same wine for a deuce, observed Karen removing the wine and heard her wondering aloud if she had enough for her table. Karen set the bottle of wine down for a moment to run an order out. David took the bottle of wine to his table and poured two glasses. When Karen realized what he had done, she proceeded to call him a “#*&^$#” in front of co-workers.

There is a lot of work to be done to build this team. This group is not really a team but a group of Capable Individuals. They might be competent with service techniques and operational procedures but not in working together. What are some of the conditions that are causing them to get stuck in developing as a team? These people think “what’s in it for me” (W.I.I.F.M) in their every action. All they care about is their customers, station, food, wine, etc. When a group works with this individualistic approach, they tend to go through a cycle of hidden agenda (“This is the last bottle of wine—I’ll hide it”) to having an adversarial relationship that flares up occasionally. This group doesn’t discuss solutions; they come up with excuses to deny that there is a problem or blame someone. Things go back to hidden agenda until the next operational problem that again puts them in an adversarial position.

There’s a lack of understanding of the higher purpose of working together (“Hey, it’s sink or swim around here”). There’s a lack of energy or enthusiasm to work smarter to solve problems (“So what, it’ll all be over at 10” or “I don’t have to plan; I just show up.”). Most importantly, the lack of courtesy to each other is the most detrimental aspect of this group.

Is this restaurant successful? It serves fine food and most of the servers deliver quality service to their guests. The restaurant has a good location so it’s easy to find. The concept is attractive—fun and lively. But is it achieving the highest possible results?

I experienced the above scenarios when taking over the management of a restaurant. On the first day I stated basic rules, such as no swearing and using “please” and “thank you.” A group cannot develop into a team without these basic rules that foster respect.



Jill really wants to have Tuesday night off just this once so she can see her daughter’s ballet. Everyone else is either scheduled to work that night or already has specific plans except for Dana. She never works on Tuesdays because she prefers not to, and because she doesn’t like to work more than 4 shifts per week. But this time Dana will fill in for Jill. She heard about the problem and approached Jill.

Nina and Shawn are two servers who had recently been hired and trained. Inadvertently they ended up working a lunch shift together without one of the more experienced servers. They worked a busy shift successfully and thought that they were finished and were walking out the door just as Betty, the PM opening server arrived. Betty noticed that some of the standard closing side work had not been done. She began to yell at Nina and Shawn to get their act together and told them they weren’t leaving until everything was done to her satisfaction.

A restaurant has rules just as a family has rules. Some are well defined such as curfew and some are made up as life goes on, like no half-filled soda cans in the refrigerator. My kids sometimes questioned our rules and stated that their friends had better rules. I usually said that they should ask if those families would let them live there since they liked their rules better than ours. It’s the same way for restaurants. Some have more or better or different rules than others.

A team begins to pull together when everyone performs basic rules. The rules could be as simple as filling in for a shift or that everyone does side work as in the above examples. Sometimes the new staff learns about the rules by getting yelled at. The rules could be formal (a side work checklist) or informal (a team member substitutes a shift). The rules could also be aligned with an owner or general manager’s idiosyncrasies or pet peeves. (“When the boss is here, don’t let him see you cut bread that way. He likes thinner slices.” Or “The portion size in dishing up the rice is the manager’s BIG thing!”)

Rules are the beginning of a team. In some cases, these might have little to do with operational tasks. A general manager got the kitchen staff to work better together when they agreed on what music to play during prep time. That got them to problem solve which led to other agreements about improving kitchen operations and food quality. Eventually they agreed to specific rules for evaluating menu items.

However, these rules aren’t always enforced. In a Family Rules team there’s always inconsistency among managers in enforcing the rules because of the personality-driven style in working with each other. The staff is always wondering about how they’re getting along with each other, the boss, and the managers. Reward and punishment can be changeable depending upon whether an employee is “in” or “out” with the boss. (“When I work with Bill, I’ve always got to be on-time because he does the schedule and I’ll get the lousy shifts. But with Jim I can walk in 7 minutes late—no problem.”) The owner and managers become benevolent dictators. Benevolent because they like people and have some people skills. Dictators because the often say “My way or the highway.”

All of these aspects of this team—personality-driven, pet peeves, inconsistency, etc.—result in everyone having a survival anxiety. New staff wonders how they’ll fit in. Senior staff will exert pressure to control certain things such as working the “money” service stations. Everyone will check the mood of the owner/manager to see what the day looks like. Moods become contagious. As an area supervisor I once visited a Family Rules restaurant when none of the employees greeted me or were in good moods. The manager-on-duty was in a bad mood. We went for a walk and talked through his frustrations until he was in a good mood, then held a pre-lunch shift meeting with lots of fun to get everyone up for working a busy lunch.

Many restaurants are operated with a Family Rules approach. They may be successful because of quality food and service. They might be financially successful because many of the boss’s pet peeves might relate to saving money, or they might be scraping by because the owner manages the sales down to a certain comfort level.

Everyone knows things could be better, but no one wants to take the initiative to suggest an improvement because the owner/manager might not like it. There are stories in the restaurant folklore about how someone made a change and the boss got angry and that person got fired. Restriction of communication will restrict results.

A team truly takes shape when people step up and out to become a B+/Team Grade Average—Responsible Team Members. Using letter grades is a conceptual approach to analyzing a team. For a team to achieve a B+ team grade average there has to be a number of As and a few C+/B-s performers. If a team had a B average, then there could be an equal number of A and C performers, which would lower the standards.

Level 3: RESPONSIBLE TEAM MEMBERS—B+/Team Grade Average


Belinda has just discovered that she’s expected to set up an extremely difficult and large station only 15 minutes prior to opening on a very busy night. Everyone else has had 45 minutes to prep their stations. Without being asked, other servers came over and started to set the tables.

It’s a very busy night. The dining room and bar are both slammed. Guests in the bar have been ordering food. Tom, the bartender, had fired a food order while still managing to take care of all the drink orders for guests and servers. Tom’s order comes up in the kitchen window and Rick decides to help Tom by running the food to the guests.

Employees can be ranked into three groups—As, Bs, and Cs. The Cs think they can coast and just get by with no extra effort. When something goes wrong, it’s “whatever.” Surprisingly, the Cs control the quality and productivity of the team. Vince Lombardi, the late Green Bay Packer coach, stated in his book, Run To Daylight, “The amount that can be consumed and executed by a team is controlled by the weakest man on it; while others can give him physical help, he has to do his own thinking.”

Therefore it’s imperative that the manager improves the Cs to Bs or gets rid of them because they are dragging down the quality and productivity of the team. The value that elevates performance from a C to a B is responsibility. The above scenarios show responsibility in action. The B team player says, “whatever it takes.”

Responsible Team Members don’t turn on or off responsibility; they are responsible 24/7. They are responsible to themselves, to each other, to society, to whatever they are engaged in—sports, school, family, work, etc. The staff in the Family Rules team probably is also responsible but because of the culture they aren’t allowed to live it. The owner and managers restricts responsibility because the team is more focused on pleasing them rather than on improving operations. Whereas in the Responsible Team Members category the owner/manager creates a culture where the staff wants to learn and feels safe. They encourage the team members to be responsible by recognizing contributions and reward successes and mistakes. (“Your idea of handing out two towels to each cook instead of having a pile at the end of the cook’s line resulted in a savings of $105 a month.” Or “It didn’t work out totally as planned. But we learned some things and achieved some results. Good going.”)

Instead of engaging in denial and blame excuses as to why a problem can’t be solved, Responsible Team Members ask: How am I apart of the problem-solving process and how are we apart of the problem-solving process. This acknowledgement that everyone is a problem-solver is a key characteristic of this team. Everyone pitched in and helped Belinda in the above example.

The “family” rules become values. The Responsible Team Members find that they share many values—punctuality, helping, enthusiasm, respect and meaningful work. They know they’re apart of something really good and it creates loyalty. Working in a Capable Individuals or Family Rules team becomes shallow. Employees feel they are there for the money or they have inertia—just can’t move to another position or to a higher team level. Or they stay for life reasons. (“It’s good for my family.” “I’ll stay until I get my kids through school.” “It’s close to my house.”) Their reasons are shallow if stuck in these two team categories.

Responsible Team Members understand why they have the enthusiasm and passion for their work. They enjoy making a contribution and enjoy their team members’ suggestions and skills as well. (“Just ask Amy. She’s a wiz at suggestive selling.”) And appreciate their differences. (“Bill likes to work large parties this way. And if it’s his party, I’ll let him lead and I’ll follow.”) Their work is focused and defined. Other team types might have passion, but it’s scattered. The manager in this team category is a coach. Focused communication is a key difference between the Capable Individuals and the Responsible Team Members’ categories. As Margaret Wheatley stated in her book, Leadership And The New Science: “We need to be able to trust that something as simple as a clear course of vision and values, kept in motion through continuing dialogue, can lead to order.”

As this team works together and experiences successes, mistakes, chemistry, highs and lows, it could become Self-Managing.



The servers are responsible for garnishing the soup of the day. During this particular shift, the soup required a fresh basil garnish. Mark was preparing a bowl of soup and was ready to place some of the basil on the soup when he noticed that the basil looked limp and lifeless. He asked the chef for fresh basil.

The kitchen had run out of the special entrée for the night during the middle of a busy shift. The sous chef wrote it on the “86” board and told 2 of the 6 servers working that night. Amy had not been informed verbally and had just been seated 3 tables and had sold a special entrée to one of the guests. The chef looked at the kitchen ticket and talked to Amy about the situation. Realizing that Amy was unaware, he went out to the table to inform the guest and to discuss an alternative menu item.

The Three E’s are key characteristics of a Self-Managing Team—Egalitarianism, Entrepreneur and Engagement. The first E is egalitarianism: everyone’s job is important and equal. In the above scenarios the staff is working together to serve the guests regardless of titles, positions and whether they work in the dining room or kitchen. Everyone performs their primary job duties and their secondary team responsibilities. In a Self-Managing Team not everything is perfect—mistakes happen. But the handling of problems is very different than the Capable Individuals or Family Rules types of teams. The Capable Individuals might engage in denial and blame excuses and the Family Rules team members would only deal with certain problems depending upon the personalities involved. In a Self-Managing Team any team members could be substituted in the above situations and the result would be the same.

In a Self-Managing Team everyone thinks like an owner, an Entrepreneur. What would they do if this restaurant were theirs? They would make it right for every guest every time. This is the thinking of an A performer. The staff would be disciplined and have an understanding of their authority in making decisions. Servers wouldn’t say to the guests: “I’ll have to check with my manager to see if your request is ok.” They would know their authority parameters and make decisions with confidence and without fear of reprisal. They wouldn’t need excessive controls or policies and procedures. The value of discipline would be the unifying energy to keep everyone focused on the priorities.

Being entrepreneurs means the staff has a genuine understanding of the guests, uses resources and creates programs or products to go beyond the expectations of the guests. It’s not just fulfilling the needs of the guests; it’s staying ahead of the guests by giving the guests what they don’t know they need. Introducing a guest to a special dish or a new wine and then experiencing the WOW! guest sensation is a fun, meaningful and entrepreneurial experience.

Engagement is the fuel to keep a Self-Managing Team developing and growing. Team members are engaged in discussion with each other, management, their guests, everyone. Servers greet all of the kitchen people by name; they stop by the dishwashers during a busy shift to say thanks for their efforts. Bartenders help servers stay focused by reminding them what beverage orders are coming. Hostesses are constantly talking to the bussers about the next tables to be bussed and how they should be set for the next parties. The kitchen expediter is constantly checking with the cooks to determine when orders should be fired. And if something isn’t right, anyone can freely speak up and will be supported for calling attention to a problem. They won’t be blamed or belittled. This approach fosters the value of courage that everyone needs to exercise to keep the quality high and a Self-Managing Team operating.

Shared team values are a hallmark. Since the team members have been working together for a period of time the values are cohesive and consistent in execution. Discipline, responsibility, respect, courage, punctuality, enthusiasm, fun and care are some of the shared Self-Managing Team values. As general manager, it took me a year with constant interviewing to put a server team together with these shared values. Through constant training and coaching this team began to jell and they loved working together. They stayed together for four years. They developed mutual trust by living these values daily.

Celebrating wins is a business objective of this team. The wins can be small, frequent, big, fun, whimsical or meaningful. The celebrating can be giving someone recognition and an applause during shift meeting or a special parking space. Celebration is not designed to just make people feel good. Celebration instills pride and keeps everyone motivated to do better.