Insights / meetings, teamwork

The 4 Modes of Teamwork


When it comes to good teamwork, you hear a lot of advice about the importance of mission, role clarity and skill set, and engagement. This is all important stuff, and critical to enabling teams to thrive.

But there’s another, smaller - but maybe even more powerful - lever for great teamwork that I think doesn’t get enough attention: identifying the right mode of teamwork, in the moment.

Have you ever found yourself in a team meeting wondering what exactly you’re trying to do together? Are we brainstorming? Are we debating? Are we trying to decide something? …Are we just talking?

Any of these activities, and others, have their place. But, if everyone on the team isn’t on the same page about which mode of teamwork they're supposed to be in, we can end up wasting a lot of time and energy.

The next time you find yourself in such a position, here’s a simple guide to steer you toward more productive teaming.

When you’re working together as a team, here are 4 modes of teamwork that help you make the most of your time together:

  1. COULD DO - Sharing ideas and generating many different possible courses of action (e.g. brainstorming, collaborating)
  2. SHOULD DO - Reflecting on what’s working, where you’re getting stuck, and what adjustments you should make (e.g. learning sessions and retrospectives) 
  3. WILL DO - Deciding and committing to a specific course of action, with clear ownership (e.g. decision and action meetings)
  4. DOING! - Actually making and creating stuff, and moving the work forward


Here’s what’s not included: Updating. Discussing. Aligning. Talking. 

Highly effective teams are really good at being explicit with each other about which mode they’re in. At any moment, you could ask anyone on the team what they’re doing - and everyone would give you the same answer. And great teams are really good at practicing specific methods and protocols for each of mode.

Put this up on the wall, and challenge your team to get clear on what you’re trying to accomplish together.

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