Cog's Ladder

The development of a team is a process that takes time to come together successfully. Any manager who is even moderately experienced in leadership understands that you can't simply put a team together and expect them to work together perfectly right from the start. It takes time to grow into the roles that each person will fill, and for the group to gain momentum working in the right direction.

With that in mind, Cog's Ladder is a helpful tool to understand the development of any group. Published way back in 1972, Cog's Ladder is still highly relevant today and it is something that every manager should understand. There are five stages of group development highlighted as part of the 'ladder'.

Cog’s Ladder

Polite Stage
This is the point in the process where the group is just getting started, and getting to know each other. As the name would indicate, the interactions between team members tend to be rather friendly at this point, and there are no major conflicts to be resolved. While this can be an enjoyable part of the process because it is low-stress and everyone is getting along nicely, it won't likely be the most productive part of the group's growth. Once the members of the group become more comfortable with each other - and more willing to debate and stand up for their own ideas - productivity should benefit as a result. However, the polite stage is a necessary part of the development process because it lays the groundwork for what is to come. People who don't know, or trust, each other can't be expected to work together productively, so the polite stage gives them a chance to get to know one another and develop the trust that will be crucial later on.

Why we're Here Stage
Things are starting to 'come together' at this point in the process. Now that everyone is comfortable working together, some more specific goals and assignments can be set. While the group still might look more like a collection of individuals than a cohesive unit, it is starting to be more productive and get down to the business of doing whatever it was that brought them together in the first place. Team members should have a much better understanding of their purpose and place on the team at this point as well. Successfully reaching this stage should position the team nicely for being successful in the stages ahead.

Cog’s Ladder - Power Stage

Power Stage
As the team develops and starts to evolve, the power stage is reached. This is the point where various members of the team are positioning themselves for leadership roles among the team, and conflicts start to arise. The conflict at this point in the process doesn't have to be a bad thing, as long as it is constructive in the end and ideas are being shared. The individuals that make up the team probably still don't feel 'connected' to the team concept, in large part because they are still battling for power and position with their peers.

What happens in the power stage will determine much of the rest of the team experience, as the roles become defined and people settle into their position as part of the group. Much of this can happen naturally without the direct input of the manager or leader. Even without appointing specific people to be in charge or leaders of portions of the group, those things will occur naturally through the course of day to day interaction.

Cooperation Stage
Finally, the group begins to really come together and work more as a unit than just a collection of individuals. Instead of having so many conflicts within the team, those conflicts turn into more of an 'us vs. them' situation, where the group battles against other parts of the organization. With the power battles mostly settled at this point, teamwork is greatly improved and the group as a whole is more accepting of new ideas and points of view.

Cog’s Ladder - Cooperation Stage

One negative effect of this stage is the difficulty that can be experienced when introducing a new member. The existing members of the team have successfully grown together by this point, and will likely resist having anyone added to their group at this point. While this does signify progress in terms of team building and camaraderie, it also can make it difficult to add a new skill set to the team when necessary.

Esprit Stage
Only successful groups will reach this final stage, but it should be the goal for every group that is formed within an organization. At this point, the team is working perfectly together and the goals of the individuals are put second behind the objectives of the team itself. The team starts to see itself as something of a family, and the members of the team trust each other completely when it comes to getting things done correctly.
As a benefit of the trust that exists, creativity may increase as members of the team are more comfortable taking chances and trying out new ideas. As a manager, it should be your goal to see your teams reach this level of cooperation and motivation. The results of this achievement can be powerful as the team may be able to do more than was ever expected when first starting out.

The development of each individual team that you create may vary slightly from time to time, but it should generally follow along this ladder. Understanding that teams take time to develop and evolve is important, and too much shouldn't be expected right from the start. As the team members gain experience working with each other, and build that trust that is so important, they will gradually come together more and more - and you can in turn expect more form the team in terms of production. Understanding Cog's Ladder and what it means for the development of a group dynamic within your organization is a powerful tool that you can use to help get the most out of every individual, and the team as a whole.

You may also be interested in:
Mintzberg's Management Roles | Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team | Birkinshaw's Four Dimensions of Management | Waldroop and Butler's Six Problem Behaviors | Cog's Ladder | Leader-Member Exchange Theory | Belbin's Team Roles | Benne and Sheats' Group Roles | Margerison-McCann Team Management Profile | The JD-R Model.

Key Points

  • The basic idea of Cog's Ladder is that there are five steps necessary for a small group of people to be able to work efficiently together. These stages are the polite stage, the why we're here stage, the power stage, the cooperation stage and the esprit stage.
  • Cog's Ladder is very similar to Tuckman's Stages, another stage model of groups. Tuckman recognized 4 stages of team development: "Forming," "Storming," "Norming," and "Performing."
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