On Creating Effective Teams by Susan A. Wheelan

Alexey Ivanov
Integral Coaching


Amazon: Creating Effective Teams

Susan Wheelan doesn’t have a Wikipedia page and is only mentioned once in the Group Development article, yet she is one of the brightest minds in the academic area of group dynamics and teamwork.

She also seems to have a very sharp and practical mind, leaving chaff aside of the wheat. Creating Effective Teams, a how-to book that summarizes decades of her research, is dedicated to practitioners, that is, team leaders and team members. It is a short, dense, brilliant and inspiring ~150 pages read. I couldn’t hold myself from making notes and leaving booksmarks on every other page.

Wheelan is the author of Integrated Model of Group Development, which builds upon works of Wilfred Bion, Bruce Tuckman and her own empirical observations. At the core, the model suggests that all groups go through four stages:

  1. Dependency and inclusion
  2. Counter-dependency and fight
  3. Trust and structure
  4. Work and productivity

Each stage can be corresponded to a stage of human development: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and maturity. No wonder that if one wants to lead teams effectively, they should understand and adapt their leadership style to each stage, just like a parent adapts her attitude and actions towards her child on different stages of his development.

Wheelan continues by identifying traits of each group development stage and suggests what people with different roles should do at each of them. No matter if you are a leader or a follower, there are things that you should know and things you might want to do at each stage of the development, she suggests. Somewhere along the lines she notes that she knows way too many people who went to way too many leadership courses, but rarely has seen anyone attending followership or membership courses except the ones she organizes herself.

Based on the research of more than 700 teams, Susan Wheelan suggests that there are ten key areas that team members should be aware about to succeed and perform at their best:

  1. Goal Setting
  2. Role Distribution
  3. Interdependence
  4. Leadership
  5. Communication and Feedback
  6. Discussion, Decision Making and Planning
  7. Implementation and Evaluation
  8. Norms and Individual Differences
  9. Team Structure
  10. Cooperation and Conflict Management

Across the book, one can find a few handy questionnaires that helps them to determine group stage and group health, as well as benchmark leadership and followership status in teams.

This book was first suggested by Hyper Island folks before I attended the school and I had a few friends mentioning it to me a few times. All in all, this is a very distinguishable read on leadership and teams, and I would definitely recommend to practically anyone working with other people: consultants, facilitators, leaders and team members.



Alexey Ivanov
Integral Coaching

Product Design. Ex-@SYPartners, @IDEO, @Philips. Professional Integral Coach via @NewVenturesWest. 📍San Francisco