by Gwyn Williams and Bruce Milroy

John Adair model

When you are trying to lead and manage a new team, you will see a variety of behaviours being demonstrated by different individuals in the team. This mix of behaviours is a very natural occurrence, and they tend to fit into three main categories, as described by John Adair in his book Effective Teambuilding:

Adair describes a team as having three key needs, described below.

  • Task – the need to accomplish something: this is ‘what’ the team will do, and is usually seen in terms of things rather than people
  • Group – the need to develop and maintain harmonious working relationships: this concerns ‘how’ people relate to each other. So, for example, unless people listen to each other and build on each other’s ideas, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to complete the task
  • Individual – people join teams for a variety of reasons, but their reasons for joining will fulfil a personal need they have, whether it’s being excited by the task, interested in working with the other people or because it provides job security and a regular income. Each person will have their own individual needs, and when these individual needs can be met along with (and not at the expense of) the task and the group, then the team will tend to be more effective.

Adair’s model can be drawn like this, showing the interdependence between the task, group and individual needs of any team. When all three areas are being paid due attention, the team will be more effective as a result

When a team fails to perform, it is often because the team (and the team leader) are tending to focus all of their attention on completing the task at the expense of group and individual needs. So, for example, we may be focused on delivering to a deadline and, through lack of communication or lack of planning and so on, we could end up having to undo and repeat parts of the task. The end result may be that the team fails to deliver the task by the deadline.

In simple terms, then, in the early stages of team development, it is of critical importance to pay attention to not only the ‘what’ that has to be achieved, but also to ‘how’ we are going to achieve it.

Top tip

In the early stages of team development, make sure that you think through and clearly communicate to your team ‘what’ the team has to achieve (task), as well as ‘how’ the team must behave in order to achieve it (group), and the role each member of the team needs to play in order to achieve the team goal (individual).


Ask each member of your team to draw Adair’s three inter-connected balls – Task, Group, Individual – in proportion to the amount of time each person thinks the team spends paying attention to each area.

For example, someone who thinks the team spends their time mainly on the task, and perhaps doesn’t pay enough attention to the needs of the group or the individual members of the team, may draw the balls like this:

Other members of the team may produce very different diagrams.

Give the team half an hour to discuss their differing diagrams. The aim of the exercise is to find out whether the team agree that you spend your time together as a team focused on the right things, or whether you need to introduce new items to your meeting agendas in order to more evenly balance their view of how you spend your time.