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Team Dynamics and Group Process: Transformation

Written By: Andrea Burk

At the end of a season, recalls coach Damian McGrath, “I always ensure it’s never seen as the end! I set the scene for the next step as we pause to draw breath from the last.

“I highlight the positives and get excited over the 'room for improvement'. Clear the mind with a break from the regular routine, but lay out what is to come. I like to see it as a movie trailer – a taste of what’s in store. Each individual [is] reviewed (including support staff) so everyone has a clear picture of where we are going and what their role looks like. I review individually and collectively [at the end of] every month. It’s an ongoing process and the end of a season is no different.”

How Damian is describing an ending doesn’t really seem like much of an ending at all.  Which is why I call it Transformation or the Transformative phase; even though this stage is often referred to as 'endings', 'termination', 'adjourning,' and 'closure' in the literature, for example.

What does transformation look like? Feel like?

Transformation happens on both micro and macro levels, and in between people and within a single person. On a microlevel, transformation might look like a huddle at the end of training, team time in the locker room after a game. On a macrolevel, it might look like the finality of an annual championship or a World Cup/Olympic quadrennial. These times literally change a team, whether it is a change in the roster or staff, or the acquirement of a new skill, tactic, or experience.

Between people, it is a departing from a support structure that will likely bring about feelings of relief, freedom, contentment, anger, depression, and sadness of varying degrees. There will be the high of the final, yet cathartic, celebration followed by the low of the feared and famed isolation; also known as the Post Tour Blues, which touches on an internal grieving and readjustment process.

These events initiate a transformative process that can greatly enhance team learning and growth when leadership includes key activities, like a reflective process, in their plan.  Transformation is the readjusting or reorganizing of a current state into a new different state with similar but enhanced components.  Transformation is necessary for growth.

What can be expected from players and other group members?

In general, people try to avoid endings and they approach the leadership explaining why they have to leave early. The transformative phase is often avoided and overlooked by team members and leadership alike. However, if the work to build trust and team bonding is completed in the early stages, then transformation is easier to tackle.

What are key Ending Phase and group structure indicators?

Two major developmental characteristics (or indicators) are present in each phase. These are: the group’s purpose and responsibilities, and the socio-emotional stage.

The Transformation Phase is marked by the fact that the purpose has been achieved or when time allotted to achieve the group’s purpose has run out, and also parting relationships.

Transformations are one of the most complex stages of group development and are constantly avoided or overlooked. While all phases are important for different reasons, the transformative phase is one of the most important for the group’s development because the work done in this stage opens space and activates growth for performance in the future.

Leadership during and for endings:  What does the group (players, staff, volunteers and supporters) need? How can they be motivated?

Offer ways for team members to reflect on what needs to be left behind, what needs to be celebrated, and what values and behaviours contributed to the group and its success.*

For a successful transformation, there needs to be a reflective process. This is a good time for an evaluation of all aspects of the team and program, for example. Think about the technical, tactical, structural and cultural perspectives. Be sure to leave adequate time to include a two-way discussion that goes beyond the head coach saying a few words. If time permits, allow players to speak and include activities that align with the team’s values, personality and culture.

Common challenges?

Watch out for refusal to be a part of team reflections. Tell players, and families if necessary, that it is important for the team to be together until a certain date/time, at which point they are free to go. Set the expectation early so all team members (staff and players alike) are expected to be present until a certain date and time.

People will almost always think they will be ‘just fine’ without being a part of this process. Yet when the coach plans transforming activities, team members tend to take away more positive memories, stronger relationships, and are better able to reach performance in the next cycle.

How can leadership styles be adapted to meet the groups needs in pursuit of closure?

Seek to be a supportive, encouraging and resilient leader.  Encourage reflection, learning, sharing of insights, doubts, regrets, and intentions. Support the team in letting go of “baggage” to lessen the power of regrets, shortcomings, frustration, possible feelings of betrayal and the “coulda, shoulda, woulda's.”  Encourage the celebration of past achievements, highlights, new and stronger friendships, and growth (physical, personal, technical, and tactical etc.).  And finally, revisit the team’s values, culture, and what makes such an ordinary group of people so exceptional, memorable, and extraordinary!

Acknowledge contributions and efforts, regardless of the outcome. Be grateful, appreciative and honest. Help players tackle Post Tour Blues as a team. Be the leader that says “We have to learn from AND let go of the past. This will make us better and open us up to more success in the future.”

Acknowledge the human process and what is going on, and what is to come in each stage. This will help people be able to emotionally cope with what is going on and prepare them for what is to come, allowing for better production and overall on-field performance.

Next Week: In the spirit of honouring reflection and transformation, the Team Dynamics & Coaching Group Process: Conclusion and Wrap-Up.

Team Dynamics & Coaching Through the Stages of Group Development Series:

Week 1: Intro

Week 2: Beginnings

Week 3: Challenge & Conflict

Week 4: Resolution

Week 5: Performance

Week 6: Transformation


Source: Dimock, H. G., & Kass, R. (2007). How to observe your group. (4th ed.). Concord, ON: Captus Press.

*Source: Cindy Zook Associates. (2016) Three Bucket Sort.


Andrea Burk is an expert in leadership and team development.  She developed her expertise in building team cultures that thrive in highly competitive environments while representing Canada in four different codes of rugby and earning a Masters of Arts degree in Leadership at Royal Roads University, Victoria, British Columbia.  

Burk is a Women’s Rugby World Cup silver medalist (2014), writer, speaker and rugby commentator for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and World Rugby.

A member of the National Senior Women’s Rugby Team since 2009, she was a 2015 Player of the Year finalist, named to the Women’s Rugby World Cup Dream Team, and was awarded Rugby Canada’s Gillian Florence award in 2014.