Leadership development

The 3 Gets Approach to Team Development: Get Set; Get Safe & Get Strong

May 21, 2020

The 3 Gets is a research driven and practical way to develop an effective team.  Approximately 80% of senior leadership teams are either dysfunctional or mediocre at best (1) (Wageman et al., 2008, p12). The 3 Gets condenses a vast body of research and scientific literature into a simple framework to help every leader evaluate where they need to focus to help their team perform at the top of their game.

Today’s Context

The skill of individuals is no longer enough. Leaders and managers have to develop high performing teams if they want to succeed in solving tough or complex business challenges.

Teams are highly interdependent - they plan work, solve problems, make decisions, and review progress in service of a specific project. Team members need one another to get work done. Team leaders are currently facing several challenges.

  • Diversity; We need to manage increasingly diverse teams. Both demographic and cognitive diversity. This can produce excellent results but is hard to get right.
  • Individualism; We face the paradox that teamwork is key but there has been a decline in connectedness and a rise of individualism in society. (2.3)
  • Mental health; Once a taboo subject, discussing mental health is becoming normalised. Employees expect this to be at top of mind for those that lead them.
  • Change: Organisational structures are adapting to the digital world and the need to become more agile. This requires more cross functional team working and many of us are members of multiple teams.

We need to help managers forge team identity in this complex environment. Collectively these challenges make it tougher than ever for leaders to build cohesive, trusting and effective teams.

Using the 3 Gets

The 3 Gets is a model describing three stages of team maturity andl is both actionable and evidence based. In particular it’s designed for teams that need to collaborate to reach a shared goal, rather than groups of people that may be managed by one person but have individual goals and tasks.

The 3 Gets diagnostic can provide a quick sense check as to where the main challenges are in the team. A natural place to start is to Get Set as many of the more complex team issues are solved by clarity on goals, roles & responsibilities.

Of course teams rarely develop in a linear, logical fashion, they will make progress in all three stages all at once. However, the model provides a route forward that will help teams reflect on their situation and understand where there are opportunities to improve.

Get Set

This stage is all about creating clarity on team goals and the roles and responsibilities of team members in achieving those goals.The team generates clarity and security up front from making collective commitments thereby ‘setting itself up’ to succeed.

Getting Set is not a one-off event. The team will require regular resetting. The leader and team will need to check in with the team at frequent later dates as context changes or team members change. The 5 foundations of Get Set are:

  • Agreeing the team purpose (4);
  • Defining shared goals of the team (5);
  • Agreeing the target behaviours the team expects from itself (6);
  • Agreeing when and how to meet; and
  • Ensuring roles and responsibilities are clear (7).

The team leader can significantly increase chances of team success by starting off the journey with these commitments in place as collectively these accelerate the building of trust (8).

Get Safe

This stage is all about building psychological safety and trust. Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes(9). Trust is a belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something (9, 10). We might consider three C’s of trust:

  • We trust that our team members' care;
  • We trust their competence; and
  • We trust their consistency

Psychological safety and trust are essential for effective collaboration. It’s important so that we freely express our opinions, make contributions, challenge and speak up when we have concerns. It drives better decisions, and creates innovation (11). Developing trust is essential for getting the best out of a diverse team. The 4 elements of Get Safe are:

  • Developing an inclusive culture so diverse team members are accepted (12)
  • Knowing your team members; including their values, strengths and weaknesses (13)
  • Creating a culture and processes to learn and reflect as a team (14, 15)
  • Providing open, honest feedback. Having a healthy attitude to handling mistakes (16, 17)

Getting Set lays the groundwork for Getting Safe; agreeing goals, purpose and plans is a powerful way to start building safety and team trust (18, 19, 20). It is easier to build safety if we have clear, collective commitments in place (21, 22). We can reference back to these clear commitments and make adjustments as necessary.

Building trust and safety takes time. One of the benefits of enduring teams (21, 22) is this knowledge of each other and the trust and safety created. But in the modern organisation, teams often form and disband quickly. Taking time to Get Set can provide a jump start. However, we also need mechanisms to develop safety that we can practically integrate into our working life.

Get Strong

This stage is about leveraging the benefits of the clarity achieved in Get Set and the safety achieved in Get Safe, to enable effective team and inter-team collaboration to take place. The team forms strong, collaborative relationships defined by constructive and assertive interactions. The team holds itself to high-standards and is willing to challenge each other and ask tough questions when standards are not being met.

It will be much easier to benefit from Strong behaviours if we have already got “Set” and “Safe”. Clear commitments made when we get set mean we know where, why and how to collaborate. The psychological safety and trust between team mates enables us to challenge constructively. The 5 areas to master to get Strong are:

  • Agreeing robust processes for decision making and follow through
  • Creating a habit of regular reflection on the team’s performance;
  • Encouraging healthy, productive conflict;
  • Holding each other accountable to commitments and for high standards; and
  • Having a team that supports resilience and wellbeing of all team members

When strong we can hold team members or stakeholders to account, when it is appropriate to do so. We can make decisions without unnecessary referral and act with co-ordination, mental strength and collective power.

Summary: using with teams

These same basic principles apply for all teams that are working towards a shared goal. There are many different types: leadership teams, cross functional teams, project teams or teams set up to solve a specific problem.

For enduring, intact teams this might mean spending a little more time to develop strong foundations through CoachBot sessions. Often a team might not have time for a 2 days offsite but a well structured one hour conversation to discuss team purpose can be invaluable.

Fast moving project teams may need an even lighter touch approach. Using a one-page canvas or exercise from the toolbox. However, the same basic principles apply. Once we have mastered the key activities to get set, get safe and get strong we will be able to apply course corrections with a lightness of touch in all team situations.

The 3 Gets framework is both simple and intuitive to understand but also evidence based and robust - that’s why teams use it and love it.


1. Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman, J. R. (2008). Senior leadership teams: What it takes to make them great. Harvard Business Review Press.

2. Kets de Vries, M. F. (2018). Living in the ‘I’ World. Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R., Living in the 'I' World (December 13, 2018). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2018/56/EFE. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3300601

3. Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2013). Changes in pronoun use in American books and the rise of individualism, 1960-2008. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44(3), 406-415. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022112455100

4. CIPD. (2009). Shared purpose and sustainable organisation performance. Research Insight, 2-14.

5. Aube, C. & Roussea, V. (2005). Team Goal Commitment and Team Effectiveness: The Role of Task Interdependence and Supportive Behaviors. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9(3), 189–204. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a839/222f935c0c1a43c8e2a3bfd6eb8984774daa.pdf?_ga=2.41218849.2036783095.1574584650-2048706281.1574584650

6. Celani, A., Tasa, K., & Schat, A.C.H. (2010). We’re all in this together: Examining Associations Between Collectivistic Group Norms, Collective Efficacy And Team Performance. Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings, 1(1), 1-6. https://doi.org/10.5465/ambpp.2010.54497579

7. Mickan, S., & Rodger, S. (2002). Characteristics of effective teams: a literature review. Australian Health Review, 23(3), 201-208. https://doi.org/10.1071/AH000201

8. Treviño, L. K., Brown, M., & Hartman, L. P. (2003). A Qualitative Investigation of Perceived Executive Ethical Leadership: Perceptions from Inside and Outside The Executive Suite. Human Relations, 56(1), 5-37. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726703056001448

9. Edmondson, A. (2003). Psychological safety, trust and learning in organisations: A group- level lens. Trust and distrust in organizations: Dilemmas and approaches, 12, 239-272. Retrieved from:  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268328210_Psychological_Safety_Trust_and_Learning_in_Organizations_A_Group-level_Lens

10.  Mayfield, Tombaugh, & Lee (2016). Psychological Collectivism and Team Effectiveness: Moderating Effects of Trust And Psychological Safety. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 20(1), 78-94. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305154810_Psychological_collectivism_and_team_effectiveness_Moderating_effects_of_trust_and_psychological_safety    

11.  Sankowska, A. (2013). Relationships between organizational trust, knowledge transfer, knowledge creation, and firm’s innovativeness. The Learning Organization, 20(1), 85–100. https://doi.org/10.1108/09696471311288546

12.  Rehn, A. (2019). Innovation for the Fatigued: How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity. Kogan Page Ltd.

14.  Cauwelier, P. (2019). Building high-performance teams through action learning. Action Learning: Research and Practice, 16(1), 68-76. https://doi.org/10.1080/14767333.2019.1562693

15.  Cauwelier, P., Ribiere, V. M., & Bennet, A. (2019). The influence of team psychological safety on team knowledge creation: a study with French and American engineering teams. Journal of Knowledge Management, 23(6), 1157-1175. https://doi.org/10.1108/JKM-07-2018-0420

16.  Levine, E. E., Roberts, A. R., & Cohen, T. R. (2020). Difficult Conversations: Navigating the Tension between Honesty and Benevolence. Current Opinion in Psychology (in press). https://psyarxiv.com/3rwm7/

17.  Yang, I. (2019). What makes an effective team? The role of trust (dis) confirmation in team development. European Management Journal, 32(6), 858-869. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.emj.2014.04.001

18.  Savolainen, T., Ivakko, E., & Ikonen, M. (2017). Trust development in workplace relations during change: A multi-level analysis of narratives from leaders and followers. In: Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance, ICMLG 2017, Wits Business School, University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg, South Africa, 16-17 March. Zanele, N. Mokoteli, T. (Eds.). Academic Conferences and Publishing International Limited (ACPI Ltd.). Reading, UK. pp. 393-400.

19.  Serrat, O. (2017). Building Trust in the Workplace. In O. Serrat (Ed.), Knowledge Solutions. Tools, Methods, and Approaches to Drive Organizational Performance (pp. 627-632). Springer, Singapore https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-0983-9_69

20.  Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T., & Erdogan, B. (2016). Psychology and Work : Perspectives on Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Routledge.

21.  Jug, R., Jiang, X. S., & Bean, S. M. (2018). Giving and receiving effective feedback: A review article and how-to guide. Archives of pathology & laboratory medicine, 143(2), 244-250. https://doi.org/10.5858/arpa.2018-0058-RA

22.  Telio S, Ajjawi R, & Regehr G. (2015). The ‘‘educational alliance’’ as a framework for reconceptualizing feedback in medical education. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 90(5), 609– 614. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000000560

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