If you work as a consultant, you work with tools. A lot. You use them for facilitating workshops and giving structure to discussions, in order to create a common language with in a team, to diagnose social systems and to arrive at effective interventions which have a chance to really hit the mark.

Among the gazillion of tools, a few stand out for us as evergreens which we turn to again and again – because they are simple to explain, easy to use, lean and effective. One of our absolute favorites is the GRPI model – it was developed by organizational theorist Dick Beckhard in 1972 (!) and is still as valid and effective as it was back then – some things just don’t change.

What is it and when do we use it?

The GRPI model is a simple but comprehensive framework to describe the essential factors required for teams in order to function effectively. We use it

  1. as a planning tool when initializing new teams and sending them on their way
  2. as a maintenance routine in order to to make sure the team stays on track (we strongly encourage teams to make GRPI checks a part of their regular rituals)
  3. as a diagnostic tool when advising teams operating below expectations, mainly because of escalating interpersonal conflict
  4. as a tool for designing interventions

What do G, R, P and I stand for?

These describe the four most fundamental dimensions along which any team and organization can be viewed. These dimensions are not separate from each other but stand in a hierarchical top-down relationship.

Let’s have a look at each of the four:

G stands for Goals

The most fundamental prerequisite for a functional team is a truly shared understanding of what the team is trying to achieve, where it wants to go and how it knows whether it is still on track. This sounds like a no-brainer but you wouldn’t believe how often we encounter teams which fail dramatically even on this level, like in the saying „we don’t know where we’re going – but we’re fast!“ “Without sufficiently clear and agreed-upon goals, teams are often excellent at achieving nothing very quickly.” Much too often, teams start with but a superficial understanding („Blah blah blah… slide, slide, slide… Any questions? No? OK, let’s get started.“) This is the perfect recipe for lack of commitment, confusion, apathy, discord, conflict and, ultimately, failure.

In order to really have a common understanding, here are some of the most important questions each team member needs to have an answer to:

  1. What is the purpose of our team? What are we trying to achieve for whom? What will the outcome be – precisely? What will have changed when we are finished?
  2. How do we measure our progress? Which measurable (or least observable) indicators do we define? What are the targets we want to achieve? How often do we measure?
  3. How do we break down the goal into discrete sub-goals?
  4. What are the milestones and intermediate results? By when do we want to have them achieved?
  5. Is all this (still) in tune with our environment? Are the needs and expectations of our stakeholders met?
  6. Is everyone in the team committed to the goals?

R stands for Roles

After gaining a deep common understanding of the teams purpose, goals and targets, the next step is to clarify the team’s structure, the distribution of responsibilities and authority within the team. “If you want your team members to take ownership, you need to define what they can and should take ownership for.”Here, too, an unclear understanding about the roles is frequent source of blaming and conflict – especially when roles overlap (result: turf wars) or necessary activities are not assigned at all (result: blaming for missing results, missed deadlines etc.).

Most important questions here:

  1. Which activities are required in order to reach the goals? Do all activities contribute to reaching the team goals?
  2. Who is supposed to be doing what? Who is responsible for what? Who has which authority?
  3. Are the roles clearly described and understood? Is everyone in the team aware of the roles of the other team members?
  4. Are all team members satisfied with their roles and responsibilities? Is there a fit between their roles, their personal aspirations and skills?

P stands for Processes

This is the means by which the team makes decisions, resolves conflict, and shares information. Clearly defines processes enable effective collaboration in problem-solving, dealing with conflict, open/good communication and effective decision making. Truly effective teams do not always agree, but they do handle conflict in a way that transforms differences into a positive force.

Questions the team needs to answer:

  1. Do we have clearly defined rules for solving routine issues?
  2. By what means do we share and store information?
  3. What do we do if we disagree on something and cannot find common ground by ourselves?
  4. How do we „interface“ with the external world? How do we gather and deliver information? How do we deal with external interference?
  5. How good are we at coming up with rules for non-standard issues?

I stands for Interpersonal Relations

Teams are communities. The way in which its members relate to one another and the community will have a major impact on the team’s spirit, emotional well-being, and overall effectiveness. Problems invariably manifest themselves in these areas, but often they originate in the structure or purpose of the team. How do team member interact with each other? How mutually supportive are they? Is there a solid foundation of mutual trust?

Describing factors are:

  1. How much trust is there between team members?
  2. How much respect is there?
  3. What is the general atmosphere within the team?
  4. How much interpersonal conflict is there?

Some final words

The GRPI model lends itself to a deeper understanding of team dysfunctionalities. Usually, there is a preponderance to intervene on the same level where problems arise. However, in most cases, when we are asked to solve interpersonal conflicts between team members, we find that the source of the conflict lies on a higher level, e.g. the G, R or P level. We therefore recommend that any team dysfunctionalities should be analyzed by having a look at the whole GRPI model and not only at the level where the problem becomes manifest. And all too often, it starts with unclear and unaligned goals.