Team-building can be a highly challenging activity in any company, and we are not just talking about the recruitment aspect.
Managing people with different personalities and perspectives can often lead to clashes in any workplace. While some differences are unavoidable, too many of them can inhibit team progress and productivity.
As the adage goes, teamwork makes the dream work; let us take a look at what group dynamics involve, what makes for positive dynamics, and how you can get your team to work more effectively together despite their differences year-on-year:
Team dynamics: A definition
The term 'group dynamics' was first used by the social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1940s while studying how groups of people responded to changed circumstances.
Essentially, they describe how interactions, attitudes, and behaviors evolve among a group of people working together.
Team dynamics are formed based on how each person in the group sees themselves as an individual contributor and in relation to the rest of the group.
In a workplace setting, groups can be both formal — such as a project team in the marketing department — and informal, such as a set of coworkers with common interests.
Usually, the more welcoming the organizational culture, the more efficiently everyone can communicate and collaborate, and the better team dynamics at work can be.
Why do team dynamics matter?
When team dynamics are favorable, everyone can communicate and work together much more effectively. This allows for productive goal-setting and activity so that the team can complete projects on time and to the best of everyone's ability.
A safe and inclusive group space also encourages people to openly share their needs, views, and suggestions without fear of being overlooked or overridden.
On the other hand, poor team dynamics can lead to highly negative consequences, even if the team consists individually of top performers.
When group members are unwilling to engage with one another, share ideas constructively or put personal differences aside for the sake of the goal, each poor decision can end up cascading into further poor choices.
By having clarity about the dynamics that work best for each group, management can evaluate how things are going and take prompt action if anything goes wrong, be it a clash between two people or a misunderstanding in the group as a whole.
This lets the group progress better while helping individuals feel more seen in the company. After all, people are social creatures, and our ability to collaborate and coordinate to achieve inaccessible goals is what makes our species so successful.
How are teams formed?
One can describe the five principal stages of group formation through Bruce Tuckman's 1965 model. These include:
- Forming, when the group first gets together with a defined goal, and the members are more or less distanced from one another.
- Storming, when a disagreement of some kind pushes people to start expressing their needs more openly and honestly.
- Norming, when the group starts behaving in a cohesive and friendly fashion after resolving the disagreement.
- Performing, when the group delivers optimal performance by working with others or contributing individually as per the group's goals.
- Adjourning, when the group dissolves at the project's conclusion or after achieving a pre-defined goal.
What are examples of effective team dynamics?
A company can only focus on building positive team dynamics after knowing what those positive dynamics look like.
Moreover, dynamics that work will for one team may not work quite as well for others. In general, behaviors and trends that denote positive examples of team dynamics include:
a. Project commitment
Everyone on the team is sincerely committed to the project goals and willingly shares their ideas and perspectives.
Everyone on the team understands precisely what their roles entail and how they stand concerning overall project development and milestones.
c. Open communication
When everyone is willing to discuss their progress, consider issues and suggest resolution ideas at each project stage.
d. Conflict resolution
When everyone is willing to resolve any conflicts through discussion with the other parties involved or by opening it up to the group for public discussion
e. Optimistic thinking
When everyone continues to believe in the goals of the project and their ability as a group to accomplish it, even if things might be going wrong
How do leaders improve team dynamics: Tips to follow
It is evident that positive team dynamics are crucial to a team's success. However, the real challenge is to integrate those into the teams at your organization.
Mainly if you are new to team dynamics or if your organization has a status quo culture, suggesting radical changes may not be received very well. Here is a step-by-step guide on building a great team in a way that everyone will be on board with:
1. Get to know the team
The first step towards resolving team dynamics is understanding what kinds of problems the team is currently facing. Typically, underlying team issues take the following forms:
a. Lack of interest
Some team members are indifferent about the project and do not do their share, compelling the others to take on extra work.
b. Authoritative approach
When team members hesitate to share opinions or express disagreement for fear of clashing with the leader or stronger team members, it makes sense to soften such an approach.
c. Fear of being judged
This happens when team members are nervous about sharing ideas for fear of being judged or thought incompetent by others.
d. Poor leadership
This is when the leader is not strong enough to define project goals, assign roles and evaluate progress properly.
e. Psychological turmoil
When team members have negative psychological traits such as deliberately seeking attention or acting out their frustrations, that leads to conflict among the team and an overall bad attitude. There are several ways you can acquire information on these issues:
- Speak to the team leader about how easy or hard they find managing the team and getting things done.
- Observe the team while at work and on breaks to understand how they currently interact and resolve issues.
- Interview team members one-on-one so that they can individually share their concerns about and thoughts on the rest of the group.
- Interview people related to the team members, such as direct managers, to get their feedback on how effective the team currently is.
This will give you a complete picture of the issues the team is currently dealing with.
2. Apply strategies tailored to the issues the group is facing
With clarity on precisely what the team is dealing with, you can implement strategies to enhance productivity and improve team dynamics in the workplace. Here are some ideas on how to get started:
1. Problem resolution
If you observe that the team struggles with frequent conflicts of interest, the first step is to encourage open, honest conversations among the team members.
You may elect to address everyone as a group or have private conversations. Still, the objective is to encourage free-flowing communication where everyone shares what they genuinely feel about a person or situation.
This is particularly important if someone in the group has a habit of making sarcastic remarks that frequently get misinterpreted.
2. Leadership development
Team leaders need to be strong people who can carry the project and the group forward. If the leader is struggling, consider facilitating them with resources to improve their leadership skills, such as public speaking or people management courses.
3. Encourage communication
Communication skills may not come equally easily to everyone. You can foster more transparent lines of communication or impart helpful tips for communication through a variety of workshops or team-building games. Be sure to focus on both in-person and remote communication techniques here to improve the dynamics of teamwork.
4. Promote collaboration
Through effective team collaboration, ideas are shared, and goals are achieved. If the team is struggling to collaborate effectively, you can host a workshop that explains the principles of collaboration (most importantly — that there is no hierarchy in collaboration) and gives the team tools on how to choose tasks to collaborate on.
5. Refer to the group development stages
A good frame of reference to start with when it comes to team dynamics is the Tuckman model we discussed above. Use it to identify which stage the group is currently at and foresee any possible issues so that you can take corrective action well in advance.
Best methods to improve team dynamics and employee behaviors
It is understandable to feel apprehension about rebuilding team dynamics, even if you objectively know that things need improvement. Most people do not like to be told that they are doing their job poorly, especially if they have been on the team for a long time. The best approach that leaders can take is to create a positive experience.
1. Understand the people on your team
A big part of figuring out team dynamics that will work best is understanding what makes your employees tick as people. What are their dominant personality traits? What are the things they are best at, and what do they need some assistance with?
Do they have any triggers for aggressive or negative behavior? Are any of them attention-seekers by default? This clarity will help determine the best way to manage them all.
2. Address issues promptly
It may not be pleasant to confront a team member about a negative habit of theirs or something they said at the last meeting, but nipping such problems in the bud is what will help avoid escalation later. Remember, the longer a negative trait is allowed to continue, the harder it is for anyone to unlearn it later. So, take action as soon as possible.
3. Assign clear roles and responsibilities
This may seem obvious, but it is remarkable how many groups continue to function without any absolute clarity on who is doing what. The team leader should define the overarching project goals and assign specific responsibilities well before getting started. This also allows team members to express any reservations they have or suggest modifications to their role.
4. Eliminate any and all roadblocks
There is always some discomfort in the initial stages as team members get to know each other. The leader can help things by organizing team-building exercises to break the ice. Even if the team has worked together before, this works to break down any reservations or misunderstandings that might have carried over from the last time.
5. Stay alert
Leaders should be on the watch out for signs that team members feel uncomfortable expressing their thoughts. For instance, too many unanimous decisions could mean that everyone is in people-pleasing mode or that some may just be free-riding without any real perspectives of their own. That should be flagged immediately.
6. Facilitate clear communication
Leaders should take the lead in optimizing communication by being clear and prompt themselves. Updates should be shared in a timely fashion, and all conversations should be respectful and allow ample opportunity for others to chime in.
7. Celebrate success with some fun
When good things do happen, the team needs to celebrate them as a whole. Milestones reached can be commemorated with post-work drinks or a cake to go with the afternoon coffee.
In addition, leaders should encourage fun activities at periodic intervals to keep the morale up, such as games of Charades on Friday. This also helps smoothen out minor tensions and enables better group collaboration in the long run.
8. Boost employee morale
Speaking of fun, leaders have a significant role in encouraging team members to share their 'real' sides outside of the work context. Simply reaching out to them with a personal note, or sharing a few moments of informal conversation during a work call, can help team members feel valued as individuals and improve their motivation at the job.
9. Use experiential learning to foster trust
Experiential learning essentially involves team members reflecting on their performance and assessing what they did well and could have done better.
The objective is to allow for honest reflection without fear of recrimination so that everyone feels like they are on the same page and willing to evolve together. Leaders should foster this by taking the initiative with sharing things that they plan to do better next time.
Over to you
At the end of the day, individuality needs to be acknowledged and accommodated, which is precisely what effective team dynamics focus on. By prioritizing team goals while giving everyone a voice and removing as many barriers to communication as possible, leaders can benefit from a happy, collaborative team that delivers excellent results.
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