Managing Groups and Teams/Group Dynamics
Developing a group or team is a useful approach to accomplishing a task. During this discussion the term “group” and "team" are used interchangeably. When developed and run effectively a team can be used to pool the ideas and experiences of its members in search for a collective outcome. Organizations of all types can benefit from the work of teams. An effective team should be able to share experiences and provide each other feedback. By sharing experiences, teams can generate insight and become effective problem solvers through a collaborated effort. Developing a successful team requires understanding group dynamics and planning for those dynamics is an important step for building positive group dymanics. The first section of this chapter focused on Tuckman’s model1. His model gives a good idea of how teams are formed and some of the dynamics that develop as the team progresses. This section will focus on what is a team, what you can you do to foster good group dynamics and what are some problems to look for.
What is a Team?
A team is “two or more people who share a common definition and evaluation of themselves and behave in accordance with such a definition.”2. A team is any group of people organized to work together interdependently and cooperatively to meet a specific need, by accomplishing a purpose and goals. Teams are created for both long term and short term interaction. A Team can also be defined as a collection of people who act in response to a common goal or outcome. The team is only as good as its members and how they interact with each other. How many members should be on a team is largely dependent on the reason the team was established. According to Sharpening the Team Mind3, when deciding the number of members to have on a team consider the “uneven communication problem.” The theory states, only a handful of team members do all the talking. For example a team of six, three people do 86% of all the talking.
Create positive group dynamics
Important aspects of a group that works well together, is how individuals interact with each other and how individuals react with the group. Positive relationships are important in a group, and understanding them is equally important. In order to develop good group dynamics, you must first develop good relationships.
According to LaFasto and Larson in “When Teams Work Best,”4 there are four aspects of a good relationship: constructive, productive, mutual understanding and self-corrective. These four aspects are the basis for LaFasto and Larson’s Connect model (Table 1), which can be used to develop good relationships.
A constructive relationship can also be between a person and the team. “Good relationships are constructive for both people.”4 In order to have a constructive relationship, there must be trust and mutual understanding between both parties. Constructive relationships do not happen overnight, it takes time to develop trust and to be open with others. Productive relationships are important because if the relationship between two individuals on a team is not productive, the team may not be productive. Productive relationships also, “allow us to focus on real issues –the ones that matter– and to do so in a way that makes a difference.”4 Mutual understanding is critical because, “they encourage us to focus on and understand the other person’s perspective, and they offer us the satisfaction of being understood.”4 Not only is it important to validate another person’s point of view, it is important for us to be validated. It goes back to trust and building a constructive relationship, in order to be understood, you have to be able to understand others. Good relationships are self-corrective. It is like a marriage, each part is committed to improving the relationship. By continuing to work on improving a relationship you are developing trust and mutual understanding between the parties.
The Connect Model (Summarized) 1993 Frank M. J. LaFasto, Ph.D. and Carl E. Larson, Ph.D.
- Comment to a Relationship
- Optimize Safety
- Narrow to One Issue
- Neutralize Defensiveness
- Explain and Echo
- Change one Behavior Each
- Track It!
As you are working on developing good relationships another way to foster good group dynamics is to identify strengths and weaknesses and assign group roles. For a new team that has not worked together, assigning roles can also help surface individual strengths and weaknesses. By simply assigning roles at the beginning of the project a team can quickly focus on the tasks. Everyone should be responsible for brain storming, problem solving and providing their experience and knowledge, but some roles are more generic and may or may not vary by task. Here are four roles that no team should be without:
- A Leader – In the event there is no clear chain of command, a team must be prepared to assign the role of leader. A leader can keep the team focused, mediate conflicts and ensure that individuals are held accountable.
- A note taker or scribe – again, a simple idea, but documenting every meeting is an important step in developing a productive team. A scribe can quickly get a team up to date with past notes so little time is wasted remembering where you left off. By documenting and distributing notes from each meeting, all members of the team will be equally informed.
- Lessons Learned tracker – Identify one person to track both positive and negative outcomes of meetings and projects. This individual can solicit input from other members. By documenting what everyone thinks went well and why and what did not go well and why, can keep a team productive by not repeating past mistakes.
- Devil’s Advocate – Teams need to embrace conflict and different points of view. A devil’s advocate is a person who brings up alternatives or objections to other's ideas. Having an individual like this can make the team more objective and reduce problems like Groupthink. Because this person's role can stir up conflict, it can be helpful to rotate who plays the devil's advocate role in the team.
Problems that hinder good group dynamics
There are many problems that hinder good group dynamics. We don’t usually have the luxury of picking who we are going to work with on a team; dealing with different personalities and personal agendas are common challenges in working within a team. Other common challenges like, poor leadership, bad communication, and a lack of focus can be helped or eliminated by establishing team roles as mentioned above.
The first challenge that hinders good group dynamics is poor leadership. There are a few things an individual can do if the poor team leadership is your boss or someone with authoritative power is in charge of your team. First, be supportive, if your boss trusts you and you are supportive, you may be able to influence decisions by suggesting alternatives. If the poor leader did not assign a devil’s advocate, suggest it during a team meeting and why you think it would be beneficial. Once the devil’s advocate is in place, coach him or her to bring up alternatives. Once alternatives are out in the open and debated, the poor leader may see that the new idea is better.
Bad communications is a quick way for a team to be unproductive and ineffective. By using a scribe and lessons learned tracker to document team meetings and activities a team can easily be kept up to date and in the loop. An effective team leader can assign tasks and hold people accountable for their contributions, which can prevent social loafing and encourage good communications.
Lack of focus can make a team just a group of individuals. Keeping the team focused takes constant effort. A good leader can keep teams focused and on task by assigning roles and enforcing accountability. A good method to keep teams focused is by using an agenda and distributing it prior to the meeting. An agenda can get people on the same page and will encourage them to prepare based on the topics under discussion.
Groupthink, dominate personalities and social loafing are all challenges you will face when working with a team. The key to combating these challenges is to be able to identify when they are taking place.
- Groupthink is simply going along with the team on a decision because that seems to be the consensus and they want to avoid conflict. Having a strong devil’s advocate will help reduce the chances of groupthink.
- Dominant personalities are difficult to deal with, sticking to an agenda, establishing protocols during meetings, and having an effective leader can be used to combat strong personalities.
- Social loafing is someone that is putting forth less effort as a member of a group than they would as an individual. Again, leadership and holding people accountable is a great tool to deal with social loafing.
When the team process is executed effectively a team can be used to pool the ideas and experiences of its members in search for a collective outcome. Team can help organizations of all types be more efficient in problem solving by pooling experienced employees to work together. A key to an effective team is to understand group dynamics. Good group dynamics begin with good relationships, both on an individual basis and the relationships of individuals with the team. LaFasto and Larson developed the Connect Model to assist individuals develop good relationships. The Connect Model was built around the four most important aspects of a good relationship, constructive, productive, mutual understanding and self-corrective. Once you have established good relationships, assigning positions in the team will give a team the opportunity to be successful. By identifying possible pitfalls that may hinder good team dynamics team members can combat the effects and develop a more productive and successful team.
- Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.
- Hogg, Michael A., Vaughan, Graham M, Social psychology, 4th Edition, Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005
- Thompson, L., Making the Team: A Guide for Managers 3rd Edition, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Chapter 6.
- Lafasto, F., Larson, C., When Teams Work Best, Sage Publications, 2001