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There’s no questioning the importance of team dynamics in the workplace. They can have a major impact on:
As important as team dynamics are, they’re often given inadequate attention. This can adversely affect how a team works. Successful companies recognize the benefits of dynamic teams working together toward a common goal. Strong team dynamics produce higher-quality results and facilitate faster problem-solving. In this article, we’ll discuss what team dynamics are, what factors cause problems in team dynamics, and strategies for improving them.
Team dynamics is a broad concept and represents the way in which team members behave and the unconscious, psychological processes underlying these interactions within the team. These processes influence the direction of a team’s behavior and performance. When team members engage in work projects, their behaviors are interdependent and from these interactions, there is an emergence of attitudes, motivation, and awareness that influence how team members feel about each other, their team, and team projects.
Team dynamics are created by the nature of the team’s work, the personalities within the team, their working relationships with other people, and the environment in which the team works. Team dynamics can be good if they improve overall team performance and/or bring out the best in individual team members. However, they can also be bad when they cause unproductive conflict, decrease in motivation, and hinder the team from achieving its objectives.
Although the terms are similar and often used interchangeably, there’s a fundamental difference between team dynamics and group dynamics. A group is a social community, consisting of two or more people who have something in common. A team is a special type of group in which the commonality is a shared goal. This fact, in and of itself, creates a dynamic between team members because they’re dependent on each other for achievement of the goal. For example, a football team has a shared goal of winning; the team will win or lose as a whole. A sales department may be referred to as a sales team instead of a group which is inaccurate because each salesperson is compensated individually and his/her commission isn’t affected by the performance of other sales staff.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of research focused on the role of team dynamics in predicting team performance. As a result, a few key dimensions have emerged: team cognition, team cohesion, and team conflict. It’s worth noting that, although these dimensions are essential to effective teamwork, they don’t encompass all aspects of team dynamics.
Team cognition focuses on team decision-making and how teams evaluate situations. Most research on team cognition has focused on individual decision-making and how information is processed. Team cognition has previously been associated with individual knowledge and how this knowledge is distributed across team members. However, interactive team cognition theory asserts that cognition is a result of team interactions.
A closely-related management concept is team mental models (TMM). The principal theme behind TMMs is the requirement for all team members to be “on the same page”. A great deal of empirical research has been conducted concerning TMMs and how they can be used to increase team performance.
Team cohesion describes the social connections or bonding that takes place between team members. The motivational factors that contribute to these social bonds between team members have a tendency to increase team productivity.
Team conflict takes place when team members disagree concerning tasks to be performed and there is conflict within the relationships between team members. Task conflict occurs when there is disagreement over the content of tasks, whereas relationship conflict occurs when there is a clash of values between team members. Research suggests that task conflict can actually enhance team performance, but relationship conflict impedes team performance.
Research on the relationship between team dynamics and team performance shows that team processes are important and significantly impact team performance.
Research by Nancy Cooke and her colleagues has shown that the cognitive processes within a team have an impact on team behaviors and team performance. Within the research, Cooke describes how interactions between team members result in team cognition. These interactions frequently occur in explicit communications which then lead to team cognition. A series of Cooke’s studies support the theory of interactive team cognition – teams that perform the best are those who freely share knowledge throughout the task’s duration. These explicit communications result in effective team performance.
Considerable research has been conducted on the effects of team cohesion on team performance. Much of the research has focused on factors that influence team cohesion, thereby leading to specific team behaviors that enhance performance. In a meta-analytic review, professor and author Daniel Beal and colleagues studied the influence of the components of cohesion (interpersonal attraction, group pride, commitment to task) on performance and found that cohesion within teams led to enhanced team performance.
Their findings uncovered a significant relationship between cohesion and team performance when performance was defined as a behavior instead of as performance outcomes. When there was a focus on efficiency outcomes and when workflows became more intense, the relationship between cohesion and team performance was also positive. Efficiency focuses on inputs as well as outputs whereas performance effectiveness only focuses on output (i.e. sales). The conclusion of this meta-analysis is that team cohesion is vital to team and organizational functioning.
According to Professor Laurie Weingart, conflict within a team can be both beneficial and detrimental to team performance, depending on the type of conflict. In a study, it was found that relationship conflict thwarts the exchange of information within the team. In contrast, information exchange within the team resulted in task conflict which positively affected performance over time. This research illustrates that conflict can be beneficial when there is a focus on tasks yet relationship conflict negatively impacts performance.
Research on team dynamics has shown that it’s important for companies to recognize the role that team interactions play in fostering effective teamwork. Although the knowledge possessed by individual team members is important, it’s not enough to positively enhance team performance. Relationship-building between team members is vital to team performance.
Research on team cohesion, cognition, and conflict showed that the worst-performing teams were those in which team members clashed when interacting and conversing with each other. Poor communication is responsible for the failures of numerous large corporations; like Nokia failing to keep up with the smartphone trend. For more than a decade, Nokia was the world’s largest mobile-phone manufacturer. However, the company lost its competitive edge when the smartphone became the next big thing in the mobile phone market. It turns out that Nokia struggled to turn its good ideas into products due to the company’s tendency to participate in unfocused discussions about strategy instead of clear plans to bring new phones to market. Nokia’s experience shows that, without clear communication, teams (hence, companies) will struggle to perform satisfactorily and meet objectives.
Nokia’s experience also shows that business failures aren’t always related to how skilled or knowledgeable the company’s decision-makers are. It’s typically a lack of communication that’s to blame for the company’s demise. To ensure that employees at all levels possess the interpersonal skills needed to be effective team members, there are a number of tactics that can be employed. First, let’s look at the main reasons why some employees may struggle to communicate effectively:
Regardless of the reason why an employee is struggling to communicate effectively, there are ways a company can facilitate effective communication throughout the organization. Sharing the following tactics with employees is one way to accomplish this.
Verbal communication is very important in the workplace, whether it’s making a suggestion during a meeting or asking someone to do something. If an employee can voice his/her thoughts and feelings clearly, concisely, and confidently, they’ll get much better results.
According to business psychologist Simon Kilpatrick, employees can improve their verbal communication skills by preparing notes in advance of planned discussions such as meetings. The notes can serve as verbal cues to help them clearly articulate what they want to contribute to the discussion. Taking notes during the discussion can also be helpful as this can serve to help them remember the points they want to discuss later on. For those who are comfortable interjecting while someone else is speaking, care should be taken regarding the timing of the interjection as a poorly-timed interjection may appear rude and cause others to pay less attention to what the interjecting employee is actually saying.
Listening is as important to verbal communication as speaking so making affirming vocalizations is a way of actively showing that the employee is paying attention.
The reason some people favor face-to-face communication is the unspoken visual cues that are picked up during a conversation. Body language such as facial expressions, hand gestures, posturing, and eye contact can “say” much more than clearly speaking and listening can.
When engaged in conversation, it’s wise to face the person you’re speaking to and make regular eye contact. This not only shows that you’re listening but that you’re also open to their point-of-view. Expressing feelings visually (such as smiling if you’re happy or wrinkling your brow if you’re confused) is an acceptable form of communication and a way to open up the conversation. However, shouting or getting aggressive are not acceptable forms of communication and will only anger or intimidate the other person.
Although hand gestures are a good way to add dynamics to what’s being said, they should be used in moderation. Overdoing it can be very off-putting. With practice, using body language to communicate effectively will feel more second-nature.
Communicating via email can be challenging since you can’t easily use vocal tone or body language to support what’s being said. For this reason, some people prefer communicating in person. However, face-to-face conversations aren’t always possible or feasible.
If you struggle with effectively communicating via email, here are some things to consider:
For the sake of team-building, it’s a good idea for employees to practice their communication skills in a team setting. By giving employees a safe place to practice, they’re more likely to step out of their comfort zones. The activities should be light-hearted and non-work related. People learn more effectively when they’re having fun and are allowed to make mistakes without judgment or criticism.
When done right, team building activities will bring out individuals’ strengths and help them communicate more effectively due to the environment being less stressful. They’ll be more likely to put their communication skills to practice when they return to work.
Too often, top-level employees fail to communicate important changes to employees further down the organizational chart. This is in part due to concern over the impact of the changes or because they don’t feel it’s important enough to share the information. Unfortunately, if lower-level employees pick up on whisperings about the changes, they may draw conclusions that are counter to what is actually going on. This can cause employees to become insecure, disengaged, distrustful, and in some cases, seek employment elsewhere.
Senior-level employees should never neglect to communicate organizational changes to all employees. Better yet, research suggests that employees should be included in the decision-making concerning changes. This practice is felt to make the company more successful.
There are many models used to describe team dynamics with many focusing on the psychological aspects, such as:
In addition to the psychological models mentioned above, there are many other non-psychological models and factors that are relevant to team dynamics because of their ability to impact the way a team interacts and performs. Included are:
When it comes to high-performing teams, all team members are generally “on the same page”. Within these teams, there is minimal to zero relationship conflict and their companies could dominate any industry, in any market.
Research shows that serious discord among team members takes a major toll. For individuals, team discord leads to stress, decreased productivity, low job satisfaction, anger, despair, and physical ailments such as insomnia. For teams, it can impede productivity, learning, collaboration, and even cause the team to disband.
Discord among team members increases organizational costs when investment in coaching, performance management, conflict resolution, and mediation becomes necessary. Team toxicity not only affects team members but others in the company and consumers as well.
To heal the dysfunctional behavior in a toxic team:
In the case of a toxic team, when team bickering and in-fighting starts to compromise performance, it’s time for Human Resources (HR) to step in. HR should partner with the team’s leader(s) to find a solution and hold everyone accountable. An “intervention” should be staged to address the matter openly and give everyone on the team a chance to start over and reinvent their relationships.
All the while, company policy should be enforced and team members reminded of the consequences of continuing the toxic behavior. The ultimate goal is to reset the team to a higher standard of performance and productivity. The intervention benefits the company and gives team members the opportunity to reinvent themselves and end the misery that may have festered within the team over months or years.
Remote team dynamics are different than the dynamics of a team that works together in the same office every day. On a remote team, each member usually works alone, either at home or in another location. Although full-time remote teams rarely meet in person, they typically work on projects together on a regular basis.
Here are some strategies for improving remote team dynamics and keeping your remote team cohesive:
For a remote team, clear communication is everything. Each team member needs to be able to clearly express himself or herself in writing since that’s the way they’ll frequently communicate. Everything needs to be explained clearly; don’t assume that your team members can read between the lines.
Take the time to ensure that your processes are efficient by using online tools such as Evernote and task management software so that all members are on the same page and using the same processes. This also aids in effective communication. If you’re not sure you understood what a team member said, ask questions until you’re clear.
There are numerous tools that make it easy for management to connect with remote employees and for employees to connect with each other. Communication tools also allow team members to get quick responses without having to wait for an email response. All communication doesn’t have to be work-related. Since remote teams aren’t privy to the “water cooler” experience that onsite employees enjoy, communication tools can be used to share a laugh, photo, or to talk about things going on in each other’s lives. This helps the team build strong interpersonal bonds.
Being able to see teammate’s faces and talking about projects together makes co-workers feel more like a team, which is great for team dynamics and relationship-building. Video calls can be used for meetings and sharing project details. They can also be used as a presentation method for sharing professional developments and giving project updates to ensure that the project is on schedule and goals are expected to be reached.
Being responsive to remote teammates is just as important as being responsive to clients. If a teammate needs your help on a task, they don’t want to be kept waiting for a response. If you need help, be clear in your request and let the teammate know the date or time by which you need to have a response. For time-sensitive requests, it’s best to make the request using communication tools so that it’s viewed by all team members. That way, the person who has the time and ability can provide assistance.
Team retreats can work wonders for solidifying relationships within a remote team. Spending time playing, talking, and getting to know each other builds a stronger team. The video calls before the retreat can serve to break the ice so that there’s already a sense of familiarity between teammates.
Working remotely often means team members aren’t held to a 9-to-5 schedule. However, tasks still need to be completed so that team goals can be reached. This makes it necessary for team members to establish a regular schedule and stick to it.
Appreciate that you can always learn something from team members and that each member brings value. You’re all working toward the same goals and aren’t in competition with each other. Accept that you don’t know everything.
Another way of learning from team members is to discuss ideas. If something about a task is causing you grief, bring it up in one of your chat sessions. Ask teammates for input on effectively handling the issue. Discussing the issue in a productive manner can result in a solution that works for the whole team.
For a team to be effective, members need to know what each member is working on. This allows others to pitch in as needed and keep projects on schedule. Especially when working on larger projects together, regular updates can keep the team motivated and feel that they’re being supported by teammates.
To have a strong team, it’s important to acknowledge that each member of the team brings value. Each member has his or her own strengths and makes a meaningful contribution to the team. Knowing what each member’s strengths are makes it easy to know who to consult on specific issues.
Research on teamwork shows the importance of team dynamics in the workplace and how unconscious psychological forces can impact how team members work together. In particular, the research shows that team interactions are the principal component of effective team collaborations whereby team members use clear communication to complete tasks.
To help employees build solid interpersonal skills, organizations can introduce training interventions that focus on being an effective team member. During the hiring process, employers can also include teamwork competencies as a requisite for employment. Through personality tests, a candidate’s propensity to working effectively as part of a team can be assessed.
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