Team dynamics is a timeless topic and we delve into the intricate details of it to better understand what to expect and how to manage expectations and outcomes. Why are teams formed? Would it not be simpler to allocate duties, everyone presents their part and the outcomes be summed up as group work? We learn about some theories that have been compiled to better understand team dynamics by George C. Homans.
The Social Exchange Theory provides that a person will join a group that they feel is mutually beneficial to them. This theory suggests that the individuals are in for a personal gain and when the gain is no longer available for them, they leave. It is a more transactional perspective and can be summed up as “the guiding force of interpersonal relationships is the advancement of both parties’ self-interest” —— Michael Roloff (1981)
The Social Identity Theory argues that people belong to a group based on extrinsic factors e.g demographically or culturally. This theory posits that the individual’s self perception is what guides their belongingness. How they want to be viewed socially drives them to which group to belong to and how to strategically place themselves for distinction. The result of this could include ingroup favoritism of some of the members and prejudice by those who may not stand out among the members.
In business, team dynamics refers to the intangible chemistry in a team. As a leader you must see your team members from a 360-degree perspective to ensure that the ‘puzzle’ doesn’t only have its parts, but rather, the parts fit and give the final desired picture. When people work together glitches occur and there is need to know how to cope with errors and faults in a non-threatening way for the team. Team leaders need to set measurable goals and encourage the teams to keep in constant honest communication as this builds trust. Guided Communication levels within the members give each team member a voice unlike when there it lacks causing the extroverts to dominate and the introverts to cower. Finally, the leader must know and connect with the team in their ‘language’. This removes any mental walls between them and the team.
An opportunity to build team chemistry is bonding ‘out of the office’. This can be done by eating out together and taking part in activities that create bonds that may not be measurable e. g doing community service together. Visiting with team members for life events is also a way of creating out of office bonds, all the while observing safe relational zones. Positive team chemistry is like fuel in an engine that keeps the car running smoothly. This plays a significant role in the leader effectively managing the team and steering the team towards success.
Whether yours is a command, task or functional group, group structure formed by the leader will greatly influence the team’s cohesiveness. Leadership requires that you can note emergent roles within your team that may overtake pre-determined ones and aptly re-organize the roles for the members. Mostly, this may be overlooked in the busy-ness of the team, and some team members begin to run on fumes causing them to underperform and eventually break away.
Role ambiguity is also something that leaders require to give attention. ‘Expected role’ and ‘perceived role’ issues can frustrate the team and it is always a setback to deal with team membership turnovers. Role conflict matters are a major part of group dynamics that should always be managed as the group performs assigned duties. Reward and punishment group regulations play a part in the level of team dynamics experienced within a group. Equity is key.
To effectively support a team, the leader must identify the development stage at which the group is operating. There are five stages of group formation i.e forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning as defined by Bruce Tuckman. In brief, the Forming stage is when the team members receive their duties and are brought together as a team. Next is the storming stage. Here the members seem to pair up with others who are similar. This normally leads to quiet tensions within the team leading to Norming stage. At this level the leader is concerned about the group’s performance and as mentioned prior, this is the ideal time to create the intangible bonds that birth team camaraderie. ‘Sigh! The rough patch is almost over,’ the leader thinks. The team then progresses to Performing stage where the members autonomously perform their roles and finally the adjournment of the team occurs when the initial task is completed. The most daunting task for a leader is dead weight. These are members of the team who are neither present not absent and seem to be hanging in-between. This calls for the leader to call them out on their opaqueness and assist those he can to come out of the shadows and into the light. Sadly, those that may be beyond reach would have to face the axe!
Leaders may need to remember that the above progressions are suggestive and mostly occur simultaneously in teams.
Our take away on team dynamics is knowing the kind of team that you are leading, understanding the development stage of your group (build those intangible bonds), re-aligning of roles to avoid role conflict, encourage transparent communication within the team and finally understand the language of your team and bridge that with the expected outcome. A friend shared with me a Zulu proverb ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ which means, ‘I am because you are…’ and this is the true essence of teamwork.