How to Manage & Improve Team Dynamics

January 4, 2022

Team Dynamics

High performing teams execute more quickly, they make better decisions, they solve complex problems more easily, and they have enhanced creativity.

They also have higher productivity and morale than in other teams, and they hands down outperform individuals and other working groups. 

But high performing teams don’t form by chance. 

They’re carefully curated, nurtured and managed. After all, it’s not a simple case of putting talented individuals together and assuming they’ll just naturally work well as a team. If managers don’t actively improve team dynamics regardless of who they have onboard, performance will be poor, results will be low, and company growth will be stymied.

This is why it's so important that managers are taking the time to improve team dynamics.

Not sure where to start?

In this article, we’ll explore what is meant by team dynamics, provide examples of what exceptional team dynamics looks like, and give you eight ways you can support your managers with improving it within their own teams.

Team Dynamics

What are team dynamics?

Team dynamics are the result of the nature of a team’s work, a culmination of the personalities within the team, their working relationships, and the environment in which the team operates. 

If you’re looking for a team dynamics definition, Kurt Lewin, an influential German-American psychologist, one of the pre-eminent pioneers of social, organizational, and applied psychology in the United States, first mentioned team dynamics in 1939. He said team dynamics is: “positive and negative forces within groups of people".

In other words, it's the innate cognitive forces that influence a team’s behavior and performance. And team dynamics can be both good and bad. 

But don’t think because team dynamics occur naturally they can’t be worked on and improved. Team dynamics can be easily influenced, if managers are prepared to put in a little time and effort. 

By striving to create a positive team dynamic, managers help team members trust one another, work better collaboratively, support each other, and listen to each other. A team with good dynamics has stronger psychological safety - they’re more comfortable sharing ideas, and are better equipped to enter constructive dialogue.

Before we delve into how to manage and improve team dynamics, what are the signs of a positive team dynamic? 

Examples of team dynamics

  • Open, honest communications
  • Alignment across the whole team
  • Comfortable conflict resolution
  • Commitment to the work
  • Positive thinking
  • Productive meetings
  • Self awareness 
  • Higher levels of trust
  • Clear understanding of each person’s roles and responsibilities

Bear in mind there isn’t just one team dynamic that works. Like company culture, there are many different types of team dynamics. And what works for one team is unlikely to work in a different organization, and vice versa. 

Don’t try to emulate in full precisely what another company is doing to build their high performing teams. Instead, take aspects of what they’re doing and implement them into your own organization. 

Remember, what you do and the people who do it for you are unique to you. 

8 steps to manage and improve team dynamics

Effective team dynamics don’t come about through happenstance, they’re the product of careful management. So here are 8 ways your managers can improve it:

1. Get to know the team

How can managers improve the dynamics of their team if they don’t know the strengths, weaknesses, values and personalities of the individuals within that team?

Gaining this level of insight is therefore crucial for determining how team members can work well together. The problem is, this can be easier said than done.

In fact, in a world where we’re praised for having a thick skin, being open and vulnerable can be deemed a weakness, and employees often believe that by exposing themselves, they're leaving themselves open to hurt and humiliation. Which is why many employees shy away from raising concerns, opening up about their weaknesses, and even just asking for help.

So, how can this be prevented?

By creating a psychologically safe environment. 

While we've covered this in a lot more detail here, a few things the managers in your organization can start doing to achieve this include: 

  • Get to know employees on a personal level

Team-building activities and opportunities to socialize in and out of work can be a great way to strengthen not only manager-employee relationships, but also peer-to-peer relationships.

  • Develop as coaches

Rather than manage with an iron rod, have managers mentor and coach their team members. Mentorship creates a different relationship with employees than management, because a mentor typically guides, supports, and provides feedback.

  • Show vulnerability

To build trust with team members and find out what drives them, managers need to be open and vulnerable in return. 

2. Align on purpose

A sense of purpose gives meaning to our work and what we are doing. For teams, a sense of purpose goes one step further - purpose for teams is quite literally their raison d’etre. 

A team without a purpose is redundant. 

Teams that understand their purpose are better able to maximize their potential allowing them to achieve more together than they would individually. 

One of the easiest ways to ensure that team members align on purpose is by crafting a team purpose statement that clearly articulates that team’s specific purpose. 

However defining a team purpose isn’t necessarily straightforward. To be truly effective, a team’s purpose must be a statement that all team members feel able to commit to. 

To agree on a team purpose statement, have managers book an hour with their team. Each team member then contributes what they believe they do as a team, who they do it for, and why. 

Managers then take these group-sourced ideas and distill them down into one single purpose statement that gives meaning to the team’s work.

3. Define roles and responsibilities

If you want your teams to behave in a certain way and to display specific behaviors, they need to be fully aware of just what is expected of them. High performing teams thrive on having clearly defined roles and responsibilities. 

Defining roles and responsibilities also allows for more autonomy. When team members understand what is required and expected of them, they have more freedom to decide how to carry out their tasks. 

4. Develop the team's shared values

Values tell us what to do when we don’t know what to do. 

To improve team dynamics and develop a high performing team, managers need to collaboratively develop the team’s shared values. Without these shared values, high performance isn’t sustainable. 

In a high performing team, every team member knows what the shared values are, and they are used as a guide for team behavior. These values are the moral and operational compass for all members of the team. They aren’t just words, they’re core beliefs that are used to make decisions. 

To help managers develop their team’s shared values, first have them explore the explicit shared values of your organization, and then have them (along with the team) compile a list of their top five personal values. 

Compare everyone’s personal values alongside the organization's values. Distill this list down, collaboratively, into a draft of the team’s shared values, ensuring they’re aligned with organization's as well. 

Regularly review team values to make sure they’re still appropriate.  

5. Hold productive meetings

Despite meetings being the lifeblood of organizations, it can't be ignored that they have the power to make or break team dynamics. In fact, ineffective meetings can be all that stands between teams being adequate and them being high performing. 

That's not the only impact ineffective meetings can have on your business though.

In fact, they can also come at a huge cost to your business, both in terms of the wellbeing of the people you employ, and your company's revenue.  

It's therefore important that your managers are determining a meeting cadence that works for their teams, and that this cadence includes productive one-to-ones and collaborative meetings. After all, alignment, reflection and ongoing feedback discussions are essential to great teamwork. 

In fact, adopting better meeting habits and routines is an easy way to implement small changes within a team. 

To hold more productive meetings, make sure managers understand the different types of meetings they should be having—do they need to share information? Problem solving? Or make a decision. The type of outcome they seek will determine the type of meeting they hold. 

All meetings can be prone to going off the rails, so have managers agree meeting ground rules for their team meetings to ensure they run efficiently and effectively. 

6. Build a psychologically safe workplace

If you want to improve team dynamics, building psychological safety in the workplace is a great place to start. 

According to Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization, psychological safety is the understanding that you won’t be punished or ridiculed for speaking up, for asking questions, challenging ideas, voicing concerns, or admitting mistakes. 

A psychologically safe workplace is a breeding ground for high performance teams. It’s an environment in which employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work everyday, where they’re empowered to ask questions and challenge the status quo.

7. Encourage constructive feedback

Timely and constructive feedback will help managers address and resolve conflicts within their team before they’re given the opportunity to escalate.

Feedback is essential to improving team dynamics because issues that are left to fester or brushed under the carpet won’t get resolved. They’ll only grow arms and legs and morph into bigger problems. 

While the feedback process is crucial to development, not everyone is going to find giving and receiving feedback easy. But research shows that regular feedback has a positive impact on team performance and improves individual engagement within the team. 

Kim Scott’s theory of ‘radical candor’ provides tips to keep your feedback honest and effective.

8. Have regular team retrospectives

A team retrospective meeting is a structured way for teams to have a meaningful, reflective conversation. 

The point of a team retrospective is to share ideas, listen to one another, be heard, and discuss pertinent issues. Regular team retrospectives help build trust, improve team psychological safety and increase team productivity. 

Encourage managers to get into the habit of holding team retrospectives every 2 weeks. The more teams participate in them, the more they’ll get out of them.

Improve team dynamics with Saberr

When managers take steps to improve team dynamics, the team itself is far more likely to perform at the top of its game. 

But for managers to build and develop high performing teams, they need to be equipped with the right training, support, and know how. In fact, this is crucial if they are to develop the seven habits needed to lead effective teams.

At Saberr, we make this possible. 

How?

With a combination of experiential and digital coaching. 

Learn more about how we support both leadership and team development here. Alternatively, schedule a call at a time that suits you. 

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