Managing team dynamics

Building a team is one thing, but getting them to work together effectively, with the right balance of skills and personalities to thrive, is another. At the core of every successful team is team dynamics, and as a company leader, you are the core of your group. If you feel as though you need to enhance the efficiency in your team and run projects more smoothly, understanding how to optimize your team dynamics is essential.

What does team dynamics refer to?

Team dynamics was first mentioned by influential social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, back in 1939. He defined it as “positive and negative forces within groups of people”. Which is to say, every team has its own unique set of relationships, interactions and personalities which influences group behaviors and performance, setting in motion the group dynamic. Good team dynamics are dependent on effective communication, problem-solving skills and reliance on one another’s abilities, but above all mutual respect.

What’s the difference between team and group dynamics?

While the terms are used interchangeably, there is a difference between team dynamics and group dynamics.

A team is a collection of people brought together to work on projects and achieve a common goal. Each person shares a mutual understanding of what they’re aiming for and how they can manage it more effectively by working together. A team relies on one another to succeed.

A group of people may share something in common, but they come together either by chance or voluntarily. In the workplace, for example, you might have employees who sit next to each other but don’t work on the same projects. There may be a clash of skills or personalities, and there may not necessarily be a successful team dynamic.

Simply putting people together, as you can see, doesn’t necessarily foster an efficient work environment and won’t always yield the best results. Just because individuals might have good relationships with each other doesn’t mean they’re well suited to working together. Group dynamics are behaviors you can observe in people who exist together in a social group, but team dynamics are different. They are more deliberate and are centered on the team’s ability to work together to complete its aims.

Why are team dynamics important to a business?

Strong team dynamics create a more collaborative work environment and a healthier company culture. When there are great team dynamics in place, you’ll see an improvement in each individual’s work performance and innovativeness, as well as greater cohesion for projects and group work.

If you know the parameters of your team dynamics and track them, you can influence the outcome. Altering team dynamics can have a big impact on the success of a project, just as neglecting team dynamics can result in a project going off the rails.

Developing ‘positive team dynamics’ means that each member of the team trusts each other and are prepared to support one another and work as a collective. It makes it easier for the team to innovate, brainstorm ideas and listen to each other, making for an environment where everyone feels comfortable to share their opinions and engage in constructive communication.

Examples of successful team dynamics

Recognizing the signs of a positive team dynamic is critical if you want to create a team that grows and reaches their goals. A positive team dynamic may look like:

  • Team members communicating openly and with a willingness to discuss issues and challenges throughout a project
  • Each team member aligned and understanding of their individual duties
  • A comfortable environment where conflicts are discussed calmly and resolved without escalating
  • Everyone involved in a project is committed to its success and feels at ease to share their opinions and ideas on how to improve
  • An optimistic outlook within the team with high morale and a willingness to grow

Common dysfunctions within a team and how to overcome them

A group with poor dynamics won’t achieve positive results and are likely to repeatedly make bad decisions that lead to negative results. Each team member will feel nervous or unwilling to share their ideas, there may be conflicts within the team, and even if you have skilled employees, the result of their collaboration will be less than desirable.

In his book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable’, Pat Lencioni identified team behaviors that reduce positive results in an organization. Lencioni identified the most common problems that arise in teams and how to overcome them. To summarize Lencioni’s findings, these the 5 key dysfunctions of a team which could be holding your business back.

Absence of trust

Absence of trust is the hardest dysfunction to overcome and can destroy your team dynamic. In some teams, too much time, energy and good ideas are wasted trying to protect reputation. Employees may be reluctant to ask for help or assist others, leading to low morale and high turnover rates.

As a leader, you can prevent this dysfunction by encouraging open dialogue in meetings and work with your managers to identify situations where employees demonstrate a lack of trust. Bring these issues into the open through discussions that focus on the strength of individuals, and address behaviors that lead to mistrust.

Fear of conflict

Your team needs to be prepared to engage in passionate discussion without the fear of judgement or conflict. Employees need to know that while their ideas may not be accepted, they will at least be heard. A fear of conflict can result in a lack of innovation in the team and lead to people feeling like they’re being personally attacked.

Conflict, when it’s managed well, can be healthy but as the company leader, you need to set expectations for what will and won’t be tolerated. Wipe out dysfunction by looking for passive-aggressive behaviors behind the scenes or back channel attacks, and calling it out.

Lack of commitment

Is commitment lacking in your organization? It may have resulted from a lack of healthy debate in meetings, which has led to a false consensus and no buy-in. Productive conflict taps into everyone’s perspectives, which allows everyone to confidently buy in and commit to decisions.

Build commitment in your company by establishing decisiveness, and communicating awareness and acknowledgement of the fact that some decisions may turn out wrong. Cascading this message to the key people in your organization will support follow-through on decisions so that everyone is aligned.

Avoidance of accountability

Accountability doesn’t fall to one person – it’s a team effort. Team members need to hold each other accountable when behaviors and actions don’t support team goals. In fact, peer pressure is the most effective means of producing performance. When you fail to designate clear roles early on, individuals struggle to understand their responsibilities and where each person sits within a project.

Foster accountability by creating clear standards with defined indicators that enable each team member to know they’re doing their part. The more detailed you can make action plans and the more specific the performance metrics are, the easier it will be to hold people accountable.

Inattention to results

Ego and self-preservation often get in the way of company goals, and this results in inattention to results. If staff aren’t being held accountable for their contributions to the collective results, they’ll likely look to their own personal interests rather than the wider ambitions of the business.

You can avoid this trap by having effective measures in place that align an individual’s incentives with that of their team. Set the tone to focus on results and make sure your conversations with individuals are consistent with focusing on organizational results, rather than encouraging selfish behaviors. Shared goals align the team on the outcome of a project and priorities. By setting measurable team goals, leaders can more effectively track progress within the group.

Develop leaders to be strong

A team is only as strong as its leader. They’re the driving force of every group and in order for employees to feel confident in a team, they need to have someone motivating them and guiding them forwards. High-performing teams have strong relationships built on respect and understanding, and a strong leader can help instil this.

Team leaders can develop their skills by delegating effectively and setting clear goals but also through training and learning how to have better self-awareness of their role in the team. Leaders need to develop their leadership capabilities through public speaking skills, people management and organizational skills, so they can transfer those skills to their role.

Organizations can significantly increase team results by handling dysfunctions early on, understanding what a positive team dynamic looks like and developing the necessary skills to lead effectively.

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