Team dynamics are critical for your organization's success. Without positive team dynamics, you can’t fully leverage your employees’ potential, skills and experience and will not reach your goals. So what are team dynamics and how can you manage and improve your team’s performance through better dynamics?
Imagine that you've brought together a diverse group of skilled people in your department to solve a problem. You have high hopes for the team, so you feel frustrated when they can't come to a decision.
Several factors are holding them back: one person is very critical of colleagues' ideas. You suspect that his fault-finding is discouraging others from speaking up. Another has hardly contributed to the sessions at all: when asked for her opinion, she simply agrees with a more dominant colleague. And yet another group member constantly makes humorous comments at unhelpful times, which upsets the momentum of the discussion.
These are all classic examples of poor group dynamics that can undermine the success of a project, as well as people's morale and engagement.
A team can be defined as two or more people working together interdependently to meet a specific goal or purpose. It can be formed for the long term or just for a few hours. Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist and change management expert, is credited with coining the term "group dynamics" in the early 1940s. He noted that people often take on distinct roles and behaviors when they work in a group. "Group dynamics" describes the effects of these roles and behaviors on other group members, and on the group as a whole. Team dynamics are therefore the unconscious psychological factors that influence the team’s behavior and performance.
Rank dynamics model by Raoul Schindler
In the 1950s, the Austrian psychoanalyst Raoul Schindler developed a model for the interaction of group members based on observations of various groups from his working environment. This model is generally known as the “Rank Dynamic Position Model”, or “Rank Dynamic Model” for short.
As a specialist in family therapy and group therapy, he came to the conclusion that this model always works, whether in school classes, circles of friends, families, group therapy sessions or working groups in companies. This means that in groups of three or more people, three to four different positions are always occupied.
These positions are about power, influence and leadership within the group. This phenomenon of position sharing occurs in each group and without the group members being aware of it.
The following positions are included in the ranking dynamics model
- Alpha position (the alpha animal)
- Gamma Position (Following the Alpha)
- Omega Position (opposite pole to Alpha)
- Beta Position (the neutral role)
The Alpha Position
The alpha is the leader of the pack in nature, also in the rank dynamic model. The group member in the alpha position determines the direction in which the group moves, leads the confrontation with the common counterpart, conducts negotiations and makes decisions.
How to identify an Alpha
- They formulate the common group goals that others follow.
- They are the “speaker” of the group and represent it externally.
- They negotiate with the counterpart of the group.
- They give most of the impulses regarding content.
- The others are silent when they talk; they seldom reap contradiction.
The Gamma Position
The Gammas are the followers of the Alpha. They support the direction of the Alpha by working towards it, identify themselves with the goals set by it, but have no claim to leadership of their own. In a group, the gammas are usually the majority.
This is how a gamma is identified:
- They immediately agree with the alpha and encourage them in their project.
- They try to pull the others to the side of the alpha.
- They stand behind the behavior of the alpha and try to imitate it.
- They react bored, grumpy or even aggressive to the throw-ins of the Omega.
The Omega Position
In biology, the omega position is the opposite of alpha, the weakest, which is only allowed to go to the feeding place when all the others have already eaten their fill. Raoul Schindler defined the omega position differently. The omega is still the antithesis to the alpha, but in the sense that they express resistance to the achievement of goals, critically question the paths taken and highlight possible difficulties.
While this is extremely important for the group’s identification of risks and dangers, the Omega is often perceived as an unloved troublemaker or scapegoat by other members.
How to identify an Omega
- They react most strongly against Alpha and pull in the opposite direction.
- They are punished by the Gammas.
- They are most likely to be perceived as annoying.
- They are often used as a scapegoat.
- They are regarded with their objections and critical questions as an obstacle for a quick solution or decision.
The Beta Position
This is the only position that does not necessarily have to be represented in the group. The beta position takes on the neutral role, so to speak, often the specialist or technical expert. With emotional restraint, the Beta occasionally raises factual objections and provides independent technical advice.
Due to their neutral attitude they are often not vulnerable. The betas are often good candidates for the successor of the alpha.
How to identify a beta
- They give technical-objective hints and advice regarding the chosen direction and method.
- They never argue emotionally, but always underpin arguments with specialist knowledge.
- They are most likely to be consulted by the Alpha in difficult situations.
- They also make contact with reference persons outside the group.
If Alpha or Omega leave the group for any reason, another one will take their place. A leader and the opposite pole to the Alpha, a critical spirit, are present in every group.
A group with a positive dynamic is easy to spot. Team members trust one another, they work towards a collective decision, and they hold one another accountable for making things happen. A team with good group dynamics may be constructive and productive, and it may demonstrate mutual understanding and self-corrective behavior.
On the other hand, poor group dynamics can be disruptive for successful decision making and work outcomes.
Group dynamics matter because they impact things like creativity, productivity and effectiveness. Since group work is integral to organisations, for business leaders, addressing group dynamics can lead to better work outcomes, customer satisfaction and an improved bottom line.
1. Conduct a diagnosis and get to know your team
As a leader, you need to guide the development of your group. So, start by learning about the phases (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) that a group goes through as it develops. When you understand these, you'll be able to preempt problems that could arise, including issues with poor group dynamics.
Conduct a diagnosis of what is going wrong in your team by doing a team health check. Observe your team at work and conduct individual interviews in a private, safe and confidential space. As you do, stay aware of the common causes behind poor group dynamics.
- Weak leadership – Weak leadership, where the team lacks a strong leader, can pave the way for a dominant team member to take over, resulting in a lack of direction and conflict.
- Authority and groupthink – Excessive deference to authority can have a stagnating effect on teams as people would rather agree with the leader than offering innovative ideas and opinions. Groupthink can have a similar effect.
- Blocking behaviors – This happens when team members behave in a way that disrupts the flow of information in the group. People can adopt blocking roles such as:
- The aggressor: this person often disagrees with others, or is inappropriately outspoken.
- The negator: this group member is often critical of others' ideas.
- The withdrawer: this person doesn't participate in the discussion.
- The recognition seeker: this group member is boastful, or dominates the session.
- The joker: this person introduces humor at inappropriate times.
- Free riding – Some team members taking it easy at the expense of other colleagues can lead to poor group dynamics and outcomes.
- Evaluation apprehension – Team members may hold back their opinions and ideas as result of feeling they are being judged harshly by other team members.
Other potential causes of poor group dynamics include poor communication and a lack of focus. Take time to observe, talk to team members and figure out what is happening amongst the team.
2. Address problems quickly
If you see a team member engaging in unhelpful behavior, work to address it quickly. Speak to the team member directly and invite him or her to reflect on the behavior and how it can be changed to support the team’s goals. Conflicts can happen from time to time – even in the healthiest of teams – so encourage open discussion of the conflict and help guide team members to a resolution, allowing your team to return to a state of positive group dynamics.
3. Create a team charter
Define Roles and Responsibilities
Teams that lack focus or direction can quickly develop poor dynamics, as people struggle to understand their role in the group.
Teams and individual team members need a strong focus to thrive. If you create a team charter and offer clearly defined roles, you could motivate team members to address their responsibilities and work together more effectively. A clear charter also helps you set clear behavioral and outcomes expectations. It gives you standards by which you can hold underperforming team members to account.
4. Enhance team culture
Build a supportive team culture. Use team-building exercises to help everyone get to know one another, particularly when new members join the group. These exercises ease new colleagues into the group gently, and also help to combat the "black sheep effect," which happens when group members turn against people they consider different. Also, explain the idea of the Johari Window to help people open up. Lead by example: share what you hope the group will achieve, along with "safe" personal information about yourself, such as valuable lessons that you've learned.
Create a workplace that supports employee well-being, success and enthusiasm for work. Value diversity and think about how you can build trust and respect among team members. Support open communication, sharing of ideas through an inclusive work culture.
5. Build communication
Give your team tools to drive open communication and encourage team members to communicate clearly to each other. Keep team members updated about project changes and news, and they will feel included and alerted to what is going on. Make sure both opinionated and quieter team members feel their voices are heard.
6. Always pay attention
Leadership should always be paying attention to their teams and know what is going on. Watch out for the warning signs of poor group dynamics.
Look out for unacceptable behaviors such as bullying, groupthink and freeriding so you are ready to address them right away. Reinforce positive behaviors like successful collaboration, sharing of ideas, trust and respect.
Excellent group dynamics can facilitate employee productivity and satisfaction while allowing your teams to reach their set targets on time. However, teams with excellent dynamics still require ongoing observation, correction and guidance, so be prepared to continue providing your team with the leadership and training they need to thrive.
The term "group dynamics" describes the way in which people in a group interact with one another. When dynamics are positive, the group works well together. When dynamics are poor, the group's effectiveness is reduced.
Problems can come from weak leadership, too much deference to authority, blocking, groupthink and free riding, among others.
To strengthen your team's dynamics, use the following strategies:
- Know your team.
- Tackle problems quickly with good feedback.
- Define roles and responsibilities.
- Break down barriers.
- Focus on communication.
- Pay attention.
Keep in mind that observing how your group interacts is an important part of your role as a leader. Many of the behaviors that lead to poor dynamics can be overcome if you catch them early.