6 winning strategies to improve team dynamics

June 28, 2022 - 17 min read

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What are team dynamics?

What factors contribute to team dynamics?

What makes a good team dynamic?

11 common causes of poor team dynamics

6 ways to improve team dynamics

Team dynamics can be tricky. 

After all, we’re all humans. We have our unique personalities, opinions, perspectives, and working styles. We have unique ways of communicating and collaborating with one another. As any individual contributor or manager alike can attest to, conflict can happen. It’s inevitable. 

Improving team dynamics, at its heart, is about connections. As humans, we crave social connection. We need human connection to help iron out the wrinkles that are bound to arise. 

According to our newly released Connection Crisis Report, 38% of workers don’t trust their co-workers. In fact, 43% of workers don’t feel connected to their co-workers. And the rift between colleagues has real-life implications for more than workplace relationships. 

When people don’t feel connected to their colleagues, their sense of belonging can take a nosedive. Those who don’t feel that sense of social connectedness experience increased depression, anxiety, and burnout. And as a result, team dynamics can suffer.

If you’re looking to improve team dynamics, we’ll talk about what factors contribute to a good team dynamic. We’ll also talk through common causes of poor team dynamics — and how to improve your team’s dynamics. 

What are team dynamics?

Can you improve team dynamics without fully understanding them? Well, probably not. First, let’s understand what we mean by team dynamics. What are team dynamics? 

Sometimes also called group dynamics, team dynamics are the ways in which a team operates and interacts with one another. Team dynamics play an important role in the overall effectiveness of a team. 

Team effectiveness was first studied (at least, in organizational behavior) by J. Richard Hackman back in the 1970s. What he found was groundbreaking. Collaboration isn’t about melding together personalities, attitudes, or behavioral styles. It’s about helping teams unlock certain “enabling conditions.” 

What does that mean? Well, there are prerequisites to what goes into the makings of a well-oiled team. Hackman identified three different conditions: a compelling direction, a strong structure, and a supportive context.

Download The Connection Crisis: Why community matters in the new world of work

  • Compelling direction. Every team has a goal, a direction. A north star to march toward with intention and strategy. Teams can’t be successful without knowing what they’re setting out to achieve.

    But because goals can be difficult to set, it’s important to be intentional about setting goals in meaningful, achievable ways. There also needs to be some sort of reward, recognition, or compensation for any set goal. 

  • Strong structure. Every team has a foundation. It’s the bedrock that helps stabilize the energy that inevitably erupts from team members. Without the foundation, the team risks dissolving or collapsing, especially when conflict arises.

    High-performing teams need structure, processes, and a balance of skills. High-performing teams are also diverse teams, one where diverse perspectives are valued. With high-performance culture,  perspectives differ but enhance innovation. 
  • Supportive context. Everyone needs support and help. It’s impossible to achieve something meaningful without support from others. Oftentimes, this manifests in training, resources, and leadership advocacy.

    At BetterUp, we think of our coaches as part of the support sphere in team effectiveness. Virtual coaching is a backbone of the support network to be able to help teams effectively navigate change, uncertainty, and conflict.

    With BetterUp, teams are better positioned to communicate effectively. They’re better positioned to build strong mental fitness and bounce back quicker from setbacks. 

3 examples of team dynamics 

To help illustrate how team dynamics can differ, we’ve put together some fictional examples. Here are three examples of team dynamics — and how they show up differently in the workplace. 

  • Example A. Holly is a team leader for an engineering team, mostly made up of men. Holly was recently promoted to a leadership position. She knows that her colleague and now direct report, Tom, was also interested in the leadership role.

    Holly is ramping up to her new role and taking on new responsibilities as a manager. She’s never managed a team before and is bound to make some mistakes along the way. However, Tom talks about how Holly shouldn’t be managing the team with other teammates. He stirs up a conversation around Holly’s capabilities as a leader and as a result, creates tension within the team.

    Some teammates aren’t sure if they trust Tom. Some teammates aren’t sure if they trust Holly. Overall, the team feels hesitant to be open, vulnerable, and share with others because of the team dynamics. 
  • Example B. Greg, a VP in his organization, leads a team of 16 people. Greg has four direct reports, whom all have individual contributors underneath them. Greg has worked with one of his direct reports, Stella, at another organization. In fact, he recruited Stella to join and referred her through the company’s employee referral program.

    Stella was surprised to see that Greg talked about his other direct reports in their one-on-one meetings. Greg often mentioned how he doesn’t care for a specific employee named Mark, and often shares criticism of Mark with Stella.

    Stella feels awkward about the team dynamics because she knows Greg thinks highly of her. But because he talks about other team members so often with her, Stella starts to wonder if he does the same about her. It’s also apparent to other team members that Greg plays favorites. 
  • Example C. Mary, an individual contributor, works on a team with six people. Her manager, Fiona, does a great job of making sure everyone on the team understands their goals and objectives. Mary hasn’t often felt confused about the goal of the team and knows that her teammates also understand the key objectives.

    When there is confusion, Fiona is quick to open up for questions and clarification. She makes sure the team knows there are no “silly” questions. She creates a welcoming environment and makes sure she’s approachable and easy to reach. Mary feels the team thrives under Fiona’s leadership. 

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What factors contribute to team dynamics?

There are a lot of factors that contribute to group dynamics. After all, developing teams is work, not magic. It doesn’t just magically happen or click with certain teams over others. There are intentional and tangible actions that you can take to make sure team development is a priority. 

Here are nine factors that contribute to team dynamics: 

  • Team culture 
  • Leadership (weak leadership or strong leadership) 
  • Shared, common goals 
  • Trust (or lack of trust) 
  • Decision-making skills 
  • Teamwork or collaboration skills 
  • Groupthink 
  • Communication skills 
  • Conflict resolution skills 

What makes a good team dynamic?

Let’s take a closer look at those key factors that contribute to team dynamics. By looking at these factors, we’ll be better equipped to determine what makes a good team dynamic.

  • Team culture. Employees need to feel psychologically safe to show up as their whole selves to work. This means the culture needs to be inclusive, welcoming, and foster a sense of belonging. 

  • Leadership. Inclusive leadership has incredible business impacts. Teams with inclusive leaders report 150% greater belonging, 140% greater perceived organizational support, 90% higher team innovation, 50% higher team performance, and 140% higher team engagement.  
  • Shared, common goals. Good team dynamics need to have a shared goal to work toward. A strong leader should make sure the team’s shared goals are well-communicated and understood. A lack of direction can cause rifts among the team, which can easily spiral into chaos. 
  • Decision-making skills. Good group dynamics need good decision-makers. The bottom line, if the team can’t make effective decisions, it’s likely they aren’t making progress toward their goals. An effective team knows how to make decisions well (and together).  

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  • Teamwork or collaboration skills. We all know individual team members have preferences on how they work. But there are very few instances in the workplace where teammates don’t have to work with another teammate.

    Teams with good group dynamics foster strong collaboration skills. They understand the importance of teamwork.  
  • Groupthink. Oh, groupthink. This negative dynamic needs to be eradicated for a team to work well together. Groupthink can be really toxic to a team’s development. Make sure this factor is absent from your work environment.  
  • Communication skills. Open communication is so critical to any team. But especially when team goals are shared, collaborative efforts. Communication is key.  
  • Conflict resolution skills. Let’s face it: conflict is inevitable. People are going to disagree in the workplace. But what matters is how the team navigates disagreements and conflicts.

    Are you able to discuss conflicts as a whole team? Can you participate in team-building exercises to help build trust ahead of conflicts arising? Poor communication can also lend itself to conflict, which is important to avoid. 

11 common causes of poor team dynamics

When it comes to poor team dynamics, there can be any number of culprits. Here are 11 common causes of poor team dynamics: 

  • Poor communication 
  • Poor project management skills 
  • Poor communication or miscommunication 
  • Groupthink 
  • A toxic or hostile work environment 
  • Lack of direction or misunderstanding of goals 
  • Lack of trust between group members 
  • Poor decision-making skills 
  • A lack of cohesion or collaboration skills 
  • Weak leadership (or noninclusive leadership) 
  • A toxic company culture 

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6 ways to improve team dynamics

If you’re looking to improve your team dynamics, here are six steps to help you reach positive team dynamics. 

1. Establish psychological safety 

If we look at employees’ needs as Maslow’s hierarchy, psychological safety is part of the basic foundation. Are you investing in the psychological safety of your employees? Do they feel they can show up as their whole selves to work? 

2. Build trust 

Trust and psychological safety go hand-in-hand. If you’re looking to build trust within your team, you’ll have to find ways to create safe, vulnerable places for your employees. Your employees need to feel a sense of belonging and security to create trust. 

3. Create and facilitate connections 

Connections at work have an incredible impact on your employees and the overall employee experience. 

The bottom line? Well, people who have strong social connections at work are more likely to perform better. They're also less likely to experience anxiety and depression and are better equipped to fight burnout.

Consider building connections through things like team-building activities, even if it’s virtual team building. Company retreats, offsites, and other in-person events can be great ways to build connections, too. 

4. Build conflict resolution skills 

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. But not all conflict is bad. In fact, healthy disagreements can bring forth new perspectives. These new perspectives help create innovative ideas and new ways to approach tough problems. 

But your team needs to effectively know how to navigate conflict (especially if there are tinges of toxicity, microaggressions, or other negative behaviors at play). How are you empowering your employees to tap into their conflict resolution skills? 

5. Create an inclusive workplace culture 

Inclusive leadership is of strategic importance. Inclusive leaders help to foster that sense of belonging, trust, and psychological safety. These factors all help catalyze other positive factors of team dynamics. 

Beyond empowering your leaders to lead inclusively, how are you fostering belonging? In what ways are you making diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging a priority? Do employees have safe space — like employee resource groups — to connect with others? 

6. Offer coaching 

Lastly, offer coaching. Team dynamics are tough. Every human being is unique, which presents unique challenges on case-by-case bases. 

The City of Santa Monica uses BetterUp to help employees at all levels thrive in change. The result? A team that's well-equipped to navigate challenges that come their way. 

 

With BetterUp, you can be sure that a coach can help guide your employees on an individual level. By pairing each employee with a coach one-on-one, you’ll help unlock the full potential of your workforce.

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Published June 28, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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