Building a high-performance team is a challenging but essential aspect of any successful organization. However, even with the best intentions, team dynamics can sometimes go awry, causing issues that affect productivity and morale. In this article, we will explore the eight most common team dynamic patterns that can cause problems within a team. By recognizing these patterns and implementing effective solutions, teams can improve their collaboration, communication, and overall performance.
1. Centralized Communication
- In some teams, all communication goes through the team leader in meetings.
- Between meetings, team members tend to complain about their colleagues to the team leader instead of addressing the issue directly.
- This can result in a lack of accountability for the team.
- Team members may only take responsibility for their individual tasks rather than working collaboratively.
Consequence – Hinders open communication and creates a hierarchical dynamic that can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
2. The Illusion of Unity
- The team splits into sub-group factions.
- Factions lunch and socialize together, gossip and complain about other sub-groups.
- Factions may form around shared work or experience level.
- It may also create around friendship groups or past connections.
Consequence – This creates internal competition and leads to a lack of trust and cohesion.
3. Internal Rivalry
- Team members may compete to be the best in the team.
- This can be driven by various factors, such as the desire to be the team leader’s favourite.
- Competitive individual reward structures can also fuel this dynamic.
- Additionally, some team members may compete to be the next team leader or CEO.
Consequence – This leads to focusing on individual success over team success, which can hinder progress and productivity.
- Groupthink can occur in the best of teams.
- It happens when members prioritise conformity and harmony over independent decision-making.
- Too much cohesion or similarity within the team can lead to groupthink.
- The lack of diverse perspectives and ideas is a contributing factor.
- A dominant leader or culture that discourages dissent can also lead to groupthink.
- This can also be influenced by external pressures such as time constraints or a high-stress environment.
- A leader’s belief in their infallibility can exacerbate groupthink risk.
Consequence – This results in poor decision-making, missed opportunities, and a lack of creativity within the team.
5. Unaddressed Team Conflicts or Differing Opinions
Team conflict occurs when team members have disagreements, misunderstandings, or differences in opinions or goals. Examples of team conflicts include:
- Communication conflicts: Differences in communication styles, such as one team member being more direct and another preferring to use indirect language, can lead to misunderstandings and conflict.
- Personality conflicts: Personality differences, such as introverted vs extroverted or analytical vs creative, can lead to clashes and misunderstandings.
- Role conflicts: Disagreements about roles and responsibilities can arise when team members feel their contributions are not valued or are asked to do more than their fair share of work.
- Cultural conflicts: Differences in cultural backgrounds, beliefs, or values can lead to misunderstandings and disagreements.
- Task conflicts: Disagreements about how a task should be accomplished or differences in goals and objectives can lead to disputes.
- Relationship conflicts: Personal animosity or unresolved conflicts from outside the team can spill over into team interactions, leading to tension and conflict.
Consequence – Unresolved team conflicts and differences can create an undercurrent of tension that drains team energy and focus, leading to decreased productivity, increased stress, and a breakdown in communication and collaboration.
6. The Scapegoat
- Teams may unconsciously elect a problem member they blame for issues within the team.
- This problem member could be the team leader or a team member.
- The team believes that removing this problem member would solve their issues, but often the problem persists even after they are released.
- This cycle may continue with a new problem member being identified after removing the previous one.
Consequence – This promotes a culture of blame and avoidance of responsibility, undermines trust and collaboration, and can lead to resentment and low morale. If the issue lies with a high-performance dive, get some tips here.
7. Uniting against a shared adversary
- Teams can unite against a common enemy to overcome challenges and achieve unity.
- A common enemy can be an external force or entity, such as senior executives, the Board, another department or team within the company, or a demanding customer or supplier.
- Focusing on a common enemy can divert attention and energy from internal conflicts or inefficiencies within the team.
- However, relying solely on a common enemy as a motivator can be a temporary solution and does not address underlying issues within the team.
Consequence – Create an “us vs them” mentality, foster a hostile work environment, and distract the team from focusing on their goals and priorities.
8. The Unpopular Second-in-command
- Leaders sometimes delegate difficult tasks, such as discipline or delivering bad news, to a trusted second-in-command.
- This second-in-command may have responsibility but lacks the authority to effectively carry out those tasks.
- The second-in-command may believe they will eventually take over as leaders, but this is unlikely because others often resented their role.
Consequence – This situation can create an untenable position for the second-in-command, leading to frustration and potential conflicts within the team.
Consider the following questions about your team:
- What is this team intended to achieve? (What is it there for?)
- When does this team function at its best?
- How does success look like for this team?
- When does it perform poorly?
- Which of the dynamics above are at play when it is performing poorly? And what has been done that works or didn’t work?
- How might you improve this team to make it more consistently effective?
Strong leadership skills are critical in shaping team dynamics and preventing problems. Teams are inspired by a compelling vision, and leaders need to communicate that vision effectively to align and gel teams towards a common goal. Leaders with strong communication, collaboration, and conflict-resolution skills can create a positive and productive team environment. By modelling and promoting these skills, leaders can inspire their team members to follow suit and contribute to a cohesive, high-performing team. Check out this article if you’re looking for tips on improving your leadership skills.