Understand team dynamics


Learning goals for this activity

– Identify why team dynamics are important to talent optimization
– Be able to list and describe the three steps for understanding team dynamics

Why team dynamics are important to talent optimization

An organization’s success is largely determined by its employees ability to work together efficiently to achieve goals. In organizations, much of the work is performed by teams of people working together. All teams will undergo varying levels of change, so it’s important to measure team performance over time. It’s also a must that all members of the team continue to practice self-awareness and be transparent so they can best communicate, make decisions, and execute the team’s strategy.

All teams must strive to become high-performing. The senior leadership team must work exceptionally well together to execute the strategy and set the tone for the rest of the organization when it comes to making decisions, collaborating effectively, and taking action. The same standard of high-performance should extend to all teams throughout the organization, at all times.

Best practices for understanding team dynamics include the following:

  1. Consider each team as a mini-organization.
  2. Create awareness of team members’ similarities and differences.
  3. Create flexibility and the ability to adapt to change.

Let’s take a look at each of these steps in further detail.

1.  Consider each team as a mini-organization.

Think of each team as a mini-organization with its own strategic objectives and team dynamics. From a talent optimization perspective, a team exists when multiple people are working together as a cohesive unit in pursuit of a shared set of stated objectives.

There are typically many types of teams operating in an organization. Senior teams own the highest order of strategic direction and tend to include functional leaders responsible for their own teams. Functional teams own a subset of the broader strategy, and their priorities may be specialized or only partially related to the broader organizational strategy. Cross-functional teams cut across business boundaries to pursue complex strategies. Yet each type of team must operate in a cohesive and high-performing manner if the organization is to produce optimal results.

2. Create awareness of team members similarities and differences.

Everyone on the team, including team leaders, must have self-awareness of their own behavioral preferences and abilities as well an understanding of the behavioral preferences and abilities of the other team members. They should use these insights as early and as often as possible. 

Employees can’t maximize their effectiveness if they don’t know their own preferred working style, strengths, and caution areas. Team members also need to know each other’s working styles, strengths, and caution areas—and how these interact when different people are paired to do work.

This applies to senior teams as well. When leaders don’t understand the behavioral drives that shape the way they think and work, they’ll struggle to execute their plans—and overstretch their organizations in the hope of making up for missed results.

Consider the following questions at each of these three levels of team participation:

Me: What is my natural behavioral style and preferences? How do these influence my team?

Me + 1 (one-on-one relationships): How do I interact with each individual team member? Who do I work well with? Where is my work not as great? How can I adapt to each team member’s behavioral needs and expectations so we can perform and be happy in our work?

Me + we (team dynamics): How well do we work as a cohesive group? How do we communicate? How do we make decisions? What situations present challenges for us?

Here are selected examples of how these insights translate into higher team performance:

Me: Each team member should have self-awareness of their own behavioral styles and be willing to grow to better contribute to the team dynamic. They can do this by following new approaches, such as:

  • Risk-averse employees and executives may need to relax their instinct to slow down.
  • Introverted employees may need to seize opportunities to be heard.
  • Informal leaders may need to be more diligent in their coordination and follow-through.

Me + 1: Team members, including executives on the senior team, should use results from behavioral tools to:

  • Assess the behavioral makeup of key business partners and consider each individual’s preferred working style.
  • Identify how their own working style matches or differs from their colleagues’ with regard to common team activities (e.g., communicating, making decisions, taking action). Do they find themselves regularly supporting some of their colleagues? Are there individuals on the team they struggle to agree with? 

This self-reflection should prompt an open discussion between individual team members when they notice opportunities to improve their 1-on-1 working relationship. You can read about this in more detail in the “Ensure productive peer relationships” activity of the Inspire aptitude.

Me + we: Evaluate team dynamics in light of the team’s overall execution. For example, if a project team or executive team struggles to come to consensus, this team’s challenge can provide important context for understanding team dynamics. Are there certain team members who are markedly assertive and tend to dominate the conversation? If so, less outspoken employees may feel crowded out of the conversation. Are some team members more conservative in their approach? If the team doesn’t thoroughly analyze potential risks, the needs of these conservative team members may not be met.

 The performance needs of the team, the needs of the individuals on the team, and the needs created by the team dynamic must all be met. This can only happen when all team members reflect on individual and collective insights and adapt their working relationships as needed.

3. Create flexibility and the ability to adapt to change.

There’s plenty of scientific and academic research validating the business value of diversity in building capacity for innovation and change in organizations. Both innovation and change require:

  • Multiple perspectives
  • An environment that respects and values these perspectives
  • Norms and processes that translate perspectives into actions

One way to improve flexibility is to build well-balanced teams across the organization from an expertise, skills, and behaviors perspective. Your teams should naturally include a collection of individuals who are well aligned with your strategic intent. Where possible, however, also include people who bring diversity of behavioral styles and thinking to balance your team dynamics.