Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 27th 2013 Contents B15
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Imagine that you ve brought together the bright-
est people in your department to solve a problem.
You had high hopes for the group, so you feel frus-
trated when people can t come to a decision.
Several factors are holding the group back.
To start with, one person is very critical of col-
leagues ideas. You suspect that her fault-finding
is discouraging others from speaking up.
Another has hardly contributed to the sessions
at all. When asked for his opinion, he simply agrees
with a more dominant colleague.
Finally, one group member makes humorous
comments at unhelpful times, which upsets the
momentum of the discussion.
These are classic examples of poor group dynam-
ics, and they can undermine the success of a project,
as well as people s morale and engagement.
What are group dynamics?
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.
More recent researchers have built on Lewin s
ideas, and this work has become central to good
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.
As well as this, researchers have found that when
a team has a positive dynamic, its members are
nearly twice as creative as an average group.
In a group with poor group dynamics, people s
behavior disrupts work. As a result, the group may
not come to any decision, or it may make the
wrong choice, because group members could not
explore options effectively.
What causes poor group dynamics?
Group leaders and team members can contribute
to a negative group dynamic. Let s look at some
of the most common problems that can occur:
• Weak leadership: when a team lacks a strong
leader, a more dominant member of the group can
often take charge. This can lead to a lack of direc-
tion, infighting, or a focus on the wrong priori-
• Excessive deference to authority: this can hap-
pen when people want to be seen to agree with
a leader, and therefore hold back from expressing
their own opinions.
• Blocking: this happens when team members
behave in a way that disrupts the flow of infor-
mation 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 inap-
• Groupthink: this happens when people place
a desire for consensus above their desire to reach
the right decision. This prevents people from fully
exploring alternative solutions.
• Free riding: here, some group members take
it easy, and leave their colleagues to do all the
work. Free riders may work hard on their own, but
limit their contributions in group situations; this
is known as "social loafing."
Evaluation apprehension: team members per-
ceptions can also create a negative group dynamic.
Evaluation apprehension happens when people feel
that they are being judged excessively harshly by
other group members, and they hold back their
opinions as a result.
Strategies for improving team dynamics
Use these approaches to improve group dynam-
Know Your Team
As a leader, you need to guide the development
of your group. So, start by learning about the
phases that a group goes through as it develops.
When you understand these, you ll be able to pre-
empt problems that could arise, including issues
with poor group dynamics.
Tackle Problems Quickly
If you notice that one member of your team has
adopted a behaviour that s affecting the group
unhelpfully, act quickly to challenge it.
Provide feedback that shows your team member
the impact of her actions, and encourage her to
reflect on how she can change her behavior.
Define Roles and Responsibilities
Teams that lack focus or direction can quickly
develop poor dynamics, as people struggle to under-
stand their role in the group.
Create a team charter -- defining the group s
mission and objective, and everyone s responsi-
bilities -- as soon as you form the team. Make sure
that everyone has a copy of the document, and
remind people of it regularly.
Break Down Barriers
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
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 valu-
able lessons that you ve learned.
Focus on Communication
Open communication is central to good team
dynamics, so make sure that everyone is commu-
nicating clearly. Include all of the forms of com-
munication that your group uses---e-mails, meet-
ings, and shared documents, for example--- to avoid
If the status of a project changes, or if you have
an announcement to make, let people know as
soon as possible. That way, you can ensure that
everyone has the same information.
Opinionated team members can overwhelm their
quieter colleagues in meetings. Where this happens,
use techniques such as Crawford s Slip Writing
Method, and make sure that you develop strong
Watch out for the warning signs of poor group
Pay particular attention to frequent unanimous
decisions, as these can be a sign of groupthink,
bullying, or free riding. If there are frequent unan-
imous decisions in your group, consider exploring
new ways to encourage people to discuss their
views, or to share them anonymously.
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.
Improving group dynamics
Open communication is central to good team
dynamics, so make sure that everyone is
communicating clearly. Include all of the forms of
communication that your group uses---e-mails,
meetings, and shared documents, for example---
to avoid any ambiguity.
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