Team Dynamics Don't Just Happen!

Our Point of View

What we know from experience and what's been validated in research on group dynamics is that certain kinds of attention, intention, and action make a big difference. We offer support - assessment-based advice and time-limited facilitation of development - which helps you:

  1. Figure out what you need to be attentive to and intentional about in order to function effectively as a team;
  2. Formulate business-relevant goals and culturally-congruent action steps for realizing your potential as a team; and
  3. Apply and hone practices that empower you to assert aligned acts of leadership and adaptively respond to feedback.

Note that it's you who are the author in this approach. We are there to help you get a fresh perspective on your situation, challenges, and aspirations. We can share proven principles, but their relevance in your business and application in your organization requires your considered judgment. Our job is to help you arrive at that considered judgment and readiness to take practical action. To that end, we will challenge you along the way. That way you'll have goals, plans, and practical strategies that you can "go to the bank with."

Our Approach

  • Context - We'll take time to understand your business and strategic aims, and your current situation and challenges.
  • Assessment - We'll use a research-based method to obtain a clear view of how your team is working and impacting others.
  • Interpretation - We'll engage you in joint interpretation of results and their relevance to your strategic aims and challenges. 
  • Adaptive Development - We'll offer group-level and individual discussion of gaps, goals, and practical action strategies.
  • Measurement - We'll help you define ways to monitor and measure progress and to learn and grow from the feedback.

A Brief History of Group and Team Development

Let's consider what we've learned over the past several decades. It may help you recognize certain aspects of group dynamics and team development that are of particular interest and relevance to your organization and aims.

The Human Relations Movement

Into the 1920s, industrial organization operated under the influence of Fredrick Taylor's "scientific management," which focused on analyzing workflow, the precursor of "time and motion studies," which sought to improve "labor productivity" and economic efficiency. It tended to objectify workers as interchangeable functional units within a mechanistic model. It implied what was later called a "Theory X" model of management, i.e., workers need to be supervised at every step, with controls put in place, or they'll slack off.

Then, experiments in Western Electric plants in the 20s indicated it was more than manipulation of the procedure, structure, and physical environs that affect productivity. Elton Mayo and others in the human relations movement argued that social and interpersonal qualities of work groups also affect motivation and productivity. They encouraged reciprocal patterns of two-way communication and an approach to leadership that conveyed purpose and rationale for actions. Today, we discuss this positive focus in terms of "engagement." 

Group Dynamics

In the 1930s and 40s, Kurt Lewin offered a field theory approach to group dynamics. He argued that we all function in a psycho-social life space, and our needs and motivations interact with what is happening in our surrounding environment. There are forces (driving forces) that impel us toward a goal state and other forces (restraining forces) that block, slow, or reverse such movement. He also identified two key elements of group dynamics: 1) the interdependence of fate, and 2) the interdependence of task.

Many individual differences can be tolerated when our individual fates depend on the fate of the whole. Interdependence of task is more operational. If I cannot achieve my task unless you successfully achieve your task, then we have good reason to cooperate versus compete. In a related distinction, Wilfred Bion indicated that a group may be conscious of and bound to a shared task, but there can also be less conscious forces, "group-as-a-whole" dynamics, e.g., tacit agreement to avoid conflict, that affect task performance, trust, and cohesion. 

Team Development Process

Bruce Tuckman (1965) proposed the four-stage model, which has been well-researched and continues to be respected and used today. Tuckman's model states that groups become highly effective teams by progressing through four stages (Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team can be seen as a well-done adaptation of the Tuckman model).

  • Forming (a period of artificial politeness, harmony, and deference, and an avoidance of conflict at the beginning)
  • Storming (concerns for task goals and frustrated desires to speak up and express differences manifest in overt conflict)
  • Norming (tolerance for candor, growing trust, norms for navigating differences and decisions respectfully prove productive.)
  • Performing (capacity to self-manage, confidence in repairing ruptures, and ability to achieve outcomes efficiently and effectively.)

William Shutz (1958, 1966) developed the FIRO-B, which is still widely used today. It measures three dimensions of behavior: inclusion, control, and affection. Each dimension represents a stage-like moment in a process development -  becoming inclusive, sharing power (control), and forming a bond of mutual concern (affection). The group becomes more deeply aligned and able to function. He spoke of these dynamics as "the interpersonal underworld," largely unseen forces, as opposed to "content" issues specified on the agenda.

The Functions of a Team

Richard Hackman (2002) argued that a group's success is reflected in its ability to: 1) respond effectively to internal and external clients; 2) enhance their capacity to perform in the future; and 3) enable all members to find meaning and satisfaction in the group. He further specified five conditions for success:

  1. Being a real team: shared task, clear boundaries to distinguish who is inside or outside of the group, and stability of membership.
  2. Compelling direction: vision and goals that are clear, challenging, and consequential.
  3. Enabling structure: variety of tasks, group is not too large, group members with social skill, and norms for appropriate behavior.
  4. Supportive context: a) rewards that incent group performance, b) skills development, and c) information, tools, and resources.
  5. Expert coaching: as required when members need help with tasks or interpersonal issues.