Customers may be the lifeblood of your business, but team collaboration is the muscle that drives your success. Team building isn’t just a checkbox; it’s a major priority for most businesses. In fact, Harvard Business School reports that nearly 75% of employers recognize that teamwork is “very important.” This may not be too surprising (aside from those rare few who might underestimate teamwork’s magic), but what might be surprising is the role that team dynamics plays in all of this.
Want to accomplish more and produce better quality work? Then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the people who make up your teams — and how these dynamic interactions are shaping the future of your business.
What Are Team Dynamics?
Team dynamics are the intricate dance of interactions, communications, and collaborations within a team. They embrace shared values and goals, collective strengths, and project-specific roles. Perhaps most importantly, team dynamics refers to how each member relates to the others on a personal level (you can get a decent feel for the dynamics of your employee team by asking them a series of team-building questions).
That’s a deceptively simple explanation for something with the potential to be enormously complex.
First off, although some people use the terms interchangeably, ‘team dynamics’ and ‘teamwork’ (i.e. collaboration) are not exactly the same thing. It’s more accurate to recognize that team dynamics and teamwork exist in a sort of cause/effect relationship. Teamwork is the result, and your team’s dynamics are what gets you there — or doesn’t get you there, as the case may be.
Conflicting personality types, poor communication, and the probability of hierarchical power dynamics (where some members of the team may be in supervisor positions over other members) can all create an environment where the team just doesn't click. Additionally, there are the problems associated with matrixed teams, where employees are involved with multiple teams that include coworkers who may not report to the same manager.
Like we said: complex. On the other hand, a proper approach to effective team dynamics can make a major positive difference — not only in getting the work done but also in keeping your employees happy.
Benefits of Effective Team Dynamics
Teamwork makes the dream work, but what kind of dream are we talking about? Well, in the business world, it’s the dream of personal and professional success, which is why team dynamics are so important. With the right approach to team dynamics, your business will be better positioned to reach its goals. Here’s how:
- Enhanced Communication. It may seem obvious, but good team dynamics contribute to better communication within your organization. Working to solve problems as part of a diverse team naturally leads to improved communication skills among team members, allowing them to more freely share information and collaborate together for better outcomes.
- Increased Productivity. Those who work in group settings are approximately 50% more effective at completing tasks than those who work alone. After all, many hands make light work, and more people attacking a problem can complete assigned tasks more quickly and with greater accuracy — provided that they are supporting one another rather than getting in each other’s way.
- Improved Employee Engagement. It’s not just about spreading the work around; it’s about the confidence that your team members have your back. When employees know that they can depend on the people they collaborate with they are more likely to throw themselves into their work. A Global Study from ADP Research Institute found that those who operate as part of a team at work are 2.3 times more likely to be fully engaged. Hey, a little support can go a long way.
- Better Employee Morale. How does it make you feel to know that you’re working with reliable, trustworthy, honest people? If you’re anything like most people, the answer is that it makes you feel good. A survey by Atlassian concluded that those who work in teams that include strong interpersonal connections are 80% more likely to report high emotional wellbeing.
- Greater Innovation. As team members feel more comfortable sharing new ideas and perspectives, self-doubt disappears and real innovation can start to shine through. An expansive body of research over the past two decades has time and again connected effective collaboration to powerful innovation, particularly in business. In other words, if you want your people to start thinking outside the box, you need to bring them together.
Consequences of Negative Team Dynamics
The brighter the picture, the darker the negative — effective team dynamics can help you revolutionize how your organization approaches success, but poor team dynamics can have just as much negative impact. Consider the following dangers associated with discordant teams:
- Increased Turnover. When teams become a hurdle to success rather than a stepladder, employees start looking for the exit. Poor team dynamics lead to increased turnover, and IDC predicts that by 2024 enterprises without effective collaborative work environments will see 30% higher turnover than those that demonstrate positive team dynamics.
- Higher Likelihood of Stress and Workplace Conflict. Team Stage reports that 33% of HR professionals recognize that poor team collaboration decreases employee morale. When team dynamics are not optimal, non-constructive conflict becomes much more likely. Even if team members aren’t at each other's throats, the difficulty of working in this kind of team environment can be a major source of stress for employees, leading to anxiety, disengagement, health problems, and all of the other issues that surround low employee morale.
- Reduced Innovation, Productivity, and Efficiency. If positive team dynamics can boost employee performance then the opposite is also true — ineffective and incompatible teams curb productivity, efficiency, and innovation. What’s really worrying is that about 75% of teams are dysfunctional.
Positive vs. Negative Team Dynamics
The research supports what we probably already knew, namely that positive team dynamics support positive results. Yay! Of course, that poses the question: What are positive team dynamics? And what are the negative dynamics that wait on the other side of the coin?
Positive Team Dynamics
Let’s consider the attributes that define a powerful (and functional) team. Examples of effective team dynamics include:
- Diversity and Inclusion. A team doesn’t have to be made up of identical perspectives to be effective; just the opposite — the more diverse the team members' backgrounds, the better. Team members that come from a range of backgrounds bring with them unique skills, experiences, and viewpoints. This can lead to more creative solutions and better decision-making.
- Transparency and Trust. Collaboration can’t happen when individual members don’t see the big picture or have any clue what the rest of the team is doing. This is why teams with positive dynamics value transparency in communication and decision-making processes. Team members are open and honest with each other about their work, challenges, and goals, and they share information freely in order to build trust and promote collaboration.
- Accountability. When there’s a lot riding on the outcomes, employees need to know that they can rely on one another. Accountability helps ensure that everyone involved is responsible for their portions of the project. In essence, every team member depends on the work of other team members to contribute to the organization’s success. At the same time, accountability promotes a sense of ownership among teams, as each contributor understands how their efforts fit into the whole.
- Alignment with Team Mission, Vision, and Goals. A team with positive dynamics is aligned with the organization's mission, vision, and goals. Each team member understands how their work contributes to the team's objectives and the organization’s overall direction. This promotes a sense of purpose and can help motivate team members.
Negative Team Dynamics
So, what kinds of team dynamics are red flags? Probably the ones you’d expect, but let’s take a moment to identify them anyway:
- Poor Communication. I think we may be seeing some patterns here. When teams fail at communicating, it starts a domino effect where misunderstandings arise, important work gets overlooked or duplicated, and collaboration becomes nearly impossible.
- Lack of Motivation. There’s a reason people get paid to work: It’s not always fun, and it’s not always easy to get excited about. That said, when motivation issues bleed over into the team it creates a negative dynamic that stymies creativity. A lack of motivation within a team may happen when members feel disconnected from the team's mission or goals, or when they perceive a lack of support or recognition from their leaders.
- Ineffective Conflict Resolution. Any time you get more than one personality or viewpoint in a room, conflict (at least on some level) becomes inevitable. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; conflict encourages teams to consider new viewpoints and forces members to evaluate their preconceptions if they wish to defend them. Where conflict becomes a problem is when a team is unable to resolve it. Ineffective conflict resolution creates tension, hostility, and stress, and is extremely detrimental to team success.
- Over-Competitiveness. Much like conflict, a little healthy competition can be a positive thing. Over-competitiveness, however, goes beyond ‘healthy’ and becomes detrimental. When team members prioritize their own success over the team's mission, it creates a culture of mistrust and animosity. This can damage team relationships and stop any sort of goal-related progress dead in its tracks.
Improving Team Dynamics
OK. Let’s say that you see your team reflected in the negative team dynamics we outlined above. What should you do?
Fix it, of course!
If your team is spinning its wheels and you suspect that dynamics are to blame, here are four strategies to help you get your group back on track:
- Start with Leadership. Teams exist so that everyone can bring their unique ideas and insights to the table, but what happens when a micromanaging leader authoritatively takes over? Leadership in team settings should be democratized, giving every member a voice and a vote. This doesn’t necessarily mean that majority rule should determine every outcome of every discussion; it means that before your team can start accomplishing anything you will need to work together to determine what the decision-making process looks like.
- Don’t Shy Away from Conflict. Conflict gets a bad rap, but when it’s constructive and motivated by a desire to work together it can be a beautiful thing. Conflict provides a Darwinian approach to decision-making, where ideas can compete to determine which is stronger. The important thing to remember here is that every member of the team shares the same objectives and that any conflict that arises in the pursuit of those objectives should not be personal. When conflict is normalized and isn’t seen as an attack, then your team can start really facing off (in a good way).
- Double Down on Communication. Communication is a major theme in team dynamics — without the ability to share ideas and coordinate efforts effectively, it’s not a “team,” is it? Prioritize communication, and then take it even further. Meet together frequently (either in person or remotely) to discuss goals, issues, feedback, etc. Be obnoxious in the amount of information you share with team members. Relentlessly document projects, plans, ideas, roles, and deliverables. In essence, establish a team culture of over-communicating so that nothing and no one ever gets left out of the loop.
- Train (And Then Train Some More). Teams don’t build themselves. Investing in ongoing team trainings, workshops, and other educational opportunities can realign your team dynamic and help everyone better understand how to coordinate their efforts. This should include training team members in active listening, conflict resolution, communication, accountability, and inclusion, but it should also focus on activities that are more social. Put the “fun” in “functional team” by scheduling team-building events that team members can get excited about. And don’t worry about the weather; indoor activities can be just as beneficial.
Building a Better Team
Unless you’re an organization of one, your business is built on the power of teamwork. Unfortunately, not every team is as effective as it could be. Team dynamics — the interpersonal relationships and interactions between your team members and their respective insights — define how successful your teams can be, and that means you should do everything in your power to promote positive dynamics throughout the teams that support your organization.
Building healthy teams starts with building healthy team members. We can help! Contact a Gympass wellbeing specialist today to see how you can support your people in their physical and mental health. Your journey to building both a harmonious team and a thriving workforce begins here.
- ADP Research Institute. (n.d.). What Is Impacting Your Employee Engagement? Retrieved from https://sg.adp.com/resources/articles-and-insights/articles/a/adp-study-what-is-impacting-your-employee-engagement.aspx.
- Atlassian. (n.d.). The Open Work Research Report. Retrieved from https://www.atlassian.com/practices/open/research.
- El-Murad, J., & Westwick, J. (2021). Innovation and Collaboration in Organizations: A Bibliometric Research. Journal of Knowledge Management, 25(1), 113-131. doi:10.1108/JKM-06-2020-0459.
- Gallup. (2021, May 10). Teams, Bosses Overcoming Matrix Madness. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/354935/teams-bosses-overcoming-matrix-madness.aspx.
- Harvard Business School Online. (2019, August 13). The Pros and Cons of Team Decision-Making. Retrieved from https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/team-decision-making.
- Hinds, R. (2018, February 5). Here's What to Do If Your Cross-Functional Teams Are Failing. Inc. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/rebecca-hinds/heres-what-to-do-if-your-cross-functional-teams-are-failing.html.
- IDC. (2021, April 15). Collaborating in the New Reality: Future of Connectedness. Retrieved from https://www.idc.com/mea/events/67426-future-of-connectedness-collaborating-in-the-new-reality.
- Lee, T. H., Yoon, S., Kang, S. W., & Bae, J. (2021). Team Dynamics and Emotional Intelligence: A Systematic Review. Journal of Educational Research and Evaluation, 25(4), 249-275. doi:10.29290/jere.25.4.249.
- Team Stage. Teamwork Statistics: 23 Eye-Opening Facts You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://teamstage.io/teamwork-statistics/.
- Vitasek, K. (2022, March 8). Why Collaboration Yields Improved Productivity and the Science Behind It. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/katevitasek/2022/03/08/why-collaboration-yields-improved-productivity-and-the-science-behind-it/?sh=49d822005d55.
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.