Extreme Profits – Monthly Newsletter – April 2014

Team Dynamics – Key to Project Success

While poor team dynamics can occur in any organization, Lean organizations want to avoid this occurrence at all costs. Why? Poor team dynamics can kill projects even before they start!

When working with a team, be it a focus group, Kaizen team, project team, or any type of group in between, prevention of maladaptive behaviour needs to start right at the beginning of the first meeting. Set the stage for effective teamwork with ground rules.

Have the team brainstorm ground rules and get their agreement on, at a minimum, start/end times for the meeting, use of a parking lot, side discussions, cell phones, respect for all ideas, and all opinions weighted equally.

When the ground rules list is complete, get agreement on the ground rules by asking, “Is there anyone here who disagrees with these rules?” This is far more effective than asking “Who agrees with these rules?”

But what happens if you have agreement on ground rules, but some team members still pose a problem? Here are some factors that can create a poor team dynamic.

  1. Weak leadership. If the team does not have a strong leader (or facilitator), a more dominant member of the group can divert the group’s attention to focus on the wrong priorities.
  2. Deference to authority. Team members that constantly agree with the team leader are not expressing their own opinions. This can be counterproductive to the group’s goal.
  3. Groupthink. When people desire to “get it over with” or “keep the peace” within the group, they will not express their views. Instead, they will go along with the prevailing decision. This may prevent the team from reaching the right decision.
  4. Blocking. Disruptive behaviours from team members prevent the flow of information in the group. If not managed appropriately, disruptive behaviours, ranging from aggression to clowning around, can severely impact team focus.
  5. Social loafing. Group members that do not contribute to the discussion, but show up for meetings, are creating a negative team dynamic.
  6. Fear of judgment. Team members that do not share their opinions because of a fear of being judged by their colleagues also create a negative group dynamic.

To help improve team dynamics and curb maladaptive behaviours, include “balanced participation” in the ground rules. This should direct those who are overly exuberant or under-contributing to participate in a manner that promotes positive team work.

Balancing the Team

Well balanced teams are productive teams. And productive teams save the organization both time and money. They also impart a boost to employee morale and overall job satisfaction.

If your team is not productive, you need to act to develop and maintain your team’s high performance. Here are five suggestions.

  1. Know your team. Understanding individual behaviour styles of team members helps with behaviour intervention. For instance, if dealing with someone who is naturally “hands on,” give them an opportunity to perform by, perhaps, taking notes or writing on flip charts during meetings. In contrast, those who prefer a one-on-one connection will respond positively when praised for their creativity.
  2. Identify and deal with problems immediately. If one group member is exhibiting maladaptive behaviour that is impacting the group’s performance, act quickly to challenge and correct the behaviour.
  3. Roles and responsibilities are understood. If a team lacks focus or if they do not understand their roles and responsibilities, poor team dynamics can develop quickly. A team charter can be effective to define the group’s mission and objective including their roles and responsibilities. While this is highly recommended for projects, a team charter or a discussion of roles and responsibilities at the beginning of a meeting with focus groups or other teams is also very helpful.
  4. Team building exercises. Use team exercises to engage people, so that they get to know each other better. Share personal experiences relevant to the discussion topics. Human nature being what it is, judgments about others are broken down when we actually engage with others and learn about our commonalities.
  5. Communicate. Open, honest, and frequent communication is central to ensuring positive outcomes in anything we do. Team dynamics, especially, benefit from clear communication. If there is a quiet member on your team, try Crawford’s Slip Writing Method (similar to “anonymous brainstorming”) to draw out ideas from the entire group and promote communication.

And remember to recap the end of each and every meeting. Not doing so can lead to confusion over decisions made and actions to be taken.

In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)

There are teams and there are teams. In organizations that rely on departmental teams to get the job done, projects are rarely successful. This is because departmental teams compete for money for “their” department’s project. On the other hand, cross-functional projects with cross-functional teams have the necessary synergy to break down barriers between departments to get the job done. Next time your team is stuck in second gear, look at the composition of your team. If they’re all from the same beige department with the same beige behavioural styles, infuse some energy and fuel potential for a successful project by building a cross-functional team. IMHO.

“When the common purpose and mutual dependencies of the members are not obvious to each member, there is no team.”
– J.M. Juran