Improving Team Dynamics in the Workplace

workplace team in a huddle

An organization’s success is linked to specific team dynamics in the workplace. If employees are unable to communicate effectively, for example, performance will suffer. This can add to problems like low employee engagement and high rates of interpersonal conflict and turnover.

No job is truly isolated,” marketing leader Lama Ataya says. “Even if a particular position does not clearly fall under a distinct team, it will always require interacting with coworkers, managers, and subordinates in order to accomplish the job responsibilities.”

Managers and business leaders can improve productivity and culture by being aware of the factors that affect team dynamics.

Factors That Influence Team Dynamics

A complex factor that impacts team dynamics is employee personality types. According to Harvard Business Review, extroverted team leaders perform better when matched with employees looking for guidance, while introverted team leaders fare better with workers who are proactive and take initiative. This idea is known as “dominance complementarity,” which means that groups tend to be more cohesive and effective when there is a balance of dominant and submissive leaders.

To test this concept, researchers tracked extroverted leaders and how proactive employees were in a U.S. pizza delivery chain. The study looked at 57 different stores and each leader’s level of extraversion, as well as employees’ opinions of how proactive their store was as a group.

  • Extroverted leadership was linked to significantly higher store profits when employees were passive. Stores with extroverts leading passive employees achieved 16 percent higher profits than those led by introverts.
  • Extroverted leadership was linked to significantly lower store profits when employees were proactive. Stores with extroverts leading proactive employees had 14 percent lower profits.

Researchers pointed out that introverts’ strengths are often “locked up” by the way work is structured. For example, meetings can turn into events where outgoing qualities are needed, requiring introverts to adjust in negative ways.

Personality types, work structure and other factors (e.g. team size and available resources) all impact team dynamics. Changing one factor can have implications on another, as demonstrated in the research on dominance complementarity.

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Building High-Performing Teams

Based on a poll of workplaces, Ataya provides eight qualities that successful teams share.

1.    Manageable size

There is no perfect size, but teams can be ordered in sub-groups to take advantage of the benefits of larger and smaller teams. Larger teams tend to have more ideas, diverse perspectives and more human capital overall. Small teams tend to be more cohesive and are easier to manage, when it comes to arranging meetings, distributing tasks and making decisions.

2.    Equitable work division

Participation and efficiency increase when work and responsibilities are divided appropriately. In Ataya’s survey, more than half of teams have a sense of collective responsibility (or accountability). Everyone receives credit when the team succeeds or takes responsibility when the team fails.

3.    Balanced leadership

Most professionals (60.7 percent) who were polled consider the team leader to be the primary decision maker. “A team without a decisive, skilled, and hardworking leader is deficient,” Ataya says. “A team leader gives direction and clarity to the team, coordinates between different members, updates and corresponds to management, and generally ensures that the team is on the desired track.” This person also influences other team dynamics in the workplace.

The poll found that for every team, the ideal team leader is someone who is able to:

  • Make decisions, but also negotiate.
  • Take responsibility, but also delegate.
  • Speak up, but also listen.
  • Work hard, but also help others reach their potential.

4.    Open communication

Teams brainstorm, share ideas, provide feedback and follow up with one another to accomplish tasks. Some of the most important communication styles include openness, transparency and active participation.

A study conducted by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory found that successful teams share the following characteristics, which are all rooted in communication.

  • Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.
  • Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
  • Members connect directly with one another — not just with the team leader.
  • Members have side conversations within the team.
  • Members take occasional breaks to explore and bring information back to the team.

“The data also establish another surprising fact: Individual reasoning and talent contribute far less to team success than one might expect,” the researcher says. “The best way to build a great team is not to select individuals for their smarts or accomplishments but to learn how they communicate and to shape and guide the team so that it follows successful communication patterns.”

5.    Quick conflict resolution

Disagreements and disputes will happen with any team. What is important is the team’s ability to move past differences and resolve conflicts in a healthy and productive manner. Conflict can help a team improve certain practices and decisions, ultimately bringing a team together. Almost 90 percent of teams in Ataya’s poll said that their team resolves conflicts honestly, quickly and effectively.

6.    Efficient use of resources

An efficient team is able to create the highest value out of available resources. Budgets and time can be sources of frustration, but efficient teams can overcome these types of obstacles with creativity and by optimizing what is available to them.

7.    Ability to deliver

More than 90 percent of teams in the poll meet their deadlines all or most of the time. Delivering on required outcomes is a direct indicator of an effective team. It is also the result of a team that communicates well, resolves conflict and other key concepts in this list.

8.    Team satisfaction

Satisfaction is a simple way to gauge success and healthy team dynamics in the workplace. It impacts productivity and accomplishments within the team as well as an individual’s job satisfaction and work performance, which also benefits the organization.

Becoming a Business Leader

Business leaders and managers play an important role in the success of their team. By paying attention to the nuances of team dynamics and understanding how to build high-performing teams, leaders and managers can help organizations and employees reach their goals.

Aurora University’s online Master of Business Administration degree helps students develop the knowledge and skills needed to lead others. Graduates receive instruction in current business practices from faculty members with real-world experience. Each program takes place in a fully online learning environment.