You’ve just been given an important project to complete. You’re excited and immediately begin assembling your team. You choose the brightest minds from each department in your organization and bring them all together. It’s a literal super team, what could go wrong?
A whole lot actually. Negative group dynamics have been known to derail even the most promising of teams. In this article, we’ll look at what group dynamics are, the six root causes of negative group dynamics, and six strategies you can use to improve group dynamics today.
Let’s get started!
A Quick Definition
For this article, when we say “group dynamics,” we’re talking about the way in which individuals behave when surrounded by others in a professional environment.
Think about your place of work and the folks that you deal with every day. Do you all get along? Have you noticed that each of you assumes a distinct role or set of behaviors when working together? Does each team member build up the others around them? These are signs of positive group dynamics.
But not every team operates effectively. Signs of negative group dynamics include a lack of trust, constant bickering, inappropriate remarks and derogatory statements aimed at other team members, and poor overall team performance.
The study of group dynamics was pioneered by a social psychologist named Kurt Lewin in the first half of the 20th century. He is the man credited with coining the term “group dynamics” in the 1940s. His ideas are what most modern researchers have built their work upon.
6 Root Causes of Negative Group Dynamics
As we alluded to in the previous section, teams can have either positive or negative group dynamics, depending on the way that team members interact with each other. A positive group dynamic will result in better, more creative work produced more efficiently. Negative group dynamics result in the opposite.
Here are the six root causes of negative group dynamics:
Leadership plays a major role in group dynamics. A strong leader will be able to successfully manage different personality types, solve any internal conflicts, and keep his or her group working towards its goal.
Weak leadership, on the other hand, opens the door to a more dominant personality taking control. This can lead to a lack of direction and a focus on the wrong priorities.
Excessive Deference to Authority
Excessive deference to authority refers to team members who constantly agree with the leader of a group no matter what. One of the benefits of working on projects in a group setting is having access to differing opinions. This ensures that the right ideas are discovered more often.
But if team members refuse to share their thoughts and ideas, opting instead to blindly follow their leader, this benefit is lost.
Specific Personality Types
There are five specific personality types that tend to disrupt positive team dynamics. If any of the people on your team can be classified in one of these ways, the overall success and effectiveness of your group will suffer.
- The Aggressor: The aggressor is an individual who is inappropriately outspoken and often disagrees with others, just for the sake of it. They tend to stifle other people’s ideas and can come across in a very hostile manner.
- The Negator: The negator is somewhat similar to the aggressor and is classified as someone who is overly critical of others ideas. One might call this personality type a “negative Nancy” because they always see the downside of everything.
- The Withdrawer: True to the name, a withdrawer is someone who withdraws from group sessions and doesn’t participate in conversations. While they don’t directly harm the group, they don’t add anything to it either. And their behavior may inspire others to withdraw as well, resulting in stagnant conversations and a lack of ideas.
- The Recognition Seeker: We all want to be recognized for our hard work and contributions. But the recognition seeker takes things too far and comes across as boastful. They also tend to dominate sessions and take credit for other people’s ideas.
- The Joker: Humor is a good thing. When stress and/or tensions rise, a funny quip can lighten the mood. Unfortunately, the joker is a person who consistently makes inappropriate jokes or simply makes jokes at the wrong time. Misplaced humor isn’t helpful. In fact, in can be harmful to group dynamics.
Groupthink happens when team members are more concerned with agreeing on a specific course of action than they are with choosing the right solutions. This mentality often prevents team from fully exploring every option available to them and can harm group dynamics.
Free riding has been in existence for as long as people have been forming groups — so basically forever. Negative group dynamics of this sort refer to the phenomenon where some team members work really hard and others coast by.
What’s interesting about free riders is, they often work very hard on their own. But once they’re asked to participate in a group setting, they become content to sit back and let others contribute more than them. This attitude is known as social loafing.
And finally, we have evaluation apprehension which happens when group members feel that they are judged too harshly by others on the team. The natural response to these feelings is to withhold opinions. After all, if an opinion isn’t shared, there’s nothing to criticize.
Like we mentioned earlier, though, varied ideas and opinions are what make group projects so potentially productive! Evaluation apprehension takes this benefit away.
How to Improve Group Dynamics
Now that we know what group dynamics are and the six root causes of them, we can discuss how to improve group dynamics for your team. We have six strategies for you:
Understand the People on Your Team
First and foremost, you need to understand the people on your team. What do they excel at and what areas could they improve in? What are their personality types? Do you have any natural negators or attention seekers? As the leader of your group, you’ll need to be aware of these things.
You should also have a firm understanding of the stages of team development. There are five of them: the forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning stages. Knowing which stage your team is in is essential. It will allow you to better avoid potential problems and facilitate positive group dynamics.
Address Issues as Quickly as Possible
No group is completely free of problems. The key is addressing any issues that arise as quickly as possible. Have you noticed that a certain team member has recently picked up a negative personality trait? Talk to them about it before it becomes a massive problem!
While conversations of this sort are never fun, having them is much better than letting issues fester and watching the productivity of your team plummet. It’s also much easier to have these conversations when problems first arise than after they’ve become habits.
Assign Clear Roles and Responsibilities
A clear sign of poor leadership is a team of people who don’t understand their roles and responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, a lack of clarity in this area also leads to negative group dynamics. Fortunately, you can eliminate this issue by ensuring that everyone on your team knows what’s expected of them and how to do it.
Start with the overarching mission of your team. What are you trying to accomplish on a grand scale? Then clearly state what each person’s job is and provide them with the knowledge and tools to do it successfully.
We suggest that you also create some kind of team charter that defines, in writing, what we just mentioned: the goal of the team and the role each team member plays. That way your group always has something to refer back to if and when they get confused.
Eliminate Any and All Roadblocks
When your team first comes together, there will obviously be trust issues and some level of discomfort. This is natural. It takes time to get to know people and the way they operate. To help speed up the “get to know you” phase and to start doing meaningful work faster, try a few team-building exercises. Just make sure that you, the leader of your group, participate as well!
Team building exercises can and should be done by teams that have worked together for a while too — especially if group dynamics aren’t where you want them to be. These exercises can be a lot of fun and can help even the most different of colleagues find common ground.
Emphasize Clear Communication
Clear, open communication is key. To improve group dynamics in the workplace, you and your team MUST be able to communicate effectively. The method of communication — email, face-to-face conversations, video chat, slack groups, etc. — doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and your team.
To help facilitate good communication, remember these tips:
- Share Announcements in a Timely Manner: Have an announcement to make? Don’t wait to share it! The faster you can get important information to your team the better.
- Encourage Communication Between Team Members: You should also be encouraging communication between your team members. If some in your group aren’t as comfortable sharing their opinions, look for ways to get them more involved.
- Always Be Respectful When Communicating: Make sure that you are a respectful communicator and that your team follows your lead. If someone is talking in a group setting, don’t let others interrupt them. And make sure that each team member gets a chance to speak.
Always Stay Alert
And lastly, you need to constantly be alert and searching for signs of negative group dynamics. Look for the root causes mentioned above: groupthink, specific personality types, evaluation apprehension, etc. If and when you see these root causes rear their ugly heads, address and eliminate them immediately.
We also want to mention that frequent unanimous decisions should be evaluated. This could be a non-obvious sign that groupthink or free riding or one of the other negative group dynamics has crept into your team environment.
Your Path to Better Group Dynamics
Positive group dynamics are essential to the success of your team. It takes more than just the top talent and brightest minds your company has to offer to ensure a productive working environment for your group.
You also need to understand how each individual operates and how to encourage them to work together in a positive way. The strategies outlined in this article will help you better manage your team and facilitate positive group dynamics. Good luck!