Most of us are too familiar with the dreaded group project. Not everyone puts in the same amount of effort, and there’s always that one person who commandeers the whole project.
Entrusting your work to a group of people you hardly know is hard, but knowing how to foster group dynamics is a great way to boost your ability to get the job done with others efficiently.
What are Group Dynamics?
Group dynamics are central to good management practice and can profoundly affect your business’ productivity.
German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin coined the term “group dynamics” in the early 1940s. He described the roles people typically fill and how those roles affect the rest of the group. For example, if a group member is outspoken and commanding, other members may feel unable to share their thoughts.
Why do Group Dynamics Matter?
Group dynamics are a naturally occurring effect of people working together. You can’t make a group without dynamics. However, you can lead group dynamics in specific directions to ensure a better group environment. Think of it as a tool, something to actively foster and utilize.
How do Groups Form?
Bruce Tuckman described how groups form. There are five observable stages, discussed further below:
This stage occurs when you first get assigned to a group. While you may outline goals and project plans, members commonly work independently from one another.
This next stage typically starts with a disagreement. During the conflict, group members feel more and more able to share their feelings. The result is a group that has a greater level of trust.
After people have resolved initial conflicts, they begin to establish group norms. Group norms are typically undiscussed and happen naturally. They are what the group does, regardless of or in addition to the rules set forth. Norming is one of the most critical steps, as it is here that stagnation and negative dynamics could occur.
This step occurs when the group is working as best as they can. Instead of worrying about what the other group members think about each other, they can work together and independently solve problems.
Adjourning or Mourning
This final stage describes what happens when the group disbands, as members might feel sadness or a sense of loss.
Bad Group Dynamics
Few people can work to their fullest potential when group dynamics are poor. Poor group dynamics will hinder meetings from being productive and cause other issues to arise.
Signs of Bad Group Dynamics
Typically, destructive dynamics are easy to spot. Both members and leaders can contribute to a hostile working environment.
Here are a couple of signs of negative group dynamics:
Frequently frustrated group members
Development of smaller groups that exclude other members
Non Participating group members
Uncomfortable group members
Insecure group members
Exclusive friendship groups
When group members are peeling off, not participating, or feeling frustrated, that’s a sign that something is wrong.
Causes of Poor Group Dynamics
A couple of weak spots can cause group dynamics to deteriorate. These commonly include:
Weak Leadership: The most authoritative member will take over the group when leadership is weak. Good leaders should help members feel safe and keep the group on task.
Unnecessary veneration toward authority: A healthy respect toward authority is essential, but when members excessively defer to supervisors, they don’t always express their opinions.
Disruptive members: There are multiple ways individual members can cause disruptions, from members not participating, interjecting humor where inappropriate, criticizing other members’ ideas unhelpfully, to outspoken members dominating the conversation.
Groupthink: This phenomenon occurs when group members change their thoughts because they don’t want others to view them as the odd ones out. This phenomenon isn’t ideal because bad decisions occur when no one else is willing to speak up against them.
Good Group Dynamics
When group dynamics are good, getting the job done is more manageable. Good group dynamics include:
Open communication, including honesty
Focus on common goals and mission
Quick Conflict resolution
Commitment to the task
It would be best if you fostered good group dynamics, knowing it takes effort to ensure everyone contributes. A good group will consider everyone’s point of view and stay focused on the task at hand.
Methods for Sustaining Good Group Dynamics
As a group leader or member, there are a handful of ways you can contribute to excellent group dynamics. Here are a few:
Be present - Don’t allow yourself to zone out during meetings. Engage the group, participate, and notice any negative group dynamics warning signs.
Communicate - Communication is a vital area for group work. Poor communication can lead to disaster, but focusing on communicating well and often is a great way to maintain healthy dynamics. When focusing on communication dynamics, it can be easier to spot areas needing improvement.
Define responsibilities - It’s hard to get things done when no one knows what they should do. Defining what roles members will fill is essential for good group dynamics.
Resolve conflict quickly - Conflicts are going to arise within your group. It’s just natural. When problems do arise, make sure they get resolved quickly. No one likes lingering conflicts, and they hamper group productivity.
Build your team - It may seem like a cliché, but group exercises are a helpful method of improving team dynamics. They can be beneficial for getting to know your other teammates.
Meet your team - Get to know the members of your group. Find out what makes them excited (or bored) about their work. When you know who you’re working with, creating a healthy work environment will become easier.
Being a positive help to your group can be difficult, but having a group that works well together is worth the effort.
Positively impacting your group’s dynamics at work can affect your growth opportunities. Learn more skills from the Regional Economic Development Center at Yavapai College, including courses and blog posts.