Friday, January 09, 2009


There a quote I heard long time back -

"Every day in the forest, when a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must run faster than the fastest tiger or it will be killed. Every day when the tigers wake up, they know they must get the slowest gazelle or they'll die. It doesn't matter if you're a tiger or a gazelle; when the sun rise—you'd better be running."

There are many takeaways from this quote. One is obvious - be on your toes, always. Another one, though a bit subtle, is how important team work is. If you notice the second line of the quote, it says "when the tigers wake up", and not just a tiger. A team is as good as the team collectively is.

Been a part of quite a few teams; been audience to a few - the only thing that has come out as a standard observation is, team dynamics make or break the objective of having the team. And more often than not, it's not our preferences that cause problems; it's our attachment to them.

Team Dynamics are the unseen forces that operate in a team between different people or groups. Team Dynamics can strongly influence how a team reacts, behaves or performs, and the effects of team dynamics are often very complex.

One can recognize team dynamics by looking for the forces that influence team behavior. These forces might include:
  • Personality styles (eg: including or excluding people)
  • Office layout (eg: cupboards dividing teams into two)
  • Tools and technology (eg: email, bulletin board, information pool enabling hidden communication).
  • Organisational culture (eg: flexibility of working from home)
Sometimes these factors can play an influence. For example, if a wall of cupboards were to be placed across the middle of the office, this would also form a 'natural force' that influences the communication flow and may separate the group into two further sub-groups.

Sometimes, an "absence" of a natural force can also be a team dynamic. For example, if the leader or manager is permanently removed from the office, the group may be drawn into a change of behaviour.

To manage team dynamics constructively, one needs to:

1. look for the team dynamics - the 'natural forces' at play
2. determine whether they are acting for good or ill,
3. make interventions to make the effect of those dynamics more positive.

For example, if a wall of cupboards is inhibiting communication within a group, that wall can be repositioned and the room layout designed to encourage communication (without making the environment too uncomfortable for those who value their privacy when working on individual tasks).

There is one more kind of factor - social factor. Suppose in a small team of people working in one office, there are two people who have a particularly strong friendship. This friendship is a "natural force" that may have an influence on the rest of the team, and can manifest in various ways, either positively or negatively.

The positive effect of a strong friendship in a team might be:
  • the friends communicate a lot together...
  • ...which naturally results in other members being drawn into the discussion
  • ...which results in a good 'social' feel to the group
  • ...which makes people enjoy being in the group
  • ...which improves motivation and commitment
The negative effect of a strong friendship might be:
  • to cause the other people to feel excluded...
  • ...which means decision making will be skewed
  • ...which means that there are likely to be sub-groups
  • ...which means that information may not flow across the whole group, but only within the subgroups
  • ...which means that miscommunication may lead to misunderstanding and poor collective performance
Whether it is good or bad depends on other factors.

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