Group Dynamics – Working in Self-Managed Teams

I believed I was part of a group of people who had each other’s best interests as a core of operation. This group could best be classified as a Self-Managed Team where there was no distinct team leader, for example a string quartet. The group generally worked well together over a period of time, but there were a number of occasions over the years when I was, actively or accidentally, left on the sidelines when all others in the group were made part of the project at the time. In these instances I took the initiative and asserted myself. At the conclusion of the projects, matters were discussed by all of us and resolved. I always thought the group would perform better as a result.

Until recently, when the same group planned and executed a complete project without my input at all. They were inconsiderate and exclusive, in my opinion. Maybe the problem was me. I thought I was performing well and on further analysis I was. The issue was the group not seeing value in every member. I had made myself a part of the wrong group. I persevered though, and gave chance after chance, adjusted my values and made rationalisations. I reflected on the circumstances for a whole week and concluded that compromising myself like that was unacceptable and led to unhappiness and stress.

The situation is still difficult to talk about and I cannot provide further detail here. Removing the emotion is hard too, but it needs to be done to write about this experience objectively. With respect to teamwork and group dynamics, sometimes you just have to cut a group loose and find your own way!

Within any effectively performing group, members are given the opportunity to raise issues and concerns, contribute knowledge and opinions, and assist in operational decision-making and planning activities. Forums such as team meetings, one-on-one meetings, planning days, performance appraisals, conferences, etc all help people to develop relationships, share information, understand each other’s work and discuss issues related to the achievement of team goals. But when (not if) the group dynamics break down, what then can be done?

Being comfortable and confident in your own abilities provides a solid psychological basis for dealing with a breakdown in positive group dynamics. Knowing where your strengths lie can allow you to explore your own shortcomings more effectively. Learn from your experiences and analyse and reflect upon the feedback you have received in the past. Ensuring you are completely comfortable with your own strengths and limitations reduces the need to completely rely on others within the group for affirmation.

Next, recognise the situations in which you cannot please everybody and simply act with your best judgment – especially if you are leading the group. Any golfer or tennis player will tell you that you have to be able to trust your shot. So, too, a group member or leader has to be able to trust in their own well-informed decisions to be able to move forward. If there are issues affecting group performance, they need to be addressed promptly and directly. Offer or seek out opportunities to improve performance. This indicates to the rest of the group a willingness to work with them to explore solutions.

Despite all of these strategies there will be occasions where a group member simply makes the choice to NOT work with you in the team or with the team as a whole. Recognise this and discuss the choice with them, exploring feelings, reasons and specific examples. This can be quite a confronting exercise but it is worthwhile for peace of mind. If it comes down to it, be prepared to walk away yourself or to let them leave the group, depending on the situation. Sometimes, it’s simply just the best option for you/the group. In my situation from earlier, it was the best option for me.

The final piece of advice is to accept the consequences of your chosen action. Acceptance will eventuate after an initial period of anger or disappointment and then a period of reflection. It is important to work through these thought processes so you can then mentally equip yourself to move on to new opportunities with a renewed sense of determination.

I shall end this article with two quotes:
1. “The well-run group is not a battlefield of egos.” – Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoist philosopher
2. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill, British WWII Prime Minister

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For more resources, see our Library topic Team Building.

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Writen by guest writer Jason Novosel from Novohorizons Management Training

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