Team Dynamics

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Loren B. Belker, Jim McCormick, and Gary S. Topchik

In recent years, getting work done through teams has become standard practice in many organizations. This is true for a couple of reasons. One reason is synergy. Generally, it has been proven in workplaces that groups make better decisions than an individual working alone. Another reason for having teams is that in today's world of high technology the manager cannot know as much as all of the employees; the manager can no longer be the expert. In many fields and occupations today, managers have people working for them who have specific expertise far beyond theirs. It is no longer possible in these instances to tell people what to do. The manager needs to support and guide employees and let them come up with work-related answers.

If you really want your team to succeed and perform at the highest levels possible, you need to build a team dynamic. A team dynamic is the willingness and the ability to work in an interdependent fashion where team members need to rely on other team members to accomplish their work or to achieve the goals of the team.

In order to build a team dynamic, the following six factors are essential:

  1. Open communication
  2. Empowerment
  3. Clear roles and responsibilities
  4. Goal clarity
  5. An effective leader
  6. A reward and accountability system for both individual team members and the entire team

Open Communication

Consider this scenario: A young manager-to-be accompanied his mentor, an experienced manager, to observe a high-performing team in operation at a manufacturing company. When he first walked into the room, he said to his mentor, "Oh boy, this is a dysfunctional team! Listen to the way they're arguing with each other." The older man replied, "Pay attention, you're witnessing a great team."

It took the younger man several minutes to understand what the manager meant. This team was in conflict. The members were strongly disagreeing with one another on the best way to improve their product. It is often a good ign when this kind of friction exists. A team that cares passionately about its task is very positive. It had open, honest communication. That is a team dynamic!


You get a strong team dynamic when you empower your team members by giving them the right to make decisions concerning the work they are doing. Of course, you set boundaries of time, money, choices, and so forth. But once you give the team the final power of decision making, you will notice a confidence, camaraderie, and a feeling of strength emerge. Whatever you do, make sure you do not empower teams that are not ready for it. That can be disastrous, and many new managers make this big mistake. They probably do it because they want to get into the good graces of the team. Make sure the team is ready for empowerment or you and the organization will suffer from the consequences of its poor decisions.

Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Can you walk up to any one of your team members and have this person clearly define his role and responsibilities on the team? Can you walk up to any one of your team members and have this person clearly define the roles and responsibilities of every other team member, including yourself as the leader? When team members can do this, they know what is expected of them and what is expected of every other team member. They also know on whom they can count for helping them with their work. All of this leads to an effective team dynamic.

Goal Clarity

Does everyone you manage know the goals of both your team and the entire organization? Make sure they do. Keep it simple—ideally down to one sentence for each. Your team's goal statement could be something like, "Our goal is to provide our internal customers with accurate, timely, and valuable market data at the lowest cost." This is perfect—it covers it all. Once you have worked with your team to develop your simple goal statement, make sure everyone knows it and has it memorized. You may want to post it in a prominent location, always include it at the top of meeting agendas, or include it below the signature on your internal emails.

Why is this important? Organizational goal clarity keeps everyone moving in the same direction. It gives them the standard against which they can make decisions and decide on a course of action.

The simple standard is whether the decision or outcome they are considering works for or against the goal. If it supports the goal, proceed. If it works against the goal, stop.

  • Goal clarity facilitates a number of valuable outcomes:It allows your people to make more of their own decisions
  • Fewer issues will need to be escalated to you to resolve
  • Decisions will be made more quickly
  • Your organization will be more agile, making it better able to adapt quickly to changes
  • Your organization will be more efficient.

Obviously, your team members will be confronted with situations that support or work against the goal. These will have to be brought to you. But often in their daily efforts, they will be able to make unhindered progress by just using the goal statement as their guide.

Once you've settled in and gotten to know your team and its role, work with the team to develop a simple and clear goal statement. It will fuel a much more empowered and entrepreneurial team dynamic.

Effective Leadership

Read the following list. Check off the items that you currently do. Develop an action plan for any items not checked. When you are able to check off all the items, you are doing your part in building an effective team dynamic. As leader, you should do the following:

  • Set clear goals for each team member and the team
  • Give clear directions for those who need it
  • Share examples and experiences of your personal successes and mistakes in order to relate to the team
  • Emphasize the positive rather than the negative in your talks with your team
  • Give continual feedback to each team member and to the team—both positive and constructive
  • Use small successes to build team cohesiveness
  • Practice what you say
  • Express your and the organization's appreciation through rewards, if available
  • Develop a constructive relationship—you and the team are working together toward the same goals
  • Make change happen for the better by encouraging creativity and innovation
  • Encourage self-reliance and self-development
  • Encourage team members to express their views during conflict and share yours with them
  • Help your team see its connection to the larger organization, customers, and the community

Reward and Accountability System

This last factor for building a strong team dynamic is the responsibility of the organization and the managers working together. Many organizations preach teamwork. You walk around the building and see posters with happy groups of people working and playing together. You read company mission statements and they say something about being the best team. People are assigned to teams, yet teamwork is lacking. Why is this? It is because the organization and its managers do not hold people accountable for working in teams or reward them for it.

If we truly expect people to cooperate with each other for the common good of the organization, we cannot just evaluate them, rate them, or give them performance appraisals just for their individual contribution. We have to do all of that for their team contribution as well. When team members understand that you are holding them accountable based on how well they perform as team players, they quickly get the message that teams count. It beats those posters! You have to do the same thing with the reward system; that is, reward people for both their individual and team contributions.

Some managers claim that it is not a good practice to reward some team members more than others. They say that you will never have high-performing teams if you do that. Those managers should take a look at the most successful professional sports teams. They have team members who earn more than others based on the roles they play or their achievements. It works, and their team dynamic is great. Look at many successful and effective work teams. You will often find individual team members making higher salaries or getting special rewards for their individual contributions. It works in those situations, and there is great team dynamic on those teams as well.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The First-Time Manager (Sixth Edition) by Loren B. Belker, Jim McCormick, and Gary S. Topchik. Copyright 2012, AMACOM. Published by AMACON, a division of American Management Association.

About the Author(s)

Loren B. Belker, Jim McCormick, and Gary S. Topchik
Jim McCormick is the former Chief Operating Officer of the fifth largest architectural firm in the United States. Loren B. Belker was an executive in a major Midwestern insurance company for nearly 30 years and the author of previous editions of The First-Time Manager. Gary S. Topchik was the managing partner of SilverStar Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm swpecializing in management development. He was the author of The Accidental Manager and Managing Workplace Negativity.