Team meeting

There is no doubt that human relationships are one of the most difficult and complicated activities we engage in, which is why team dynamics inside organisations can be so problematic. In fact, the more senior you become the more important relationships are to success and the more difficult those relationships can become.

Unfortunately most executives reach the c-suite by leveraging their technical competence in finance, marketing, operations, sales, or some other functional discipline. There are very few executives sat around a board table who have been specifically trained in human dynamics, anthropology, leadership behaviour or other disciplines that would help them with team dynamics.

To make matters worse, many executives have never experienced what it’s like to be part of high performing team. So, in the absence of knowing what good looks like and in the absence of technical training in the discipline, why do we expect leaders to be able to not only build a team but develop and coach a team to outstanding performance?

Addressing sub-optimal teams

Oftentimes if we start to wonder why a team is performing sub optimally we can mistakenly conclude that it is down to some quirk of personality, some clash of style or type. This is almost never the case. Even though it’s a popular explanation for poor team dynamics, the root cause of poor team dynamics is much more likely to be a clash of values driving an internal cultural battle within the team.

There are eight different levels of cultural sophistication that have emerged. Each level has an upside and a downside and can be both helpful and counterproductive. The important thing in team dynamics is to know which value system each member of the team operates from and how to blend the value system to create high performance.

For this reason, developing a high performance team often starts with an accurate assessment of individual team members’ value systems. Quickly followed by some close working with the team directly to reconcile the specific cultural tensions that may be preventing the evolution of the team’s culture. For example, many c-suite executives value outcomes such targets, goals, success and money, but not everybody prizes these things so highly. Other individuals may value the importance of principles, doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right people, at the right time in a structured and disciplined fashion. Other executives still, may put greater value on inclusivity, sensitivity, support and engagement and see this as the route to organisational success. These three different value systems may themselves create tension, as each individual believes that what they value is what everyone should value.

Such cultural wars and clashes of value can only be reconciled through an appreciation that there are multiple value sets that are neither better nor worse they are simply different. More than that each value set has something to offer. So long as we are fiercely stuck in the belief that our value system is either the only value system or the only value system that matters, team dynamics will continue to be difficult.

There are many more things that need addressing in the complexity of human dynamics, but skilfully working with different value systems and being able to take a developmental approach can rapidly accelerate a team’s progress and their ability to drive organisational success.

By Dr Alan Watkins, Founder and CEO of Complete Coherence, author of 4D Leadership