Understand  Team  Dynamics

One of the continuing problems one faces in attempting to increase the effectiveness and productivity of a group is that of becoming aware of the relation of the group's structure and dynamics to its task performance. Every group or team operates at three levels of need:

  1. Task Level: Most groups have some task confronting them, and exist primarily to carry out that task. Frequently, they are so conscious of the need to accomplish this task that they are unaware of the other levels of need which are operating simultaneously - the group maintenance level and the individual needs level.
  2. Maintenance Level: This is maintaining the relationships in the group at a level where all members feel safe enough to freely and creatively contribute to the task at hand. As people work together in a group on a task, they are also doing something with and to (and sometimes at) each other. Consequently, a group consists of a constantly changing network of interactions and relationships. A group needs to have a growing awareness of itself as a team, and to face the need for maintaining the relationships within it if the tasks are to be accomplished effectively.
  3. Individual Needs Level: Every individual member brings to a group a particilar set of personal needs which impinge upon the group and its task. These needs are frequently out of each person's awareness. When they are not met, group members will behave in ways which attempt to get their needs met. This behavior can retard the group task unless it is addressed. Failure to meet individual needs leads people into withdrawal and non- participation, at which point those members' input is lost to the group.It is at this level that groups are most apt to be found wanting, for individual needs are frequently well hidden beneath the task drive of the group, or behind well developed behavior patterns. Briefly, when a person enters a group s/he needs to know:
  • Who am I in this group?
  • What kind of behavior is acceptable here?
  • What do I want from this group?
  • What do I have to offer?
  • Who else is here?
  • What do people here expect I have to offer?
  • Am I free to fail here?
  • How are conflicts resolved here?
  • Who is calling the shots here?
  • How safe is it to be different here?
  • Can I say what I really think?
  • Will I be listened to?
  • Will I have any influence here?
  • Will I be accepted and liked?
  • Will people trust me?
  • Will I trust them?
  • How free am I to really be me here?
  • Will I fit with this group?

          Most of us have been rather well trained to focus our energy and attention on the task. We tend to ignore the other two levels except when they are shouting for attention. Too often, when a group task is not going well, our default setting is to get a bigger hammer and keep pounding away at it and the efficiency of the team is impaired and its growth is thwarted. On the other hand, when a group actively works to balance these three levels, it becomes more effective, mature and productive as a team. Thus:

          For a group to operate effectively, group leadership functions must be performed at both the task and maintenance levels. Note that group leadership is a set of functions or behaviors rather than a role. Thus, the officially designated leader is not the only one with responsibility for group productivity. Any group member can and should perform any of these group leadership functions when they deem it appropriate and necessary. To the extent that group leadership is seen as the responsibility of all group members, and not solely the responsibility of the officially designated leader, then the group will function more effectively as a team.


The 3 Levels of Group Operation

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