As a leader, how well do you understand team dynamics?

Team having a meeting in an office environment

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Oh, the joys of team dynamics! 

Whether you think about the cast of a play, the musicians in an orchestra, the cabin crew on a long-haul flight, the players in a football team, a group of students on a university assignment, or of course the members of a team in a workplace, the way the individuals connect and communicate can either make or break their effectiveness and ultimate success. 

More than ever before, given the number of organisations operating under a remote or hybrid model (not to mention the number of team members who have never actually met each other in person), ensuring a positive and ideally transparent team dynamic and striving for easier and more effective conversations within the team has never been more of a priority for a leader. 

I remember a few years ago, I brought one of my distributed teams together for an in-person team retreat. I’d organised a full day of pretty intense work sessions and another full day comprised of a few professional development activities. For the third day, I’d arranged for everyone to have a bit of a sleep in, and then I’d organised a spectacular hike, followed by a relaxing afternoon, team dinner, and a spot of karaoke. 

The ‘work stuff’ all went pretty much as expected. However, it was on the hike that I realised that even though I knew the individual team members pretty well, they really had no idea about each other at all.

A few found common ground having studied at the same university but had never realised that previously; some learned that a few of their colleagues were parents; I realised how unfit a few of the team were (hearing the complaints as we got further up the mountain!); but everyone came away from those 4.5 hours with a completely new perspective of their peers. 

“I can’t believe X has done …”; “Who would have thought X would …?”; “When X told me … I was totally blown away”; “Never in a million years would I have guessed X …”; “I thought X and I were polar opposites, but it turns out we’ve got so much in common”. I overheard several versions of comments like these over dinner that night. Then, after a few hours letting the team do their best Adele and Beyoncé impersonations or rocking out a bit of Bon Jovi or One Direction at karaoke, I discreetly walked up to the stage, grabbed the mic and belted out my very own version of Bohemian Rhapsody (including the high notes)! 

The team all stood there completely gob smacked. “Some of us have worked with you for five years now, and we had absolutely no idea you could do that”. 

No. They didn’t know. There had never really been a time or place. After all, it’s not like a weekly Zoom team meeting would be the most appropriate forum for a CEO to release their inner Billy Joel or Freddy, right? 

Understanding what makes your team members unique, what skills individuals bring to the table (aside from karaoke!), people’s communication and decision-making styles, not to mention their general back stories, can help a leader lay the foundation for a highly productive team. 

Without wanting to baffle you with too much psychology or academia, one tool that any leader can turn to when trying to gain a better understanding of communication or the general dynamic within their team, or to better understand the relationship between oneself and others is called the Johari Window comprised of four quadrants and two dimensions as you can see in the visual below. 

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The two dimensions relate to facts, traits or behaviours that someone either knows or doesn’t know about themselves vs those same facts, traits or behaviors that are either known or not known to others. 

Here’s how the quadrant (the potential combination of the puzzle pieces) fits together.  

The Open Area 

This quadrant relates to what you know about yourself that your team members also know about you. If you feel you have a particular strength that your team members are also aware of or agree to be one of your strengths, then this would be classified as sitting in the open area. Transparent and open communication fit nicely into this quadrant. 

The Blind Spot  

The top right quadrant represents what you don’t know about yourself but perhaps others in your team know about you. In very simple terms, you may not realise you snore, but your partner might say otherwise! Or you may not be aware that when you get anxious you click your pen frenetically, while others may notice that as a definite you-ism! Please understand that a behaviour or trait sitting in the top right quadrant isn’t necessarily a negative. We’ll come back to this point shortly.  

The Hidden Area  

This quadrant refers to what you know about yourself, but others don’t know about you. For example, do you secretly dread public speaking or having a difficult conversation but don’t let on to this? Are you secretly hoping to write an Oscar winning film script, but prefer to keep this to yourself? Or are you a wannabe rock star – as in the scenario above where I’d intentionally kept this ‘passion’ hidden from others in the team.  

The Unknown  

The bottom right quadrant refers to what you may not know about yourself, and neither do others around you. For example, when we first went into lockdown during the pandemic, you weren’t sure how you would react to the isolation or challenges of juggling the team and the kids’ home schooling, and neither did your team members. 

The leader’s goal is to try to expand the open area as much as possible. 

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When you first start leading your team, the open area may be small, since what is known to both you and your team is fairly limited. As you start to learn and understand more about each other, the quadrant enlarges by ‘moving’ down and to the right ‘eating into’ the space previously occupied by the blind, hidden, and unknown areas. 

It’s fair to say that the open area will naturally expand over time. However, there are experiments you could try to help push into the other three areas. 

For example, being comfortable asking for feedback from your team members or giving your team permission to provide you with regular feedback can help infiltrate the blind area. By being vulnerable and genuinely asking, “what could I be doing differently?”, one of your team members might suggest that you be less autocratic, or that you let the group decide on an approach rather than just telling them what to do. You may have (a) not realised you do it, or (b) not thought about how it was impacting team morale. 

By sharing more with your team (and suggesting that your team members share more with each other) can help move the open area into ‘hidden territory’.

I’m certainly not suggesting you all hit the karaoke club on a weekly basis! But fostering a culture of transparency and sharing will enlarge the window faster than you think. Remember, the more your team members trust you, the more they will share. If you are honest about how you are feeling (eg about the quarterly results, a fragile client relationship, or the rejection from a potential investor), this will play a huge role in pushing into the hidden area. 

Team building and professional development related activities can also help move the open area into the unknown area.

Often people learn and realise things about themselves in sessions like this that they may not have known, and neither did anyone else. So, everyone’s learning – hence enlarging the open area even more. 

The Johari Window will always be comprised of 4 quadrants. Even in incredibly high performing teams, there will always be elements of the blind, hidden, and unknown. The open area can never swallow them up entirely. But you will certainly feel a vibe when you are leading a team where the dynamic is built on the premise of an ever-expanding open area. 

The academics will reinforce that each quadrant in the Johari Window has its own very specific area to focus on. They will stress that the open area is all about contribution; the blind spot is all about asking for feedback; the hidden area is about acknowledging what you are challenged by; and the unknown area focuses on future potential. 

If you’re thinking that this all seems very connected to self-awareness and the awareness of those around you (ie Emotional Intelligence), you would be absolutely right. But we’ll be putting the spotlight on why emotional intelligence is so important for leaders in an upcoming piece.  

Remember hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders better understand team dynamics.    

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