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A guide to improving team dynamics for leaders and people managers
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A guide to improving team dynamics for leaders and people managers

Learn from success stories across sport, science & detective work to discover what it takes to improve team dynamics in your organization.

Table of Contents

With the midnight deadline fast approaching, your marketing team has only two hours left to get the job done. Your biggest client expects gold, but cracks are beginning to surface…

For a start, Josée struggles to communicate with Jacque, the graphics designer who feels like she’s the last to hear everything. Meanwhile, Joëlle can’t find the customer data your client provided last week. She’s blaming it on the project manager, Ian who’s in charge of file permissions, but he’s losing track of who knows what thanks to an overly complicated tech stack.

Your talented team is doing their best, but they just don’t have great team dynamics. And when there’s interpersonal friction, information lost in silos, and a culture that lacks openness and responsiveness, success is hard to come by. As for tight deadlines? They go unmet.

Team dynamics refer to how well people in groups work together and support each other. Some of the core elements contributing to team dynamics include team structure, roles and responsibilities, communication methods, trust and cohesion, and conflict resolution. When everyone communicates and cooperates, teams work better and achieve their goals.

Looking to examples of positive group dynamics across fields like sport, science, and even detective work, will show you what it takes to improve team dynamics in your own organization. So, in this article, we’ll learn from NASA's Apollo 13 mission, the famous ‘Miracle on Ice,’ and the investigation that caught the Golden State Killer. You’ll also get insights from a leadership coaching expert.

Create a positive working environment for your teams. 
Switchboard’s digital workspace helps your teams trust each other, work together, and feel motivated. 
Learn more

Why are team dynamics so important?

Positive team dynamics improve productivity and quality of work. That’s because teams that are focused on the same goals, who communicate effectively, and who support each other, are better able to leverage each member's strengths to achieve their targets.

With a smooth flow of information, equal access to resources, and the ability to confidently exchange ideas until the best solution is found, teams with positive dynamics are also more engaged in their work and motivated to share success.  

Without positive team dynamics, though, talented people can feel inhibited. They may lack the confidence to ask for the support they need to succeed in a task, and they can struggle to access essential information and resources—whether that’s files, documents, tools, or knowledge.

Because of this, poor team dynamics lead to poor output. As you might expect, where there are poor dynamics, team members can become unengaged and, consequently, demotivated. In the workplace, this can cause high employee turnover. 

However, since problems with team dynamics are essentially organizational and leadership issues, replacing unmotivated individuals with new hires rarely solves the problem—performance continues to fall below expectations, and employment costs remain high.

This is why it’s so important to take team dynamics seriously, and, where possible, learn lessons from those who’ve done it best.

5 examples of strong team dynamics in the workplace

Here we look at five amazing success stories that wouldn’t have been possible without good group dynamics. In each case, the teams involved achieved amazing results under pressure and against the odds. 

Following these real-life stories, we look at the lessons they teach us, and how they can be used to improve team dynamics in your organization.

The All Blacks rugby team 

With a population of just over five million, New Zealand isn’t the world’s biggest country, but its national rugby union team is the most feared in the sport and one of the most successful athletic teams in history.

A key driver of the All Blacks’ dominance is their incredible teamwork, which has been distilled into 15 principles by author, James Kerr. Among them are ‘create a learning environment’ and ‘embrace expectations.’

By applying these principles, the All Blacks have cultivated a work ethic that prioritizes humility, mutual support, and honesty.

This has allowed them to become the only rugby union team with a winning record against every country they’ve faced, and, as three-time champions with multiple second and third-placed finishes, the best-performing nation in the history of the Rugby World Cup.

The All Blacks perform the Haka
The All Blacks perform the haka, which honors their Māori culture and reinforces their unity as a team. Source

NASA's Apollo 13 Mission: The successful failure

In 1970, when NASA's Apollo 13 was just beginning its lunar mission, the spacecraft experienced a sudden explosion that stunned its three astronauts, panicked mission control, and transfixed the world.

The blast, caused by an oxygen tank fire, threatened to damage the craft’s electrical systems, drinking water reserves, and breathing oxygen supply—while throwing it off course and potentially wiping out its crew.

In one of the great examples of how teams can work together to innovate and problem-solve under pressure, the crew and mission control developed a plan that would safely return the astronauts to Earth. In part, that included avoiding a short circuit situation by having the whole crew wiping condensation away from the instrumentation while Houston powered up and wrote new procedures for the command module,

Ultimately, this collaborative approach averted disaster, saved the lives of all those onboard, and, in all probability, saved the future of the US space program, too.

Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, 1995
The stakes were so high in this example of teamwork, it was put to screen in Ron Howard’s 1995 Oscar-nominated hit. Source

1980 US Men's Olympic Hockey Team: ‘The Miracle on Ice’

The XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid saw one of the greatest upsets in sports history: The unfancied US ice hockey team, made up mainly of college amateurs, somehow went all the way to win gold.

Along the way, they defeated four-time Olympic champions, the Soviet Union, who only weeks earlier had crushed them 10-3 in an exhibition match at Madison Square Gardens. Even Herb Brooks, the US team coach, said at the time, “I’ve got to mix idealism with practicality. Our chances for a gold medal are very slim, if none at all.”

Herb’s leadership and communication skills, combined with his team’s ability to reassess their approach and respond in kind, are all examples of exceptional team dynamics—which is what enabled a young team of inexperienced dreamers to beat the odds and achieve a stunning victory.

Kurt Russel as Herb Brooks in Miracle, 2004
Kurt Russel as charismatic coach, Herb Brooks, in Miracle (2004). Source

Human Genome Project 

The Human Genome Project was a 13-year-long scientific research project that combined the efforts of 20 separate universities and research centers and thousands of researchers from around the world.

Its goal was to identify each of the hundreds of thousands of genes contained within the human genome, which could then be used for research analysis to revolutionize our understanding of genetics and medicine.

It remains the world's largest, most ambitious collaborative biological project; it depended on clear, effective communication and common causes, and it is one of the greatest feats in the history of scientific research and discovery.

Landmarks in genetics and genomics
The HGP depended on fluid communication and resource sharing. Source

Team that caught the Golden State Killer

Trigger warning: You may find some of the following content distressing

One of America’s most notorious serial killers, the Golden State Killer terrorized California in the 1970s and 80s, committed dozens of violent acts, and evaded capture for decades.

Also known as the Original Night Stalker (among other names), Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. threatened neighbors and taunted victims. He also happened to be an ex-police officer.

With the collaboration of multiple law enforcement agencies and the carefully structured team-building of specialists with varied expertise, detectives complemented each other’s talents and pooled together their resources. 

This helped them arrive at an extremely innovative approach to DNA profiling, and DeAngelo was finally brought to justice in 2018.

So, what was the innovative solution that allowed detectives to narrow their search and catch the violent criminal? The dedicated task force sent genetic material to private genetic testing companies, mainly used by customers to learn about their family trees. 

These commercial genealogy services helped create a series of potential matches that eventually led investigators to a close relative of the former Exeter Police Department officer. This in turn led to DeAngelo’s arrest and subsequent trial and conviction.

8 ways to improve team dynamics by applying these lessons 

Now you’ll discover 8 key ways to improve team dynamics in the modern workplace. Along the way, we delve deeper into the lessons that can be drawn from our true stories above, and include insights from a leadership expert.

1. Build strong, shared values

​​Shared values can create a sense of unity and purpose in a team, which encourages engagement and loyalty. Meanwhile, clearly communicating your core values, and ensuring they align with the desired actions and behaviors of your teams, can play a crucial role in good team dynamics.

However, it’s important your organization’s core values remain a work in progress. By continually reviewing, refining, and reinforcing your core values, you can keep them relevant, present in the minds of your employees, and a powerful reference point for their decision-making.

The idea of shared goals is integral to the team cohesion of the All Blacks, who insist that, “The team towers above the individual. You will never succeed on your own, but you will be successful as an individual if the team functions well.”

What’s most important to you? What are your core values? The clearer you can be about that, the easier it is for you to communicate it to the broader audience, internally and externally.
Tarah Keech, founder of Tarah Keech Coaching

2. Establish psychological safety

Google's Project Aristotle found that the most successful teams were the ones where group members felt safe enough to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. 

By fostering an environment where people can express their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or ridicule, team leaders can encourage creativity and problem-solving, and promote better decision-making.

This was a key factor in the success of mission control’s ability to support the Apollo 13 astronauts as they sought a solution to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the Lunar Module.

NASA’s team of scientists was able to improvise a filter that combined plastic bags, reference binders, hoses, and duct tape. They successfully communicated instructions on how to assemble the device to the crew, who, as a result, were able to continue breathing safely.

Sketch of the Apollo 13 improvised carbon dioxide removal device
Mission control’s innovative ideas and ability to problem-solve helped them improvise the device that saved the crew’s lives. Source

3. Create a collaborative and understanding environment

Team effectiveness depends on your ability to cultivate a positive and supportive work environment. This involves leading by example, displaying empathy, and maintaining an open-door policy where team members feel comfortable sharing their concerns and ideas.

This leadership style has two main benefits: Employees feel valued and heard, which leads to a more engaged team and increased loyalty; and you gain insights into what motivates your teams, how to improve their working conditions, and how to make your workplace more attractive to the best talent.

Open communication with your team will help them feel aligned toward common goals. It also empowers your team to be honest with you and share ideas more freely. That’s a highly valued trait in the All Blacks, whose players are encouraged to be direct with coaches in team meetings. This invites more diverse approaches to challenges and means every member of the team feels engaged.

To build a team the most innovative way you can [means] listening to what your team has to say, and making sure you're giving them time—so you can ask those questions and receive those responses, making sure you're putting your values and your priorities first.
Tarah Keech
, founder of Tarah Keech Coaching

4. Build trust and empathy 

When team members trust each other, they're more likely to cooperate and collaborate effectively. You can enhance trust by encouraging transparency, fairness, and consistent communication.

As well as creating the right cultural environment for trust to flourish, you can help it grow among your people by engaging in regular team-building activities, like active listening exercises, problem-solving tasks, and group discussions.

Another key factor in successfully creating trust between team members is how you hire. This is something Herb Brooks understood, as he made a conscious decision to select players based not only on their ability and experience, but on their personalities, desire, and receptiveness to feedback.

Herb Brooks looks on nervously
Herb Brooks recognized team spirit and trust as key components of successful teams. Source

5. Know how to resolve conflicts

Conflict can occur between departments and individuals, and it may also arise between leadership and employees. It’s a fact of every organization, and it’ll happen even more as your teams grow in size and complexity.

While there’s no silver bullet to resolving conflict–the best way to manage it will depend on factors like the personalities involved, the underlying causes, and your core objectives. It’s also important to remember that conflict isn’t inherently negative—it can be a learning opportunity. 

By learning to carefully listen and understand each party’s perspectives, you can present the relevant individuals and groups with a calm and objective sounding board, seek a resolution that’s acceptable to everyone, and use what you’ve learned to improve working conditions in the future.

Nevertheless, a timely show of authority from a strong leader can also be important to managing conflict. 

For example, when two teams involved in the Human Genome Project disagreed about funding and data sharing, it brought about a rivalry that threatened to overshadow a presentation of the project’s success by US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Clinton stepped in: “From this moment forward, the robust and healthy competition that has led us to this day...will be coupled with enhanced public–private cooperation.” The teams’ leaders accepted the enforced truce, and that the sequencing race should be considered a shared victory.

6. Facilitate side-by-side working and spontaneous interactions

Your teams need to work in a place where there are no barriers to sharing knowledge, and where they can easily exchange ideas as they work together to solve problems and create opportunities. This means giving them the right collaboration tools to work with.

So, your workspace needs to support the apps and files individual team members are used to, in dedicated digital rooms that retain exactly what you’ve been working on.

For example, Switchboard’s persistent rooms work with any web-based app, they keep all the files, docs, and apps you add to them, and they make it easy for your teams to communicate and present media.

The team that chased the Golden State Killer struggled to catch him for years. In the end, though, they turned to online platforms to efficiently collect information, share data, and connect insights. This allowed the police to identify a lead that eventually led them to the answer they were looking for.

Switchboard interactive window
Switchboard’s interactive windows make collaboration seamless. Source: Switchboard
Create a positive working environment for your teams. 
Switchboard’s digital workspace helps your teams trust each other, work together, and feel motivated. 
Learn more

7. Value diverse inputs 

Diverse teams bring a wealth of perspectives and ideas, leading to increased innovation and better problem-solving. When members feel valued and included, and their unique perspectives are heard and respected, you can maximize their contributions. 

This translates to improved business performance across a range of KPIs.

For example, a McKinsey report from 2020 showed that gender-diverse and ethnically diverse executive teams were more likely to have above-average profitability. Meanwhile, research by Deloitte found that people who felt included had less absenteeism and better individual performance ratings.

To see further evidence of the value of bringing together diverse perspectives, you need look no further than the Human Genome Project, which relied on the input of research teams from China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Create a community of social accountability, so that each person has a clearly outlined sense of ownership and how they're contributing to the team as part of the bigger vision.
Tarah Keech, founder of Tarah Keech Coaching

8. Implement training and professional development 

Training programs equip team members with the skills they need to work more effectively together. This might include workshops on specific skills, guides on certain tools and processes, or professional development in the form of cross-departmental project work. 

Continuous learning opportunities also show your team members that you value their growth and personal goals. As a result, employees can feel more engaged and motivated to perform well.

Imagine the All Blacks without adequate training—could they have won all those Rugby World Cups without investment in their condition or development of their tactical awareness? Top team performance relies on your team members being properly prepared for the challenges ahead.

Pull off your own success story with improved team dynamics

Improving team dynamics empowers your employees to communicate more effectively, work more cohesively, and drive your organization toward its goals. As such, positive team dynamics play a crucial role in your performance and results. 

Had The Human Genome Project lacked strong leadership at a crucial moment, might the years-long project have been undermined and determined a failure of compromise and teamwork?

Had Apollo 13’s mission control been a clique rather than a welcoming environment for innovative solutions, would commander Jim Lovell, lunar module pilot Fred Haise, and command module pilot Jack Swigert have survived?

Had Herb Brooks not understood the value of building a balanced team of characters, would the US have been able to turn the score around in the third period and hold off the USSR as they committed men forward in the final minutes? 

We all know the answer.

To maximize your chance of success, it’s therefore essential to create the conditions for high-quality teamwork, taking into account key factors, such as:

  • Shared core values
  • Effective team communication
  • Trust and psychological safety
  • Strong and empathetic leadership
  • Patient and decisive conflict management
  • A positive working environment for collaboration

With Switchboard’s digital workspace you can create the conditions your teams need to produce their best work. Switchboard is an interactive, multiplayer platform that helps teams access resources, share ideas, and be creative. Enhance your team dynamics and write your own success story.

Create a positive working environment for your teams. 
Switchboard’s digital workspace helps your teams trust each other, work together, and feel motivated.  
Learn more

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Create a positive working environment for your teams.

Switchboard’s digital workspace helps your teams trust each other, work together, and feel motivated.