4 Factors That Can Poison Your Group Dynamic

A group mindset is a powerful thing. One person's feelings can change the whole dynamic. Keep your team productive by watching for these 4 warning signs.
July 22, 2013

Why are some brainstorming sessions extremely productive while others fall flat?

Nicole Lipkin, a clinical psychologist, says in her book What Keeps Leaders Up At Night that it all comes down to group conformity. When leaders are able to maintain a healthy, supportive culture within their organization, it will lead to amazing results. On the other hand, once this healthy group dynamic becomes unproductive, it can be difficult to get the team back on track. 

This is why leaders need to be aware of the factors that greatly influence how their teams work.

"Leaders who see a good team going bad must intervene immediately," Lipkin writes. Unfortunately, "quite often a leader can't see it happening because he or she has also conformed to the group." 

Below, Lipkin explains the four factors that affect group conformity. 

1. Competition Gets Too Serious

Competition is typically healthy among co-workers and may stimulate a healthy work environment. However, too much competition may create different alliances among people in the organization and lead to a toxic workplace.

Lipkin calls this the "us versus them mentality," which is caused when people feel so alienated from other team members that they no longer feel they are a part of their team—despite working in the same company. Competition may occur naturally if the organization is divided into teams or departments because people typically try to "enhance the status of the group to which they belong." However, this divided way of thinking should never become so extreme that the individuals in the different groups no longer feel like they are working toward the same goal.

At this point, leaders should disrupt the competition by rearranging the groups and switching a few people from one group to another. They can also come up with a project that requires everyone to work together to promote "inter-group cooperation."

2. Loyalty is Extreme to a Specific Group

Managers should be aware of "extreme group conformity" since it runs the risk of stifling "creativity, innovation, critical thinking, decision making and problem solving," Lipkin writes.

This happens when people feel so loyal to a specific group in the organization that they will turn a blind eye to any wrongdoing for fear of disapproval.

Lipkin says that leaders can prevent extreme group conformity by establishing a "rule of alternatives," which would allow numerous people to get involved when making decisions or embarking on a task. This way, employees won't feel like they have to conform or risk disapproval from others.

3. Personal Effort Isn't Recognized

Lipkin says that when personal efforts aren't recognized, it will likely result in "social loafing," a term used to describe the reduced effort individuals will put into a task when working with a group. This typically happens because the individual doesn't believe his or her own effort will be recognized or will make much of a difference to the end result.

How can leaders fix this? Lipkin says it all comes down to making employees feel like they own part of the company.

"If you believe all your hard work will result in a valued outcome (bonus, recognition, or pride) to you and the group, you will do all you can to achieve your goal," she writes. "If, on the other hand, you think your work will only add to one-sixth of a desired result, go unnoticed, or contribute to a seemingly senseless group goal, you will not work so hard and may be on your way to being a social loafer."

4. Having a Bad Attitude

"In the workplace, people's moods tremendously impact decision making, problem solving, attention/focus, interpersonal interactions, performance, productivity, and the whole organizational culture," Lipkin says.

Leaders need to be extra cautious of their own emotions because it has the potential of bringing down the entire team. 

How can leaders instill and maintain the right mood in their organization? Lipkin says to watch how your own mood and nonverbal behavior affects others around you. You should also carefully read over every email, instant message or text you send to a colleague or business associate to make sure you're not inadvertently projecting your emotions onto someone else.

Lipkin says that there are "positive and negative effects of the emotional dance that takes place in every group." 

Read more articles on company culture.

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