Managing Group Dynamics

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Managing Group Dynamics

James G. Barr

Docid: 00011559

Publication Date: 1908

Report Type: TUTORIAL


While some organizational functions are conducted by individuals, most
are performed by groups. Therefore, organizational success is often
determined by how group members act and interact. Supervisors can influence
group performance and manage group dynamics by balancing the interests and
responsibilities of group members. Strategies for successfully managing
group dynamics include establishing a group culture, setting personal and professional boundaries,
preventing groupthink, and
promoting behavior that emphasizes cooperation rather than
individual accomplishments.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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There is a fundamental
difference between leading and managing.


a Technical Group Tutorial

Basic Communication Skills for Technical Managers

Leadership demands the ability to inspire a
team to reach for excellence, take risks, and call themselves to a higher
standard than they would otherwise do. By contrast, management is concerned
with accomplishing pragmatic, measurable objectives such as schedules, budgets, products,
and service levels. Supervisors responsible for group-based outcomes
necessarily find themselves toggling between these two roles. Perhaps the
most critical skill required for effectively channeling the attention,
intelligence, and passions of human resources is to understand and accept that
sometimes it is necessary to lead, and sometimes it is necessary to manage.
Recognizing when to switch modes is a
key skill for effectively managing group dynamics.

While some organizational functions are conducted by individuals, most are
performed by groups. Therefore, organizational success is often determined by
how group members act and interact. Supervisors can influence group performance,
or manage group dynamics, by balancing the interests and responsibilities of
group members. Strategies for successfully managing group dynamics include
establishing a group culture, setting personal and professional boundaries,
preventing groupthink, and
promoting behavior that emphasizes cooperation rather than
individual accomplishments.

In managing group dynamics, supervisors must:

  • Establish a collegial environment conducive to cooperation.
  • Model the behavior they expect from group members.
  • Verbally
    acknowledge positive work habits and results.
  • Correct
    missteps privately.
  • Make
    efforts to understand generational issues that impact member
  • Hire
    with an eye to cultivating the desired workplace culture.
  • Preserve the dignity of any departing group members, and
    preserve the team’s morale.


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According to analyst Sophie Perryer, the theory of group dynamics "has its
roots in experimental psychology." Wilhelm Wundt is credited with founding
the discipline in 1912, believing that collective phenomena such as language and
cultural customs could not be understood by studying individuals alone.
Elaborated upon by scholars such as sociologist Émile Durkheim and psychologist
William McDougall, the term "group dynamics" was eventually coined by social
psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1947.1

To effectively manage group dynamics an organization must adopt a style of
leadership and management that features the following practices.

Lead When It’s Time to Lead, and Manage When It’s
Time to Manage

There is a difference between leading and managing,
and when success hinges on group-based outcome, it’s imperative that managers
toggle flexibly and gracefully between these roles. Perhaps the most critical
skill required for effectively channeling the attention, intelligence, and
passions of human resources is to understand and accept this basic feature of
the situation. Getting stuck in either role will handicap efforts to create a
smoothly running team.

By definition, managers
are people that someone, sometime, somewhere determined to be both creative
and visionary enough to get things moving – and responsible and practical
enough to make sure things continuously move in the correct direction.
Neither charisma nor stern and earnest guidance will work by themselves. When
it’s time to lead, a great manager will do it by unapologetically asking for
passion, being inspirational, and allowing enthusiasm for an outcome to show.
When it’s time to manage, that same person can be definitive, civil,
absolutely clear about expectations, unapologetically calling people to a
high standard.

Treat Work Culture As a Product

Work culture is a created thing, no less than the tangible fruits of
a team’s efforts. Like the products an enterprise ships or the services it
provides, workplace culture is being built every person-hour of every workday –
which is why one doesn’t want to be building cultural standards that will have
to be unbuilt later.

Unless managers take the
time to clearly articulate and communicate exactly what beliefs and
practices a particular work culture embraces, these values will take shape on
their own, reflecting the bias of the most strong willed team members. Making
cultural expectations known is a matter of consistent communication about
professionalism and appropriateness.

  • Create
    an environment of collegiality that cuts across pay grades and seniority

    – Employees should mentor one
    another willingly and proactively. Newer employees should understand and
    respect the intellectual and technical attainments of the company’s
    long time workers, and the seasoned employees should value and stimulate the growth of
    less knowledgeable and experienced teammates.
  • Civility
    as a matter of course
    – Even under deadline pressure and in the face of the
    inevitable challenges inherent in a technological work setting, team
    members are expected to display self possession in interactions with
    customers, management, and one another.

Set a Standard

No manager can legitimately ask
or expect better behavior of employees than that which people in more
responsible positions display. It is a straightforward matter of walking the
talk. Integrity has to come from the top down.

Do Not Confuse Collegiality with Personal Friendship

Managers have power over assignments, compensation,
and perks. Appearance of management partiality toward specific individuals
under their direct supervision can do more to poison the work environment
than almost any other misstep. Personal friendships between managers and
people who report to them aren’t things to act out at work. Talk about last
summer’s kayak trip or next weekend’s plans are best avoided, or handled very
discreetly. And if a manager’s pal messes up, both parties to the situation
must be prepared for application of appropriate discipline.

On the flip side, almost
everyone has had some experience working with people whose personal beliefs
or behaviors are anathema. In this circumstance, here’s the all important
question: So what? The thing everyone has in common at work is work. If a co-worker is intelligent and qualified, professionalism requires
appreciation and respect for skills and abilities. No workplace culture can
meet its potential or function effectively and productively if co-workers
devalue individual professional contributions for purely personal reasons. Be
firm and clear: zero tolerance for bickering among team members.

Understand the
Difference Between Competition and Collaboration

Much of the success of a
workplace culture relies on a healthy tension between collaboration and
competition. Conversely, much of the disruption in a dysfunctional one arises
from a skewed balance between these things. An effective way to promote
serenity in the workplace is to be very clear and definite about when a thing
is competitive, and put a taboo on competitive language, behavior and petty antagonisms
for everything else. Designate
Ability to collaborate on outcomes

as a performance metric and make it stick.

Build on Success

When a team is humming along like
a well oiled machine, managers should highlight it, even if
it is only an hour long design review. Creating a shared history of
collaborative successes allows managers to use these experiences as templates
for group behavior. It also allows them to better communicate expectations, by
referring to shared successes when planning and assigning new projects. For
example: I
want this unit testing cycle to run exactly the way the one did where Raj
created the data batch files, Joe ran and monitored the test code, and
Sue did the statistical analysis.

Over time, developing an
inventory of successful templates for functional interaction greatly reduces
the effort required to manage, eliminates potential for friction in group
interactions, and tacitly grooms team members to become self directed.

Praise Publicly, Discipline Privately

A manager’s task really comes down to one thing: Get results.
Given this, remember that praise is a form of compensation, just like salary,
health insurance or paid vacation. Its worth increases in direct proportion
to the size of the audience. How and to whom praise is awarded is a key tool
in shaping the way employees see one another and in creating their
understanding of what qualities management values. Intelligent and judicious
use of public praise provides employees with peer role models.

By contrast, discipline that gets results must be handled privately. Remember, the object is to change behavior, and humiliating a person is only likely to cause resentment and
resistance. When disciplining an employee for being disruptive or
distracting, it is especially important to be discreet. People who seek
attention through negative behaviors are rewarded by public confrontation.

Create a High-Functioning Group Through Competition
and Collaboration

There are at least two distinct ways to create a
high-functioning group:

  • Emphasize
    competition over collaboration, where strong interpersonal team bonds
    allow the group to confront challenges, identify goals, and take on very
    personal role commitments.
  • Emphasize
    collaboration over competition, where individual identities and roles
    are less important than group effort, and shared risk taking makes skills
    growth and development an important common value.

Picking one of these
styles of group management and applying the model consistently will probably
yield rational, predictable team interactions. Assess management’s personal
qualities, assess team skills and temperaments, and then go with one model or
the other. They do not mix.

Beware of Group Think

Group member interactions can produce curious –
and sometimes conflicting – behaviors. As analysts Paul Rogers and Todd Senturia

Conformity can result. Many people
go along with the group regardless of what they themselves might think as
individuals. In business, the tendency to conform often persuades
dissenters to shut up rather than speak out.

In contrast, Group Polarization may occur. While one
might expect a group dynamic to moderate individual points of view, the opposite often occurs: deliberation can intensify people’s attitudes, leading to more extreme

Since neither condition – conformity or group
polarization – produces optimum results, a group supervisor should be aware when
either factor is potentially in play.

Watch Out for Blockers and Freeriders

As analyst Sophie Perryer warns:

  • Blockers are "team members [who] interrupt communication and [the]
    free exchange of information within a group.
  • Freeriders are "the group members who take it easy and get away with
    as little contribution as possible to the overall project."3

Address Issues Early On

Ashira Prossack, a millennial and Gen Z engagement expert who writes about
leadership trends for Forbes, advises that, “It’s important to address as many of the issues that arise together as a
team, rather than singling people out. This will reinforce the fact that the
team functions as a unit and working together as one is a priority."4

Avoid The Abilene Paradox

As team building facilitator Anne Thornley-Brown
explains, The Abilene
Paradox represents unspoken agreement. A course of action is suggested. Although group members don’t think it’s a good idea, no one expresses it. The group proceeds without buy-in and the results are sub-par.

sometimes fall into the Abilene Paradox when they are attempting to make a
decision or generate ideas. No one wants to "rock the boat" and generate
conflict by expressing concerns so the fact that everyone or almost everyone
opposes the idea never surfaces.

One way to avoid the Abilene Paradox, or the appearance of group consensus,
is to slow down the decision making process.5

Workforce Reductions

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In uncertain economic times, group dynamics can be adversely affected
by sudden and unplanned (from the group perspective) workforce reductions. While
they didn’t contribute to the dilemma, group leaders and managers are
nonetheless responsible for mitigating the damage.


Losing staff due to layoffs often results in a
team that is less than fully equipped to meet its responsibilities. If job cuts are based on a
last hired/first fired model, an organization can face the perverse circumstances of
losing the very people with the most current skill sets. If merit based
retention is used to determine who stays, people can become very wary of
taking any sort of risks or participating in innovations. In any case, after
a round of layoffs, take the time to review what is already known about the
remaining employees’ skills and knowledge. Interview them to find out what
tasks they are willing or enthusiastic about picking up. If you clearly lack
expertise in a critical area, develop a plan to nurture or incubate it, using
those remaining staff members who have the greatest aptitude or most relevant

No matter how well
functioning and effective a team was before a round of layoffs, afterwards
there will be remediation necessary. It is very difficult to maintain
productivity, collegiality and quality of service when a team is demoralized
and pessimistic. In such circumstances, about the best tool available is
straight talk. If you know there are additional layoffs coming, let people
know so that they have a chance to factor possible job loss into their plans.
If you don’t know, be clear about that too.

Furloughs and Pay Reductions

Many private and public sector employers use mandatory furloughs and pay
reductions of up to 20 percent to avoid layoffs. While this is probably the
wisest and most humane course for the enterprise or agency, it can have real
human costs. Line managers are the people who will most feel the stresses this
creates in the rank and file workforce.

as aware as possible of the effects of pay cuts and unpaid leave days on
individual employees is critical to maintaining a positive work
environment. Underwater home mortgages, an unemployed spouse, or heavy
burdens of college loan debt can create tensions that make people less
productive and more prone to fears about their job security. Here are
some do’s and don’t’s:

  • Do
    find out about people on staff who would like to work less hours, because they
    can provide flexibility when making budget cuts. Even in difficult
    times, those with a spouse that is already retired, small children at home, or
    elderly parents that need extra attention may be happy to accept reduced
  • Do
    put written notes about positive contributions in personnel files. It documents
    good performance in difficult times and makes it easier for
    employees to look for work if
    that becomes necessary.
  • Do
    keep a positive attitude and remain upbeat. Without giving
    false assurances, you can still focus on the opportunity of the moment and
    take pride in your job.
  • Don’t
    create unnecessary pressures and tensions by publicly reprimanding staff. This
    will have a negative influence even among high functioning team members.
  • Don’t
    assume you know everything about people’s away-from-work circumstances. People often feel
    ashamed and defensive about unemployment of a spouse, a child who has moved
    back home due to un- or under-employment, or being trapped by an underwater


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success of a team is down to each individual member, not one person that
simply carries everyone else through. That means that every person needs to be
invested in the success of the team, and must contribute to team projects in a
relevant and useful way."

– Sophie Perryer6

Set Workplace Culture Expectations In the Hiring Process

The hiring process is typically driven by technical skills,
but when introducing a new person into a team, this is not the only
consideration. Include a description of group culture in solicitations.
Explain carefully and fully what the team expects a new hire to become
part of. In the interview process, explore these issues as carefully
as technical background. When the field narrows down to a couple of
candidates, let team members interview them as a group – after all, that is
the setting in which everyone must function. If there is time, go for a walk
with the candidate. Outside the four walls, people typically let down their
guard, drop their rehearsed behaviors and provide a real preview of what it
is like to engage with them.

Articulate Policy

Being specific, definite, and
open about standards of workplace behavior before problems occur will
help resolve issues quickly and give employees accurate information about
where the boundaries are. Be fair, even-handed, and consistent. Give private
warnings the first time an employee violates codes. Do not personalize
transgressions: Correct objectionable
behavior, and ask for improved
Follow up with praise if you get it.

Establish an Information Infrastructure That Promotes
Collaboration According to Enterprise-Endorsed Standards

Specifically, consider deploying collaboration software that employees – and
non-employees – can use to share ideas, find people and expertise, and
locate business information – all in accordance with enterprise

Manage Meetings

The most important – and the most challenging
– venue for managing group dynamics is the meeting room. According to
officials at the Kingbridge Conference Centre & Institute in Ontario
Canada, meeting planners can practice a variety of strategies (see Table 1) designed

  • Produce the desired group behaviors; and
  • Achieve the desired meeting results.
Table 1. Some
Strategies for Managing Group Dynamics During Meetings

Before the

Nurture personal connections and inclusiveness

Send personalized invitations.

Ask each participant to share their questions and
special expertise with the group. 

Ensure diversity in the group

Convene the people who have the most to contribute
despite differing opinions and personalities.

Begin the dialogue in advance

Foster advanced discussion between the attendees.

Profile the group through a survey.

Identify in advance any points of
resistance or controversy and those who would be most likely
to cause it

Take these individuals aside prior to the meeting
and address their concerns, allow them to be heard and then
ask that when they voice their opinions during the session
that they do it in a manner conducive to promoting
discussion rather than inhibiting it.

During the Meeting

Connect the attendees and mitigate any Impediments

Prepare discussion guidelines to mitigate potential
floor hogs and pontificators.

Choose a process that allows for independent thought
versus Group Think.

Source: Kingbridge Conference Centre & Institute7

Manage Consultants

Although group dynamics is normally discussed
within the context of creating and cultivating an effective work environment for
full-time employees and the enterprise they serve, management should reserve
some consideration for those individuals who may labor as temporary team
members, namely consultants.

While consultants often function as lone wolves, only interacting with
those individuals who hired them, consultants may also be asked to integrate –
however briefly – into an enterprise workgroup and, thus, exert an influence on
workgroup dynamics.

As a result, hiring managers should instruct incoming consultants on the
enterprise work culture, and enlist their support in maintaining enterprise work
standards. This should be a relatively straightforward task since consultants
are highly adaptable, often changing employers every three to six months.
Consultants might even be asked, as part of their engagement agreement, to
exemplify certain preferred behaviors, such as freely contributing new ideas in
various team settings. In this way, consultants can not only be leveraged to
support an enterprise’s group dynamics, but to model – by
their example – those behaviors favored by enterprise management.

Think Global When Managing Global Groups

Multi-national organizations often form extended groups
consisting of employees from multiple countries. While the same basic
strategies apply in terms of managing group dynamics, managers must be cognizant
of two special factors:

  • Culture – Local culture can affect how employees interact, are
    disciplined, even encouraged. Wherever possible, local managers should
    be involved in monitoring and managing overseas group members. Beyond
    that, it may be possible for managers from multiple jurisdictions to fashion
    and promulgate a hybrid culture, one which encompasses the
    traditions and sensibilities of all nationalities represented by the group.
    This can have a bonding influence among group members since no specific
    cultural norms are dominant, and the feelings of all members are respected.
  • Connectedness – Geographically-dispersed groups need to function
    as if location were not an issue. To maintain a sense of connectedness
    among all group members, managers should leverage new group technologies
    like telepresence to create an atmosphere in which distance does not divide
    a group.


Sophie Perryer. "The Essential Group Dynamics Checklist." Perkbox.

2 Paul Rogers and Todd Senturia. "How Group Dynamics Affect Decisions." Bain & Company. December 3, 2013.

Sophie Perryer. "The Essential Group Dynamics Checklist." Perkbox.

4 "Understanding the Importance of Team Dynamics." University of Notre Dame,
Mendoza College of Business. July 18, 2019.

5 Anne Thornley-Brown.
"Meetings 411: Two Models for Understanding Group Dynamics."
Cvent. May 11, 2015.

Sophie Perryer. "The Essential Group Dynamics Checklist." Perkbox.

7 "Some Strategies for Managing Group Dynamics." Kingbridge
Conference Centre & Institute.

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About the Author

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James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst and

business writer with more than 30 years’ IT experience. A member of

"Who’s Who in Finance and Industry," Mr. Barr has designed,

developed, and deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune

500 firms. He is the author of several books, including How to

Succeed in Business BY Really Trying, a member of Faulkner’s Advisory

Panel, and a senior editor for Faulkner’s Security Management

Practices. Mr. Barr can be reached via e-mail at

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