Understanding Group Dynamics

Every group has its rules on what it considers acceptable conduct — even in nature. When a member breaks the group’s rules, it is punished, expelled, or worse killed.

The same is true for business!

An organization's written and unwritten rules are based on its values. Organizations will go to extreme measures to protect their values. Share on X

The problem with the business rules for acceptable conduct is that they are not always reflected in writing. Many of the rules are unwritten. Further, these unwritten rules can vary at subgroup levels in your existing organization. Organizational rules are closely tied to what a business values and values are not always stated.

Those unwritten rules (based on underlying values) can be even more important to your managerial career than the written ones. If you’re joining a new group, your dilemma is to figure out the unwritten rules so you do not sabotage your career success. Managers who fail to understand and account for an organization’s rules regarding acceptable group behavior will encounter resistance and ultimately punishment.

Punishment that comes through sanctions for a violator can include many undesirable actions including the following:

  • team member irritation
  • loss of organizational influence
  • exclusion from meetings
  • withholding of information
  • sabotage from offended team members
  • limited promotional opportunities
  • demotion or even termination
Every group has its rules--even in nature. Your organization has rules too — written and unwritten. Share on X

In business, you may find yourself in a new group where you are unfamiliar with the accepted norms of behavior.  This can happen if you start a job in a new organization. It can even happen if you are promoted to a higher level of management in your organization and begin to work with different people. Finally, given the increased emphasis on teamwork in organizations, you might become a new member of an existing cross-functional project team.

The old saying, Look Before You Leap, is wise advice as you work with this new important group.  At the start of your relationship with this new group, it is best to get some sense of the accepted behavioral norms. This will allow you to take the right actions before you do anything that hurts your credibility.

Joining a new organization or work team? Before you do too much too soon and harm your credibility, it's wise to look before you leap. Share on X

To better understand your group’s dynamics,  you can assess its communication practices:

1. How does the leader facilitate the group (communication style)?

2. Who do people look at when they talk, that is, who are they trying to influence?

3. Who competes for influence by consistently communicating after certain individuals?

4. Who participates when decisions are made and whose opinion is sought?

5. Whose comments are quoted by others versus whose comments are passed over?

6. Who is the most knowledgeable?

7. What topics are openly discussed versus what topics are clearly off-limits or avoided?

8. Which team members support each other?

9. How are disagreements handled?

10. Who talks the most versus who listens the most?

The answers to these questions will give you tips for understanding your group’s dynamics. They will allow you to identify the following about your group:

  • climate and operating style (questions 1 – 10)
  • decision making style (questions 1, 2, 4, 7, 9)
  • individual team members roles (questions 2, 4, 6, 9, 10)
  • conflicts and conflict resolution style (questions 3, 5, 7, 8, 9)
  • alliances and sanctioned members (questions 2, 5, 8)
  • influential power brokers (questions 2, 4, 5)
  • subject matter experts (questions 4, 6)
  • communication style (questions 1, 7, 9, 10)
  • sensitive political issues (questions 7, 9)
  • individual team member personality styles (question 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10)

A little observation and listening can go a long way in helping you to establish your credibility with your new group.  Observing how your group leader and group members communicate with each other will give you insights to the norms and informal rules that are often never openly discussed.  It will also help you to learn valuable information that others neglected to tell you.

The next time you need to familiarize yourself with a group’s dynamics take the time to stop, look , and listen for the answer to these 10 questions.

Video: Understanding Group Dynamics

Every group has its rules (written and unwritten) — your organization does too. If you break them, others will find a way to punish you. Share on X
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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