The saying “no man is an island” becomes especially true on a project. Working on a project usually means working within a team. Whenever two or more people are put together, the potential for issues and conflict cannot be ignored. The dynamics of a team are difficult to predict and are shaped by team members’ similarities and differences. Understanding and working with group dynamics is key to ensuring positive project results.

Managers must look beyond the ‘raw’ skills of employees for personal qualities such as control, confidence and conscientiousness, as well as the capacity to interact effectively with others in groups. Excellent technical skills and intuition may be insufficient to drive performance if not accompanied by appropriate levels of interpersonal interaction within project groups.

In a group with poor group dynamics, people’s behaviour disrupts work. As a result, the group may not come to any decision, or it may make the wrong choice, because group members could not explore options effectively.

What causes poor group dynamics?

Group leaders and team members can contribute to a negative group dynamic. Let’s look at some of the most common problems that can occur:

Weak leadership: when a team lacks a strong leader, a more dominant member of the group can often take charge. This can lead to a lack of direction, infighting, or a focus on the wrong priorities.

Excessive deference to authority: this can happen when people want to be seen to agree with a leader, and therefore hold back from expressing their own opinions.

Blocking: this happens when team members behave in a way that disrupts the flow of information in the group. People can adopt blocking roles such as:
•The aggressor: this person often disagrees with others, or is inappropriately outspoken.
•The negator: this group member is often critical of others’ ideas.
•The withdrawer: this person doesn’t participate in the discussion.
•The recognition seeker: this group member is boastful, or dominates the session.
•The joker: this person introduces humour at inappropriate times.

Groupthink : this happens when people place a desire for consensus above their desire to reach the right decision. This prevents people from fully exploring alternative solutions.

Free riding: here, some group members take it easy, and leave their colleagues to do all the work. Free riders may work hard on their own, but limit their contributions in group situations; this is known as “social loafing.”

Evaluation apprehension: team members’ perceptions can also create a negative group dynamic. Evaluation apprehension happens when people feel that they are being judged excessively harshly by other group members, and they hold back their opinions as a result.

Personalities that make a well-rounded project team

Establishing an effective team involves defining a clear purpose, goals, dependencies and accountability. When teams function cohesively, they aren’t distracted by petty arguments and things that don’t actually matter to the bottom line. So let’s examine the personalities that make up a well-rounded project team:

The leader: This person is responsible for mediating conflicts, facilitating communications between team members, and keeping everyone on course. The leader will schedule and guide the course of meetings, but that doesn’t mean being the only speaker, or leading all the meetings. A good leader knows how to delegate and let go of the reins. You can recognise leadership qualities in people who have strong communications skills, a clear and expansive vision of the project’s end-result, and the ability to motivate others.

The team player: Team players are identified by their enthusiasm to work together for a common good. They’re usually eager to help, willing to compromise and diplomatic. They might not be the biggest initiators in the world, but you can rely on team players to follow-through on tasks and to willingly settle conflicts with their calming demeanour.

The researcher: They are always asking questions and then finding their own answers. If you need more information to complete your project, it’s important to have a strong researcher who can get it for you. Researchers ask the overlooked questions that can avert a future impediment.

The expert: Most projects, especially in technology, need a subject matter expert. This is the person that possesses intimate knowledge in a field that your project encompasses. Depending on the end goal, you might want to sign up some designated experts to contribute to the project.

The planner: Planners are naturally self-motivated. They’re also driven to organise processes and give order to the world around them. If you have a natural planner on your team, trust that their skills will deliver your project in the estimated period of time. They’re punctual, able to see the curve in the road (and incoming curve balls) and often have strategies for improving a process or increasing team efficiency.

The creative: Creative types have a tendency to get caught up in their world of imagination, problem solving, and conceptualising. They might not always be the clearest communicators, diplomats or deadline-makers, but pair them with a savvy planner and you could almost spin gold! Every team benefits from a creative thinker in the group – someone who can deliver fresh ideas and solutions that let the team’s work stand out from the crowd.

The communicator: These are individuals who are naturally inclined to reach out to others and share information with the entire team. Communicators are also good at persuading just about anyone to jump on board and give the team the help it needs. Your communicator might be the person with the longest list of contacts, and knows someone for just about anything you need.

Teams aren’t perfect universes, and we don’t always get to work in a group that has one of every one of these personality types. But recognising people’s strengths (either on your existing team or while interviewing potential candidates) is a worthwhile first step in creating a well-rounded team.

Over three days, Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s Leadership Side of Project Management programme will cover the key skills required for successfully managing projects. It is highly interactive in style and aimed at providing delegates with practical skills and tips to deploy back in the work place on real projects.

You might be interested in their upcoming 3-day course scheduled for 24 – 26 November 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email

Author's Bio: 

Independant marketing and communications consultant