The invisible forces that shape the behaviour of your organisation

group dynamics

You’re probably sitting comfortably in your office at the moment, surrounded by busy colleagues and tasked with a thousand things to complete before you head out of the office for the day – but can you remember your first day in the role?

For most of us, it was a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Excitement with the opportunity that lay ahead, the endless possibilities and the journey into the unknown. Nervousness with your new surroundings, new ways of doing things and new people. Would you fit in, would your new colleagues like you and would this be the role where you could finally spread your wings and show your true potential?

These are common thoughts… in fact they’re more common than you might think. Journey all the way back to the late 1950’s and you’ll find a leading American psychologist called William Shutz who developed a theory around just this. He suggested that within a group, each individual has three core needs that they want the group to meet:

  • The need for inclusion – The key question for each member is where and how do I fit into this team?
  • The need for control – The key question here is how much influence can I exercise in this group and how much personal autonomy do I have to give up to be part of this group?
  • The need for affection/openness. Whereas ‘Inclusion’ is about the decision to belong or not, the ‘affection’ phase is about building emotional ties and deciding on the degree of closeness within the team. This is referred to as ‘intimacy’ or ‘norming’ in other models

So when you joined your new team, it’s highly likely that your nervousness was based around these three core needs. More than that, your behaviour within the group – even now is unconsciously motivated by your desire to meet these needs. But perhaps more interesting still, is that your entrance into the group will have caused the group dynamics to change as people’s own needs adjusted to the new person.

There’s no need to feel bad though. The reality is, that when a group is viewed as a whole – it is always in a state of flux. As well as the personnel changes that occur within a group, our individual needs change over time… different things become important, work can take a more front facing or background role in our lives and our values might also change as we experience more of what life has to offer us. All of these will have an impact on the dynamics of a group and the larger the group, the more complex the dynamics become.

What’s important as leaders, is to be aware that we can influence the way a team or group behaves, if we recognise the needs that motivate individuals. In doing this, we’re able to lessen the energy and the time that individuals devote to negative thoughts and conflict situations and the result of this is a happy and high performing team, department and even organisation.

My name is Patrick Moulsdale. I am a (group) conflict management expert and professional mediator with over 15 years’ experience. If you are experiencing the effects of conflict within your organisation, contact me today through the contacts page on my website.