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Healthy team dynamics

What do healthy and unhealthy team dynamics look like? How can leaders start to create the conditions to encourage healthy team dynamics?

One of the most vital contributions any manager or leader can make to the health and wellbeing of their colleagues, is to create a healthy team dynamic and culture. In this step we are going to consider how you can go about this.

A healthy team dynamic is both protective and actually creates health and wellbeing among colleagues, moving the burden of ‘resilience’ away from individuals to the collective. It is resilience as a social capability. But what constitutes a healthy team dynamic? In the video above, guest educators, Grace, Ruth and Neil, reflect on their experiences of different teams and offer their thoughts on what is important for any team manager/leader to prioritise. Watch the video and then read on.

Creating a healthier team dynamic

Moving towards a healthier team dynamic requires managers and leaders to understand what is really going on when the team comes together to get work done. The next diagram is a simple illustration of this, and what to pay attention to. The shape of the iceberg reflects the relative influence of each of the three layers shown on both the outcome of the work and the team dynamic producing it.

Please note the content of the diagram used in this step will be available to download in a more accessible format at the bottom of this page.

At the bottom of the iceberg is the group process. This the most influential factor on how the team works and relates to one another (the team dynamic). It is shown ‘below the waterline’ in the diagram because a team’s process is all the messy, unspoken, unacknowledged and implicit stuff that really determines what happens. You can check on the relative health of your own team dynamic using this simple Padlet exercise we have created.

The most effective and healthy teams actively attend to their process. That is, they make it a priority to reflect on how they are working together. This means noticing things like how power, rank and assumptions are showing up, who is speaking and who is not, and the presence or absence of feelings in the conversation.

In busy operational contexts how many teams can really say they do the same? Time spent together is usually taken up by information sharing and running through packed agendas before getting back to the real work. But you can make a start by spending time (even as little as 10 minutes) at the end of each team meeting exploring the question ‘What did we notice about how we worked together today?’ Making room day to day to do work on your team, as well as work in your team, is a practice that will, over time, build psychological safety and a culture of care.

Creating a team contract

Going further, one of the most underused management and leadership interventions in teams is contracting together. Contracting here is not a legal agreement, but a social and emotional one that makes explicit how you want to be with one another and work together. Spending time co-creating a bespoke ‘contract’ can be a powerful investment in your team’s dynamic, performance and health.

Please note the content of the diagram used in this step will be available to download in a more accessible format at the bottom of this page.

Contracting is about surfacing what you want and need from one another to flourish individually and collectively, setting expectations, and creating accountability for these together. When things are tricky in your team, a group agreement also provides a reference point for a conversation about what might be happening and how to go about resolving any issues. It supports a team culture that is preventive and able to deal with problems and conflict effectively.

Now it’s time to have a go! Use the questions below to engage your team and facilitate a group contracting conversation. Let us know how it went in the discussion below.

  • What is the culture, atmosphere, attitude we want to create as a team?
  • What would help you to thrive in this team?
  • How will we be with each other when it gets difficult?
  • What can we count on from each other?
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Leading Well for Staff Health and Wellbeing in the NHS

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