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  • Writer's pictureThriving Teams Institute

Managing Team Dynamics: How Do You Develop Leaders to Lead High Performing Teams?

At Thriving Teams Institute, we are committed to shaping the team experience by helping our clients develop high performing teams that can do, feel, and be well. As organizations become increasingly dependent on teams to remain profitable and sustainable during the ever-changing business contexts they face, the ability to thrive in any context becomes necessary for employees and teams to succeed. So, when someone asks us, “How Do You Develop Leaders to Lead High Performing Teams?” our response is high performance is an outcome, and developing and managing team dynamics that help teams thrive is how you get there.

Team working together with puzzle
Teams Learning and Performing

One of the essential pillars of organizational success lies in the strength of the dynamics of it's teams. If you think about it, every major decision, every innovation, and each milestone achieved is often the cumulative result of a group of individuals working cohesively towards a common goal, which is why understanding and fostering positive team dynamics is of utmost importance.

Teams and organizations are systems and the ripple effect of team dynamics can be felt at every level of an organization. When teams are thriving, they act as rocket engines driving our business forward. They innovate, adapt, and overcome challenges at a rate surpassing that of teams operating in a merely compliant or fear-based culture. Investing in understanding and promoting positive team dynamics is equivalent to investing in the engine that powers our organizational success.

This post explores the mechanics of building a high-performing team in today's context. It highlights the importance of focusing on 'thriving' as a metric, emphasizing the holistic approach to team performance. It's not just about hitting targets and achieving tangible outcomes; it's about creating an environment where each member feels connected, empowered, and geared towards continuous learning and adaptation.

Why focus on Thriving?

First, we should revisit how we define a thriving team. A thriving team is a securely and socially connected team energized by the state of becoming as the team members learn, push, and gain momentum toward the vision they are pursuing. The collective will always be more than the sum of its parts – so with thriving, the thriving team will be more than the sum of individuals thriving at work. When teams thrive in the organization, the team dynamics become a powerful force in helping it reach its full potential.

Thriving is a complex concept, but as teams and organizations face increasing complexity, it takes complexity to fight complexity, not simple solutions. Thriving has two main components: team learning and energy from human connection that works together in a synergistic fashion to make the whole team greater than the sum of its parts. A thriving team culture based on a foundation of team learning and connection makes the team a competitive advantage for your organization.

Learning cultures perform better than others, such as rigid and unchangeable team cultures based purely on compliance, performance, and accountability. Even though there might be a better way, no experimentation is allowed, and employees generally do the minimum to comply with rules, regulations, and directives. In these types of cultures when people or teams don’t perform, they threaten employees with termination and put them on a performance improvement program. Performance improvement through fear-based measures doesn’t work because it prevents employees from being curious and learning.

In teams with dynamics that support learning cultures, innovation is allowed. They see mistakes and failures as opportunities and reframe them as team learning problems. When team members aren’t performing, leaders and fellow team members lean in, help them learn, and get better, not threaten them. If the employee leaves, it is because they opted out, not because of a failure to comply.

How are Leaders Developed to Lead Thriving Teams?

In today's operating environment, it is no longer possible for just the team leader to navigate complexity; it takes a team leadership approach, and commitment must exist at the team and executive leadership level. In organizations, leadership, training, and other learning and development programs often focus on development for the “perfect” conditions. But development for the “imperfect” conditions allows teams to embrace the state of becoming as they learn, push, and gain momentum toward the vision they are trying to make a reality. Continuously developing the team to thrive across the spectrum of stable/predictable contexts and uncertain/ambiguous contexts is critical to the team being ready, adaptable, and innovative in all conditions.

The classical leadership models used in most leadership development programs from our industrial past are top-down, bureaucratic examples and are not suited to keep organizations competitive in today’s knowledge economy. To be competitive today and also future-ready, organizations must embrace leadership models that enable the emergence of learning, creativity, innovation, and adaptive capacity.

How Do You Build Thriving Teams?

Thriving Teams are an intentional choice by managers and senior leaders that requires an investment in the development of an organizations teams, not just individual team leader development.

One of the authors, Jonathan, was in the U.S. Army. Imagine if the military only invested in the leader’s development without collectively developing the team to be ready for the “imperfect” conditions they might face. Seem like a bad leadership development strategy? It is probably not the best choice for your organization to invest only in leader development or only develop for the perfect conditions.

A Thriving Team requires the power of all team members to do their best work and be confident that the team around them is ready to navigate any curveball thrown their way. Thriving Teams must know they can rely on the people around them even when the experience is uncertain. Thriving Teams have dynamics that cause team members to feel more secure as a team than as individuals.

Another choice most organizations make is to put together a group of high performers and give them a goal. This assumption that putting a group of high performers together around a collective goal is the magic fast pass to a high-performing team causes many organizations to lose money, destroy their intended culture, and often lose those high performers to other organizations. Would a sports team of high performers go right into the championship game without development, no practicing together, and no less-stakes games? Again, it is a bad strategy, unless it is something meant to be fun like the All-Star game in baseball. There are better choices for your organization than only investing in hiring or developing high performers out of the context of the team.

A Thriving Team requires intentional development as a team to learn together and create breakthroughs together. A Thriving Team must practice as a team, perform as a team, learn and gain energy from those practices and performances, and develop for the next performance.

Thriving Teams® learn together. Learning together as a team will develop the muscle to notice the signals in the environment lead to:

  • making more effective decisions during ambiguity and uncertainty

  • improving the relationships on the team

  • uncovering blind spots limiting performance

How Does Choosing to Develop Thriving Teams Support Business Growth Strategies?

When your business strategy values team development with equal if not greater importance than leadership development, you will begin to see the transformation at the team level. An organization’s profitability, employee retention and turnover, the team’s performance, and an individual’s employee experience are all impacted by the interactions happening at the team level. Yet, we find very few of our clients think about the team as a system worth developing. Small changes in the choices you make can significantly impact the team-level interactions, which will affect the organization and the individual.

Want to develop Thriving Teams for your organization?

To learn more about how we can help your teams thrive in your workplace connect with us here.

You can learn more about our team development courses here.


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