When an organisation is small, the concept of ‘team’ is quite simple.

There may only be one team, and a small one at that. This brings its own challenges, but co-ordination between teams isn’t one of them!

However, as an organisation grows beyond one team, we are no longer just talking team development and dynamics. These are still important for any single team, but the more teams we have, the more we move into the realm of something bigger and far more complex. 

Dynamics between teams

How those teams function together, and apart, is a whole additional consideration. Are they coordinated? Do they complement each other? Are they aligned?

What happens when you don’t just have dis-coordination (not sure if that is a word but I am having it!) within a team, but between teams?

One of the trickiest parts in such a situation is that things are never as they seem. 

I worked with a client on just this very issue – a lack of understanding and poor dynamics between two teams. 

Here is their story.

Team 1 we will call the Data-Crunchers. The team that keeps the home fires burning. The one that deals with the nitty gritty of research, evidence and detail. Often unseen. 

Team 2 are the Client Connectors. The ‘hands-on’ ‘big picture’ kind of team, client facing and far more visible. 

Team 1 consisted of 20 or so people and was about 1/2 the size of Team 2. 

The problems were several fold:

  1. Both teams had grown during lockdown. Many people within each team had never really met each other. Neither team was particularly cohesive and didn’t have strong relationships within the teams, never mind between them.

  2. The Data-Crunchers (Team 1) were feeling underappreciated as they never saw the impact of the data they provided for Team 2. Team 2, the Client-Connectors, didn’t provide the Data-Crunchers with any feedback because they didn’t know it was needed.

  3. Team 2 wasn’t getting what it needed from Team 1, in part due to this lack of feedback. The people in Team 1 kept doing the same things they always had done because no-one had flagged up that anything needed to be different. They didn’t know that as Team 2 grew, and times changed, different datasets were needed.

    Team 1 wasn’t well tuned in to what Team 2 needed and due to the frustrations felt by Team 1 (see point 2) there was no inclination to find out what Team 2 might need. Team 1, the Data-Crunchers, had stopped caring about Team 2, the Client-Connectors.

  4. Team 2 relied heavily on the data Team 1 provided. When this became less fit for purpose, their work started going wrong: timescales slipped and they were under-resourced.

  5. This led to Team 2 feeling frustrated with Team 1. Team 2 stopped bothering to be clear about their requirements as they felt they weren’t being listened to anyway. 

  6. All this against a backdrop of each team not really understanding what the other team actually did and how it functioned in the first place! As time went on and things shifted and changed, sometimes quite subtly, it became almost impossible to see what the issues were and to see how to break those natural yet unhelpful patterns of behaviour. 

There had been countless attempts, with various communications to try to and sort out the dis-function between the two teams.

Unfortunately very little progress had been made. Two growing teams, with members that were here, there and everywhere, was not an easy place to start. The Team leaders were naturally focused on their own teams – making sure all was well with their people.They weren’t looking outside to the other team.

Nobody had considered that the main challenges for Team 1 were around its connections with Team 2, and visa versa. 

The result was two teams who were supposed to be working to support each other, in virtual combat with each other. 

Team conflict

Photo by Resume Genius on Unsplash

They needed help to figure out what was going on, see where the issues were coming from and to decide what to do about it. 

That’s where outside facilitation was needed. Someone without history with the teams and without a vested interest in who was right or how things had started. We were very glad to help provide the support required.

While the situation looked, and sounded complicated, the simplest answer is often the right one. Sometimes you just need to get people together to have a conversation. And that’s what we did.

The starting point for this work was to meet with the team leaders. We also implemented a staff survey to see what was going on with the dynamics between the team. The focus wasn’t to blame anyone but to understand. 

We then planned and facilitated an away day with a clear focus on three parts:

  1. Sharing briefly what some of the key jobs in each team entailed, in short presentation format to the whole group at once.

  2. Understanding what the teams needed to do to improve communication and dynamics between the teams.

  3. Creating some space for the teams to get to know each other and build the missing component; trust. 

The great thing about a whole group intervention like this is that it gives both teams ample opportunity to just spend time with each other. 

While the day was carefully structured, with a series of facilitated sessions, there was also a large ‘experiential’ aim at play. The groups were strategically mixed up for the day to provide plenty of opportunities for in-depth conversations with the very people they needed to develop better relationships with.

Getting to know each other was the underlying theme of the day.

 

The sessions themselves were based around the principle of ‘ask don’t tell’ and of creating solutions together, collaboratively. This gave both teams an opportunity to work together in real time on something they could each contribute to on an equal basis. It provided the opportunity to say what was needed and to explain why certain approaches might not have worked in the past, and what would likely work in the future. 

One of the key goals was to create a plan to improve communication. Both teams worked together to generate ideas, build consensus and create priorities around improving communication. Facilitating this discussion meant that no side was able to dominate and that both teams were able to suggest, clarify and challenge any ideas. The very fact they had worked on it together meant they knew each other better and started to build trust. 

An interesting point from the day was that everyone enjoyed finding out things that they never knew. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, so you can’t ask. But a good conversation, the kind of in-depth discussion that has dedicated time, can be a huge source of knowledge. It is these golden nuggets, these moments of inspiration and the experiences and understanding gained from the “asides” that add so much to a team (or two!) This additional understanding should definitely not be underestimated when you think about getting your team(s) together for a day. 

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do the dynamics between your teams leave everyone feeling confused and frustrated?

To see if we can help improve the dynamics between two (or more!) teams which aren’t working well, get in touch

This tale of two teams is based on a real-life example but with key identifiers removed. It is, as they say, based on a true story.

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