The creative team I work with agrees we have a problem that needs to be addressed: We don’t function well together. Now what do we do?
In my work as a consultant to creative professionals,
I have helped many groups overcome interpersonal
and organizational challenges. Although there is
no single formula or template for addressing team
issues, I do have a few suggestions as you tackle this
A first step in solving a group dynamics problem
is for members of the team to individually reflect on
what they believe is the root cause of the tension.
One method to accomplish this is for each member
to fill out an anonymous questionnaire, which will
later be used to develop an agenda for a group meeting.
(Completion of the survey is best done away
from the work setting, when each person can be
alone to think without interference.) Some examples
of good questions to include in a feedback form
- The best thing about working here is …
- The biggest challenge facing me in my job is …
- I am disappointed with other people when …
- I am happiest when …
- Something in/about our work environment that I
really like is …
- Something we don’t do—that I wish we did—at
the office/studio is …
- Something I wouldn’t mind changing about
myself is …
- One thing about myself that I hope will never
change is …
- The best place I’ve worked was ____, because …
- I am willing to change/accept/work on ____ in
order to make our team grow closer.
- Right now I feel …
Choosing the best facilitator
The next step is to place the feedback in the hands
of a trusted individual who will lead the group
through an exploratory session. Often it’s best to use
an outside consultant who has experience in group
dynamics and facilitation. These people might call
themselves counselors, business consultants, facilitators,
or organization experts. In any case, finding
the right match is critical to the success of the session,
so a reliable member (or pair) from the team
should be identified to select the facilitator.
Some facilitators are loose and easygoing, others
are more directive in their approach. The best are
good listeners and demonstrate a high degree of flexibility.
They are not rigid, nor do they believe that
there is only one “right way” to address the issues.
These same attributes should be sought if it is
determined that the guide has to come from within
the organization or group. One big drawback to
using a facilitator who is a member of the team is
that this person cannot also be an active participant.
Unfortunately, many times the best internal candidates
for facilitators are the same people who might
bring the most beneficial ideas to the group process.
Almost always, the facilitator should not be “the
boss,” especially if the environment is structured or
corporate in nature.
Choosing the best setting
The setting for the group meeting is of utmost
importance. I have found that the most productive
sessions are held off-site. The best meetings are often
scheduled for extended periods—perhaps half a day,
or even a full day—to allow for complete exploration
of all issues. It’s advisable to prepare an agenda
and share it with the group on arrival. Goals need
to be established, and the group should be in agreement
as to what constitutes a successful outcome.
The actual session will probably start with an
icebreaker of some sort, to get the team into a relaxed
and interactive mode. When I facilitate, I take special
care in selecting the opening activity, since it sets the
tone for the day. I am careful not to pick something
too silly or an activity that takes too long.
The next logical step is for the facilitator
to summarize the findings of the group survey.
Depending on the size of the group, I sometimes
bullet-point answers and ideas from the questionnaire
on a flip chart I have prepared in advance, or I may
develop a handout that shows a summary of answers.
This sharing of the results is an important part of
the session, because it marks the point at which the
group begins to clarify the issues it faces.
Subsequent activities in the gathering will depend
on the nature of what needs to be fixed. The
next steps might include:
- Group brainstorming for solutions
- Small group breakouts by topic
- Presentations by team members or the facilitator
- Facilitated team-building or consensus-seeking exercises
Holding the gains
Once progress has been made toward issue resolution,
it makes sense to establish a list of action
steps or “group accords” to carry forth and implement
after the meeting. Action steps almost always
require the team to identify who will be responsible
for getting something done. Group accords—think
of them as unanimous agreements or “rules of the
road”—should be distributed to each member and
Finally, it is a good idea to evaluate the session
and to determine if a subsequent meeting—perhaps
of shorter duration—is necessary. In some cases, periodic
follow-up sessions can even take the place of a
Confronting group conflict is certainly not
something most people look forward to. Ignored,
team conflicts tend to build and worsen. With a logical
and direct approach, however, a team can become
more cohesive and productive, and produce a more
enjoyable work environment in the process.
The 17 Indisputable
Laws of Teamwork,
by John C. Maxwell,
Building People, by
Thomas R. Harvey and
Bonita Drolet, $32.43,
Rowman & Littlefield,
The Five Dysfunctions
of a Team: A Leadership
Fable, by Patrick
M. Lencioni, $22.95,
John Wiley & Sons
High Five! by Ken Blanchard and
Sheldon Bowles, $20,
William Morrow, www.
Activities for Busy
Managers: 50 Exercises
That Get Results
in Just 15 Minutes,
by Brian Cole Miller,
Activities for Every
Group, by Alanna
Jones, $16, Rec Room