Many times when we are working in teams, we are focused on the objective: getting the project done in time and within budget
. What we sometimes fail to take into consideration is how we leverage each other’s strengths or weaknesses.
Group dynamics focuses on evolution of group development and the inter-relationships amongst team-members. By analyzing the group, one can understand the power structure and build strategies on how one can best lead a new team or as a team-member, be more impactful.
Teams typically have an Alpha Male or Female leading the group. Sometimes it’s the designated project manager and sometimes it’s someone else that the group had granted to be the informal leader.
Teams also have scapegoats and individuals who are typically silenced because they are perceived as the weakest of the group or are perceived to have valuable contribution to the team.
These roles tend to manifest themselves during the forming stage of group development. In order to assess who’s assumed which roles, I like to use an assessment tool I’ve created called “The Lego Game”.
Although this low-tech methodology may appear to be juvenile on the surface, I can assure you that the game provides the most insightful group dynamics data that a novice can use.
In fact, it’s an exercise that I’ve used to teach my undergraduate and graduate students on this topic. It’s meant to call out some of the team’s behavioral strengths and weakness.
The Lego Game
Prior to meeting with the team:
- Purchase some Lego blocks from your local toy store.
- Assemble a very simple Lego structure with a base, four columns and a roof.
- It should look like a square or rectangular box where you can see through all sides (minus the base and top, which are solid).
- Create the infrastructure so that there are enough pieces for the size of the group you have at hand.
- After assembly, I purposefully take out a few pieces out so that it would be impossible to re-construct.
During the meeting:
- Divide them group into two equal teams of no more than 5 or 6 people on each team. It’s okay if you wind up with four teams but it should be an even number of teams because one team will be called the “Observers” and one team will be called the “Builders”.
- Once the teams are created, place the dis-assembled Lego onto a table and have the “Builders” sit around the table (they are allowed to stand, hoover, etc. once the game has started but you don’t need to tell them that).
- The “Observers” should be pulled aside and instructed that they will be observing the builders and their job is of a “Researcher”. They are to jot down all the things they see and hear happen while the team is building the Lego house. For example, who’s doing the most talking, who’s not engaged in the activity, who’s not being listened too, etc.
- Once the teams are in place, advise the “Builders” that they have 10 minutes to create a house with the Lego block on the table and that the house must have a solid base and roof, and four columns. Everything else is up to them as far as design, etc.
As the facilitator (and Project Leader), you are also observing. It’s your opportunity to look for who’s being silenced, who’s controlling the group, who’s the loudest. Some of these traits you may already know but it will provide additional data on what strategies to build to help build a cohesive team.
Once time is up. It’s time to have the observers report on what they saw. In this process, people will see who may need additional support or who may have too much control.
Your goal here is to get the group talking about the exhibited behaviors and figure out how to address them – particularly, individuals that are being ignored. This tool has helped me assess behavioral dispositions and develop strategies to lead my team in the same direction. Try out this exercise and let me know how it goes or if you need any help with it.
Bernardo Tirado, PMP @thePMObox
Bernardo covers leadership and technology for PsychologyToday.com. In addition to being an industrial psychologist, he’s certified as a Six Sigma Blackbelt, Project Management Professional, Body Language Expert, and is a Train-the-Trainer in Analytical Interviewing.