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Appetite for Cooperation: Improving Group Dynamics

by Dan Ranbom
on 2016-02-07

On April 8th, When Guns N’ Roses appears at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, it will be the first time in over 20 years that guitarist Slash and frontman Axl Rose have played together on stage. The reunion of the duo will bring together (with fellow founding member Duff McKagan) the core of a team that produced the quintessential hard rock album: 1989’s Appetite for Destruction. Guns N’ Roses’ career has been the stuff of legends since their beginning, but this new chapter serves to underscore the importance, in any group, of understanding team dynamics (the unconscious, psychological forces that influence the direction of a team’s behavior and performance) and how crucial they are to success.

Guns N’ Roses’ tempestuous mix of personalities both fuelled the band’s success and led ineluctably to the collapse of the original lineup. In the World of Work though, a dysfunctional team usually won’t produce anything close to Appetite for Destruction, or even Use Your Illusion II—and you can’t just break up when things aren’t going well. It becomes much more important for all the members to find ways to work together, bringing their individual strengths, motivations, and preferences into a unified whole. When the dynamic is not right, team members may have conflicting leadership styles, fail to listen to each other, and have different understandings of the team’s goals.

Achieving and maintaining a strong team dynamic requires each member to develop the self-awareness to identify his or her preferred thinking style and role on the team. If you’re not aware of yourself, it’s hard to be aware of other people. Developing that sense of awareness can help each member utilize his or her strengths and mitigate his or her challenges, leading to benefits for the whole team.

Understanding your thinking style can help you determine what role you are likely to take on a team and how you are likely to interact with others, who may have similar, complementary, or conflicting roles.

For example, divergent thinkers start with the big picture and work their way down to more detail. They are comfortable expanding concepts. Convergent thinkers start and then work their way to broader concepts. They are comfortable refining thoughts. Caliper’s approach combines this axis with an analysis of a person’s orientation toward people or tasks, i.e., those who think about who needs to be involved vs. what needs to happen. Together, understanding these two spectra and where each team member falls can help determine if the team is too heavily weighted toward one thinking style and how that might lead to conflict.

Ultimately, it’s unclear whether the impending reunion of Guns N’ Roses will herald a new era of fecund creativity for the band, or whether, like the recently recognized super-heavy element ununoctium, it will quickly decay back into smaller particles. What is clear is that when individual team members develop greater awareness of themselves and their teammates, the team as a whole benefits.