4 Ways That Good Group Dynamics Turn Bad


This post was originally published on OPEN Forum.    

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Why are some brainstorming sessions extremely productive while others fall flat?

Nicole Lipkin, a clinical psychologist, says in her book “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” that it all comes down to group conformity. When leaders are able to maintain a healthy, supportive culture within their organisation, it leads to amazing results. When a group dynamic turns unproductive, however, it can be difficult to get the team back on track.

“Leaders who see a good team going bad must intervene immediately,” Lipkin writes. Unfortunately, “quite often a leader can’t see it happening because he or she has also conformed to the group.”

Below, Lipkin explains the four factors that affect group conformity.

1. Competition gets too serious

Competition among coworkers stimulates a healthy work environment. Too much competition, however, may create rival alliances in an organisation and lead to a toxic workplace.

Lipkin calls this the “us versus them mentality,” which is caused when people feel so alienated from other team members that they no longer feel  part of the same team. Competition may occur naturally if the organisation is divided in teams or departments because people typically try to “enhance the status of the group to which they belong.” This divided way of thinking should never become so extreme, however, that the individuals in the different groups no longer feel like they are working toward the same goal.

When it becomes a problem, leaders should disrupt competition by rearranging the groups and switching a few people from one group to another. They can also come up with a project that requires everyone to work together to promote “inter-group cooperation.”

2. Loyalty is extreme to a specific group

Managers should be aware of “extreme group conformity” since it runs the risk of stifling “creativity, innovation, critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving,” Lipkin writes.

This happens when people feel so loyal to a specific group in the organisation that they will turn a blind eye to any wrongdoing for fear of disapproval.

Lipkin says that leaders can prevent extreme group conformity by establishing a “rule of alternatives,” which would allow numerous people to get involved when making decisions or embarking on a task. This way, employees won’t feel like they have to conform or risk disapproval from others.

3. Personal effort isn’t recognised

Lipkin says that when personal efforts aren’t recognised, it will likely result in “social loafing,” a term used to describe the reduced effort individuals will put into a task when working with a group. This typically happens because the individual doesn’t believe that their own effort will be recognised or will make much difference to the end result.

How can leaders fix this? Lipkin says it all comes down to making employees feel like they own part of the company.

“If you believe all your hard work will result in a valued outcome (bonus, recognition, or pride) to you and the group, you will do all you can to achieve your goal,” she writes. “If, on the other hand, you think your work will only add to one-sixth of a desired result, go unnoticed, or contribute to a seemingly senseless group goal, you will not work so hard and may be on your way to be a social loafer.”

4. Someone has a bad attitude

“In the workplace, people’s moods tremendously impact decision making, problem solving, attention/focus, interpersonal interactions, performance, productivity, and the whole organizational culture,” Lipkin says.

Leaders need to be extra cautious of their own emotions because it has the potential of bringing down the entire team.

Lipkin says to watch how your own mood and nonverbal behaviour affects others around you. You should also carefully read over every email, instant message, or text you send to a colleague or business associate.

Lipkin says that there are “positive and negative effects of the emotional dance that takes place in every group.”


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