7 Tips to Implement Group Dynamics Techniques at Work

How do I get everyone to understand what I have learned? How do I get them to see how this can help them and make our team better? Hyper Island alumni Alex Ivanov shares 7 ways to help you implement creative methods in your organization.

How do I get everyone to understand what I have learned? How do I get them to see how this can help them and make our team better? Hyper Island alumni Alex Ivanov shares 7 ways to help you implement creative methods in your organization.

Recently I’ve sent emails to Hyper Island alumni, asking them how they implement group dynamics and creative methods at work. The results were not as cheerful as I expected. Most people, who replied, admitted they tried to include various methods for idea generation, feedback and goal setting in their teams but were confronted by more senior colleagues with a mix of reluctance to change and general lack of understanding of what it all was for.

It comes as a surprise, since most people who go to Hyper Island, a Swedish design thinking school, get exposed, along with digital media and design, to a set of very useful creative team building & group maintenance tools. Hyper Island is well known in the creative industry, every year bringing hundreds of passionate graduates to companies such as Apple, W+K, RGA, IDEO, and Frog.

This made me recall multiple experiences of actually bringing tools to the companies I worked for. Frankly, it wasn’t that hard for me, since most of the companies I worked with recognized the importance of the right culture to foster creative spirit. This passion for creative culture even made me partner with a friend to work on a team-forming tool of our own, Teamwork Canvas. However, some tips I’m about to share were EXTREMELY useful to get along with specific people, who otherwise would discard my attempts to introduce these tools and exercises. So here is the list of tips to implement group dynamics techniques at work.

1. Piggyback on existing process

Almost any creative company these days implements a set of contemporary processes for creativity or production. Design Thinking or Creative Intelligence don’t have to be a part of the DNA of your company.

Take something simple and ubiquitous, like Agile. Almost any creative company with some technical / development capabilities practices Agile one way or another. In Agile, there is a tool called Retrospective, used at the end (or beginning) of each sprint. During a retrospective meeting, teams talk about which things and routines they want to keep, or start practicing, or stop for good.

I found this exercise a great piggyback point for personal feedback. The way to approach the team may come like this: ‘Hey guys, I found retrospective was very helpful for me last few times we did it, and I see many of you benefit from it too. In fact, I would like to propose something like an extension to retrospective next time we do it, and practice some more personal feedback. I’d like to facilitate this activity, it’s going to be fun and helpful. What do you think?’

2. Pitch your tools like products

Tools are like products: before people use them, they have to buy them. There is a trick I learned from Poornima Vijayashanker, co-founder of Mint, and a successful fempreneur. To make sure people buy whatever you propose, she uses something that she calls Pitch Formula. Here is the formula in the nutshell:

Pitch = who is it for + what is the problem + what is the solution + what are the benefits

And here is Poornima’s example of how the formula works:

Mint’s Pitch = If you are a budget-conscious person who doesn’t want to spend hours managing your money then you’ll want a solution like Mint.com. Mint.com is an online personal finance website that lets you get a complete picture of your finances within minutes with no data-entry. Using Mint will help you save time and grow your money!

To have better chances to implement the tools you use, try formulating it with the pitch formula in mind. For example, when you want to implement energizer exercises, you can go like this:

If you are a group of creatives who want to be more productive, get unstuck and solve client’s problems in unconventional ways, then you will like doing energizers every now and then. Energizers are small five minute physical exercises designed to get everyone on the team to get more oxygen, shake up your brain by moving the body and get to see new perspective for existing tasks. Doing energizers will help us be more creative and energized, so we can be on top of our game!

Doesn’t this already sound like something you want to do right now?

3. Get an influencer on your side

Any organization has formal and informal structures, and the best way to make something happen in my experience was to find the informal leaders and get them on your side. It’s much easier when you have one of the opinion leader / influencer-type of person giving you or your exercise an intro in the team.

There are multiple tools to find and get in touch with opinion leaders online, but how do you do it at work? Well, there are ways: just ask around these few questions, collect the answers, and see who people refer to:

  • Who do you actually go to if you have any problems in your work?
  • Who is your wingman at work, who gets your back covered?
  • If somebody leaves the company tomorrow, who would it be that everyone will struggle without the most?
  • Who does everybody go to if they want something to be fixed quicker than by going with standard procedures?

Write down what people answer, and check the names that come up the most. Those are your go-to guys.

Now it’s time to convince them, and the way you do it may be similar to the way you convince your boss about the value of group dynamic and creative exercises.

4. Learn you boss’s KPIs and help her meet them.

Design guru Donald Norman once taught me that the problem with poor design is that creatives usually think that they design for users, while not realizing that their user is their boss’s boss.

It’s possible to design your product (read: your teamwork and group culture) both for user (read: you and your team mates) and for your boss’s boss at the same time. One of the ways to do it is to learn your boss’s KPIs and help her, first, to meet them, and next, exceed them.

Once you are capable of showing that the better group dynamics creates better team spirit and productivity, and your team solves more tasks in the same time, or solves them with higher quality, you inevitably get a green light.

Example from my experience: within the first months at a company I joined, I asked my boss to have a half an hour chat with me. During the chat, I asked him what was important for him at work, and about his KPIs. He explained, among other things, that he is expected to deliver a specific number of projects every half a year. I proceeded asking how I can help him to reach his goals, and then proposed a few ideas of how to implement group exercises that proved to boost teams’ productivity at my previous job. Not only did I get a go, but also was encouraged to showcase the methods to other team leads.

5. Become friends with HR

Way too often people disregard the contact of their HR / talent acquisition professional once the contract is signed and onboarding is completed. However, the HR person may become a really good ally once you think of implementing the group dynamic methods.

First, the HR professional’s job is not finished once the person gets hired. If a new hire fails at the trial period or becomes unhappy and unproductive in the following months, that would be a hit at her.

Second, it is very likely that the HR professional already knows or at least heard of many things that you want to implement, but just like you, she doesn’t know how to implement them.

Strategy: learn about HR tools and start with those, then shift to group dynamic tools. HR people have heard of many assessment techniques and could have practiced them with senior management. Your goal is to help show her that there is a similar set of tools that could be used for creative teams to make work more satisfactory and effective.

Get to know about things like Strengths FinderMBTI profiling, etc. and get to talk with your HR manager about these tools and if they are considered helpful in the company. After a couple of conversations, you might mention Happiness at Work Survey or Gallup Engagement at Work Index. Share some thoughts on how teams could boost their numbers on these scales while doing more productive work and communicating effectively. Offer her a few tools to try, such as personal feedback or team kickoff meeting. Help her facilitate a couple of such meetings, with teams that already seem to do fine: you will deal with the hard nuts later, now you just need some success stories. If things go well, continue offering her co-facilitation help and see the magic happen.

6. Use Double Diamond to introduce team dynamics tools

At any stage of the creative process, you are either diverging by creating options or converging by choosing options. For example, if you create mock-ups of a mobile app, you create options of how it might look. Then you probably have a meeting with clients, or better, with your users, and that’s where you narrow down to specific designs and make changes, and therefore, choose options. Any time you hear users talking about their needs, problems, and pains, chances are you are (writing them down! and) diverging. Any time you sit to discuss with your team and your clients the most relevant solution for your project, you are converging.

This way of thinking is valid for most creative processes and is called Double Diamond. It is practiced by renowned innovation consultancies such as IDEO and Frog, and it is necessary to understand before implementing specific teamwork design activities.

The trick is –  different teamwork design tools needed on convergence and divergence stages. For divergence stage, you should apply tools that boost creativity, allow you all to build on each other’s ideas, celebrate wild ideas and experiments, go for quantity and so on. In convergence process, you agree on rules, think more critically, looking for quality, bound your self on time more. Therefore, the group dynamic tasks on different stages are different, and it’s great when you look at your project in terms of these stages to understand when you’ll need to have specific small meetings, for example, to agree on rules for idea selection.

Since the model is very logical and has a long list of leading creative companies acknowledging and implementing it, I never found anyone who actually disagreed with it. However, with this tool, I found one of the best ways to dive into team dynamics.

Explain the Double Diamond to your team at the very beginning of the next project. Then talk it over and agree on which steps of the project you will accomplish in which ‘mode’: convergence and divergence. Then, offer some simple team dynamics exercises at the beginning or at the end of important ‘Double diamond’ steps. For example, after you get a chance to generate ideas and select them, offer your team an add-on: a small personal feedback meeting to ‘recharge’ before the next big thing.

7. Use hacker mindset to get your coworkers on your side

So, the story comes from a couple of growth hackers who I know. A couple of weeks before a very important meeting with the leadership of a big company (and a prospective account), they created a list of people who might be at the meeting, researched their names and email addresses, which were not so hard to find. They proceeded by creating a custom Facebook ad campaign, featuring their agency and placing these decision makers’ emails as a custom audience for the campaign. By the time of the meeting, not only the leadership knew who the guys were, but also had some sort of idea that their agency was big and reliable since they learned from other chairmen that they also knew the company and saw it many times online.

Although you might be far from becoming a hacker or even putting a couple of lines of code together, that doesn’t mean you can’t apply Hacker Mindset. Hacker Mindset celebrates working on things smarter and faster (yet iteratively), instead of working harder and longer, in one chunk. There are multiple ways to apply Hacker Mindset, and I really recommend Shane Snow’s book ‘Smartcuts’ on the topic.

To get group dynamics going in your team, you might use a great hacker mindset tip: start with the end in mind, and try to figure out what we can offer to each team member that they will totally buy in the teamwork design.

Here is a recent example from my experience. We were a team of four people including me, working very fast on a project. One of the pitfalls of working too fast was the risk of losing the balance of ‘How’ and ‘What’, and therefore disregarding any teamwork design activities in favor of finishing in time. My teammates were new to me, so I literally didn’t know anything about them, except their titles. What I could do though was:

  • Organize a small meeting (just like described in tip #1) and turn it into a half an hour team design kickoff, effectively figuring out my coworkers’ aspirations and expectations.
  • Get each one of them for a cup of tea for 20 minutes and understand what they are up to, revealing their personal agendas.
  • Research their Facebook and Linked in profiles, finding some interests that helped me understand their motivations.
  • Make a rough profiling estimate of who they might be according to StrengthFinder and Strength Deployment Inventory (a couple of HR tools from tip #5), and see who we should include in the team to make the balance work better (luckily, we complemented each other pretty well)
  • Piggyback regular personal feedback using existing Agile retrospective tool (tip #1)

Results: a happy and effective team, capable of going to stage 3 of team maturity.