Effects of Chemistry on Team Dynamics

Team Dynamics and Technology

Team dynamics heavily influence the progress, productivity, and ultimately, the results of any given project.  We have all seen and perhaps experienced both good and bad team dynamics.  When team dynamics involve comfortable communication, trust, and a like-minded effort to complete an agreed-upon goal it dramatically improves efficiency and performance.  When team dynamics are bad progress may be hampered or, worse yet, things fall apart completely.  In the technology space there are a wide array of personality types, communication styles, and work styles and bringing those differences together to unite in a common effort is no simple task.  But, when an effort is made to foster positive team dynamics in the technology space, goals and objectives are met more effectively and efficiently.

What Is Technology?

The term technology is widely used and can be applied to gadgets, systems, and machines. Additionally, ‘technology’ can also be just a bunch of metal and plastic organized in a creative way.

Creation Of Technology

So, if technology is a thing that is created – what, or who creates technology – and how? Some people believe that technology is created by trends, needs, or leisure. Others believe that those things are only inputs to what really creates technology – which could be processes, methodologies, or individuals. The reality is that technology is created by interactions which are often called dynamics.

Up to the day this article is being written, technology needs humans to move from theory to reality. Even if it is only one person who develops the technology, this single person needs to interact with others to be able to put the technology to the service of humanity. From a tech company perspective, we know that technology needs many team dynamics to become real: marketers, designers, developers, testers, DevOps, etc. But often, if team dynamics are not optimal, it may prevent these teams from achieving the expected results of their interactions.

The Chemistry of Team Dynamics

No two teams are the same which means team dynamics are equally diverse. I have often heard team members complain about the difficulty of interacting with engineers in a software development company. Or I hear comments such as “That engineer is brilliant but their attitude has a really negative impact on the success we are all looking for.”

This type of dynamic is not just common among technological teams, it is a generally accepted dynamic. Even within the same software teams, you can listen to members proudly brag about their poor human interaction but their great ability to write code: “I was born to code not to chit-chat”.

It is well known that increasing the positivity in a team will benefit the teams beyond just making them have a good time. Emma Seppälä, in her HBR article on Positive Teams, makes a statement on how teams become more productive when they are operating in a more positive environment. These teams will tend to increase organizational effectiveness through:

  • Financial performance.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Engagement.
  • Performance in profitability and productivity.

How Brain Chemistry Impacts Team Dynamics

A positive team working environment can improve all aspects of a project’s success. So then, if we are social animals by nature, and we are also all looking for great results along with an increase in positivity, what is really affecting the individual behaviors that impact team dynamics? The only answer: brain chemistry.

Our brain has various chemicals that allow it to manage our moods and the way we perceive life. These chemicals are often automatically are turned on when they are needed and turned off when they are no longer needed. And, it is not just one or two chemicals that impact brain behavior and interactions, but rather, it is a complex mix of these chemicals:

  • Endorphins. There are around 20 types of endorphins running in our body. Endorphins are often called the body’s morphine because they relax the brain and can even reduce pain experienced by the body. As per a study by Robin Dunbar from Oxford University, endorphins are also responsible for the group unity feeling, good humor, balanced blood pressure, and anxiety management. Fortunately for everyone, endorphins can be increased by dancing, singing, working in groups, listening to music, laughing, practicing yoga, and spicy food.
  • Serotonin. This chemical is responsible for the sense of worth, as mentioned by Alex Korb in his article for Psychology Today. A low level of serotonin is related to depression, migraine, stress, insomnia, aggressiveness, and eating disorders. To increase it we need solar light exposure, aerobic exercise, and a healthy diet.
  • Dopamine. Normally related to addictions, this chemical mediates the immediate reward system in our brains. As per Jhon Salamone prof of Connecticut University, in his article for Neuron magazine, this chemical is responsible for motivation and working with an end in mind. It is activated when you make the first step towards a goal and when you achieve the goal. The goal doesn´t have to be extra meaningful, it could be just feeling satisfied by writing that last line of code before the continuous integration script was triggered. It provides us with self-confidence and a sense of achievement. It is increased by receiving compliments or eating ripe fruit.
  • Oxytocin. This chemical is responsible for attachments and socialization. Nameet Magon in 2011, mentions that oxytocin brings calmness and creates long-term bonds, increasing trust and loyalty. Markus Heinrich from the University of Freeburg Germany, mentions it is also responsible for controlling and reducing stress. A decrease in this chemical is associated with a lack of empathy and an overdose of it can drive to violent actions. A way to increase it is by hugging, giving or receiving a present, and creating trusting relationships through constantly negotiating expectations.
  • Cortisol. This chemical is our energy regulator and helps the body control stress and anxiety. When it is at a normal level, we feel mentally strong, clear-minded, and motivated. When it is not at an adequate level it is related to apathy, fatigue, and confusion.
  • Adrenaline and noradrenaline. Our sense of improvement and survival depend on these chemicals. They allow us to enjoy our interactions making us more productive. Lowering these chemicals produces anxiety, lack of interest, apathy, indecision, low motivation. Both adrenaline and noradrenaline typically increase in exciting situations.

High-Performing Team Dynamics

They say ‘a team is only as strong as its weakest member’ and that is certainly true in the IT field. The level of each of these chemicals that an individual has will determine the quality of the interactions they have at their team level. At the same time, this will determine if the team is a high-performing team or not.

If the goal is to promote good team interaction that will thrive into excellent performance, we suggest the following:

  • Create psychologically-safe environments. If someone does not feel safe, even subconsciously, they will not perform to their fullest potential. Increasing positivity through respectful interactions, trust, and accountability will help team dynamics flourish.
  • Aim for specific targets or objectives. Setting up SMART goals (Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound), will help your team create the appropriate amount of adrenaline so that they feel challenged and committed, yet in a safe way.
  • Integrate through open-communication and consensus. Discuss what needs to be done as well as what are the types of attitudes that bring about a successful team that and reach agreements so that mutually-agreed-upon expectations are understood by all.
  • Socialize to unify. It is easy to feel disjointed as a team when you rarely interact outside of specific, project-related goals. Bring your team together for interactions that are different from your daily work challenges. This helps develop a sense of closeness and foster deeper connections that enhance the quality and effectiveness of a team dynamic.

These type of interactions will allow you to promote the following:

Characteristics of Poor Team Dynamics and How to Avoid

Just as there are various characteristics connected with high-performing team dynamics, there are also characteristics of poor team dynamics.

If these characteristics of poor team dynamics are something you would like to avoid, we highly suggest the following strategies:

  • Manage individual team member and collective team ambition. Ambition is not an inherently negative characteristic and is responsible for advancing humanity, but within a team, it must be managed. Rather than letting it run rampant and unchecked, manage ambition and transform it into strategic focus. Whenever ambition gets out of control, team dynamics do as well. If we keep a strategic focus it will help our team manage cortisol and adrenaline levels into a safe scale. An ideal tactic is to choose 3 things that will help accomplish a goal or objective and strategically focus on those things.
  • Create a decision-making system. Decision-making can be one of the most challenging things for any team to do effectively and efficiently, particularly if there is no system in place. Avoid the inevitable paralysis that comes with analysis and have a reliable system to make decisions that will be safe and move your team forward.

Foster connection and deep conversations with your colleagues. While what brings you together may be a work objective, everyone on the team is still a person beyond the work environment. Human connections move the world, let’s make sure the connections are the quality we are looking for in pursuit of our results.

Optimal Team Dynamics in Technology is Achievable!

Individual brain chemistry and the quality of team dynamics are often only as strong as the effort put in to maximize positive characteristics. Remember, biological processes in our brain and bodies are triggered by how we perceive our reality. This doesn’t mean that if you are a coder, you are doomed to be addicted to writing code, will only be proficient in technical skills, or will lack various interpersonal skills. The ‘norm’ for technical people can shift with a willingness to adjust tactics in an effort to improve individual brain chemistry. It also means that we can design things to make sure our teams are satisfied at all levels in order to increase positivity and become more productive.

Ultimately, high-performing teams may vary widely in their makeup but they tend to have some characteristics in common.  When you work in a positive environment and your team demonstrates a continual effort to foster those characteristics, it is far more likely that you will be efficient and effective in achieving your goals or objectives.

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