April 23, 2021

Strengthening Team Dynamics and Leading Crucial Conversations (Part 1)

Leadership Development | Team Development

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In our coaching work, we often encounter groups made up of highly talented, deeply dedicated members who are struggling to come together as a high-performing team due to interpersonal dynamics. Of course, we always need to explore the context in which the situation has arisen to address it effectively.

We often find the key to enhanced communications, trust and overall team effectiveness lies in the mastery of a set of basic principles and tools. These tools are particularly important for those working in a complex and rapidly changing environment with multiple stakeholders and shifting priorities.

Aiming for more than clarity

As leaders navigate complex organizational settings, effective communication requires more than making sure we communicate clearly. Ensuring someone truly understands the content and intention behind our message requires intentional listening, interpreting, flexing and connecting. While clarity remains an important component, we need to expand our repertoire to be able to navigate the challenge of interpersonal dynamics in a turbulent, complex environment.

Below are five principles you may find helpful in improving the quality of your interactions and dynamics within your teams.

1. Be thoughtful about your desired outcome rather than advocating your specific solution.

If your dialogue stops at the level of debating solutions to the problem, the dynamic shifts to a contest of ideas and it is easy for team members to become adversaries.

Communicating at the deeper level of desired outcomes leaves space for crafting creative solutions which compatibly address the needs of all parties.

2. Focus on what you want to accomplish, not what you don’t want.

Too often, team members focus on what they don’t want, dissecting the problem they are trying to solve. This can be important to understand the complexity of the issue and identify its root cause, but it often gets in the way of seeing possibilities and a compatible path forward.

If you find you are focusing 80% of your time on what you don’t want and only 20% on where you want to go and the possible paths to get there, it’s time to switch. When you make this switch, not only do you access higher levels of brain functioning, you also create space for innovation, new ideas and creative collaboration.

We often say behind every complaint is a request. As you are discussing a problem or issue, see if you can pivot from complaining about the problem to making a request or proposing a solution.

3. Pause before making up a story about another’s intentions and acting on that assumption.

Our view of a situation or problem is only our perspective; a perspective we often come to based on pre-existing mental models or assumptions that can be incomplete or totally off base. Remember to pause before making up a story about others’ intentions or motives. If you have concerns, seek first to understand by engaging others directly in dialogue.

Share your story, what you know, what you have assumed, and how you are making sense of things. Invite others to do the same. The more we can be aware of our own stories in our heads, the more we can see them for what they are: a story!

Phases such as, “The story I make up about this is….” Or “I have made an assumption about this and want to check it with you…” provide an opportunity for collaboration and connection.

4. Close the gap between your intentions and others’ interpretations of your actions.

Similar to the dynamic shared above, others may make up stories about us without understanding out intentions. To minimize that, it helps to lead with our intentions first. Put another way, you can neutralize or prevent inaccurate stories about your intent by sharing your intentions explicitly.

5. When issues arise, do your best to have direct, timely conversations.

When there is too much space between an issue and its resolution, it leaves lots of time for misunderstandings and stories which can result in a greater divide. Be mindful, of course, if emotions are running too hot to have a productive discussion. But once things have cooled off, seek to engage others directly, driven by a genuine desire to improve the relationship (not lash out in anger).

That’s easier said than done, of course. In our next post, we’ll expand our discussion on these crucial conversations and guide you through practices and facilitate successful interactions.

Be sure to catch Part 2, and feel free to leave your questions or observations in the comments.

 Robert (Bob) PorterRobert (Bob) Porter is an accomplished organizational leader with over 30 years’ experience in health system leadership.


Cheryl FossCheryl Foss has over 20 years of Leadership Development, Team Development, Strategy Development, Organization Design, and Change Management experience.

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About the author

Cheryl Foss, MSW

Cheryl Foss, MSW, a MEDI Executive Coach, has over 20 years of Leadership Development, Team Development, Strategy Development, Organization Design, and Change Management experience.

Robert "Bob" Porter, JD, MBA, PCC

Robert "Bob" Porter, JD, MBA, PCC is an accomplished organizational leader with over 30 years’ experience in health system leadership. Bob has extensive experience in working with senior leadership executives in complex organizational settings, with a proven track record for engaging diverse stakeholders in the redesign of organizational systems and processes to achieve breakthrough improvement in performance.

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