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Team Dynamics & Group Process: The Beginning

Written By: Andrea Burk

“Start by watching your people. Notice how people are on field and off; where they stand within the group. What is their character, what are their tendencies, how do they interact with others. Get them to get to know each other, and [start to] build relationships.” This is what National Senior Women’s 7s Head Coach John Tait has to say about starting something great.

John has been at the head of the NSW7s program since 2011. He’s not at the head because he’s pushing 7 feet in stature and towers over his team in every half-time huddle on the HSBC Women’s World Series. He is head coach because he has been there since the start-up days of the centralized model when the Olympic Committee introduced Rugby 7s to the Summer Games. His tenure is matched only by program stalwarts Ghislaine Landry and Jen Kish. Since his beginning, the centralized NSW7s program has been on a journey to become a world class, and well established, rugby development machine.

“It’s all about the journey, the process.”

How many times have you heard that? Or have said those very words? That journey starts here, in the beginning.

Beginnings happen in different ways, yet the human and socio-emotional process of beginnings remain the same. A beginning can be the start of something new like the NSW7s centralized program. The start of a season or quadrennial. It can be an established team with a new coach, or an established coaching staff with new athletes.

What can be expected from players and other group members?

Watch next time it’s the start of a season or a new person joins a team. Players will be assessing what is expected of them with respect to the task at hand (purpose and orientation to task) and they will asses the boundaries of the other group members, staff and peers alike, to learn who they can and cannot rely on and how far can they push it (socio-emotional response).

What are key beginning phase and group structure indicators?

Two major developmental characteristics (or indicators) differ, yet are present, in each phase. These are: the group’s purpose and responsibilities, and the socio-emotional stage.

Beginnings are about familiarization to the required task and testing boundaries while forming interdependence.

Leadership in the beginning: What does the group (players, staff, volunteers and supporters) need? How can they be motivated?

Group members need a clear sense of what is expected of them and the fundamental purpose of their being here. High performing groups will also be given the space to develop their own unique strengths within a clear set of boundaries. This can allow for a unique strengths-based culture to develop and ultimately more success in the long run. The team needs a leader, or leaders, who inspire and capture (or elevate) the start-up energy.

Tait and his leadership team comprised of key players inspire to “exist to put the team first even if sometimes ‘team first’ means putting the individual first,” says the coach of the NSW7s environment.

Common challenges?

Group members will be testing boundaries at this time, much like a rowdy teenager or a young puppy. It’s a fundamental indicator of beginnings. Its imperative that the leadership starts strong and sets the tone with the higher vision in mind. For coaches who like to be liked, this can be a difficult time. Hold the tension and the higher vision - the team will benefit in the long run.

A common name for this phase is the “Honeymoon period,” and it can often be short-lived. The hopeful and visionary optimistic will see all the potential the group has, while the grounded analytical mind will be holding strong just waiting for the conflict of the next phase to land. They’re both right. But there is no need for the analytical mind to stay pessimistic waiting for the storm to come, just as there is no reason why the optimistic types shouldn’t enjoy every minute of their ‘honeymoon’.

The key is to be aware that the storm is coming and enjoy the moment anyway. How the leader sets up the group in this beginning phase (along with the resilience and group’s socio-emotional skills) will determine how hard the storm hits and the state of the group afterwards.

How can leadership styles be adapted to meet the group’s needs in pursuit of performance?

Start strong. Set the tone and the boundaries. Be a hopeful visionary with a healthy sense of what’s to come. Be the leader that says, “It’s a big road ahead AND we can do this!”

Acknowledge the human process and what is going on and what is to come in each stage. This will help people to cope emotionally with what is going on and prepare for what is to come, allowing for a better overall on-field performance.

Next Week: The Challenge and Conflict Phase


Source: Dimock, H. G., & Kass, R. (2007). How to observe your group. (4th ed.). Concord, ON: Captus Press.