Understanding Team Dynamics in Sport
Using the Athlete DISC to Create High Performance Teams
Great teamwork happens when those on the team have a philosophy of being the best person for the team rather than the best person in the team. Often athletes compete brutally against each other in order to be selected on the team and then once they are on the team, they are expected to put the team first. This is quite a departure from their previous thinking when they had to fight for themselves. However, if their thinking does not change, then we end up with a non-united team. A team of individuals. A team that without question, will fail to produce their best when it matters the most. As coaches, we may or may not have a role in selecting our team. Some do and some don’t. Regardless of this, every coach, must understand the interplay of behavioural styles / personalities that exist of their team. This interplay is called Team Dynamics and just by observing a team, it can be quite a challenge to accurately understand the diverse mix of these styles. To fully and accurately understand, coaches can turn to the Athlete DISC and the Team Dynamics Profiling. After all, most teams fail due to clashes of behaviour patterns (“personality clashes”). Clashes that could have been managed had the coach and team been aware of them.
Creating Great Teams
Some coaches assume any group can automatically be a team. One of the biggest single reasons that teams misfire is that personality differences are ignored. In short, who’s selected for the team will affect the outcome. For best results, we must be strategic about the athletes on the team, what their behavioural style is and what the outcome of these behavioural styles is in creating the Team Dynamics Profile. With this knowledge coaches can begin to understand likely team behaviours and the most effective way to coach the overall team. Coaches can also see where gaps are in the team’s diversity and can, where able, recruit athletes of particular profiles to fill those gaps.
When coaches create a sporting team and employ their knowledge of the four Athlete DISC behavioral styles, they can greatly improve the team’s chances for success. Coaches will need to take into account that there are natural allies and antagonists among the styles and also that each style functions best at a different phase in the life cycle of a team. For information on Team Development Stages, stay tuned as an article is coming out soon on this topic.
For example, Interactive styles (I’s) often see Compliant styles (C’s) as overly-analytical and rule governed. Dominant styles (D’s) might sooner die than have to continually wait on the more considerate style of the Steady team members (S’s). Compliant styles, while often drawn to Steady styles, have difficulty understanding the Interactive style’s lack of focus or the Dominant style’s impatience. And Steady styles only wish everyone was as amiable and tolerant as they. So while the potential for conflict is always there, it needn’t become the reality. In creating a team, think about who you are putting on it and monitor how they function during the group’s evolution. That way you’ll not only make the best possible use of the strengths of each team member, you can help create a whole that’s much larger than the sum of the parts. Discovering what styles you have on your team is easy. When each of your team, complete an Athlete DISC Profile, they will be mapped onto a Team Dynamics Chart like the one below.
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In the Team Dynamics Profile example, a coach can see that there are two different percentage measures in each Behavioural Style. The first percentage is the Norm Group. The norm group is a measure of the % of team members that theoretically form a healthy amount of a certain behavioural style. The other percentage is Your Group. This is the actual percentage of a certain behavioural style that exists in your team.
The first aspect to look at in the Team Dynamics Profile, is the Norm Group vs Your Group percentage. We ideally want these percentages to map to the theory percentages. Successful teams tend to have healthy diversity within the behavioural profiles. Can you think of what may occur if one behavioural style is oversupplied?
In the above example, the first team issue to notice is the lack of D’s. In teams, D’s provide a sense of urgency, a pace setting style of leadership, a love of a challenge, a strong results focus and a what ever it takes style of play. What do you think may be the outcome for a team that is missing these qualities? Think about team members who naturally want to assume a leadership role, what profile do you think they are most likely?
The second observation is that there are too many I’s. Interactive (I) style behaviours are fast paced, people oriented, motivated by change and fun, are impulsive with their choices, will be interested in the social side of sport as well as the need for individual recognition. As well, I’s are talkative types who tend to wear there heart on their sleeve more so than the other styles. With roughly twice as many I’s as the theory suggests is required, this team will likely struggle at times to switch on a focus. There may be a lot of off topic communication and if their coach does not provide excitement and fun elements at training, then they will start to disengage.
The other factor in this team, is that their Steady style (S) is under represented. S styles are described as the ultimate team player. They listen, are observant of others, portray tolerance, are highly amiable and generally will naturally put the team before themselves. Some describe S’s as the glue that binds the team together. What do you think may happen in this team given that there are not enough of the S’s?
Finally, the Compliant style. You will notice that this style is also over represented by 25%. Compliant styles (C’s) are rule guided, motivated by structure and systems being effective and efficient, are stubborn and inflexible to change unless there is sufficient evidence such as facts and figures to support the change. They are also likely to be highly conscious of quality above all else, are interested in the “right” process before the result and are more a thinker than a feeler who will be reticent to express themselves. Whilst fantastic people to have on a team, they can often be prone to preferring to work alone. So knowing this what impact do you think the impact on the team will be?
In summary, Team Dynamics Profiling gives us concrete indications on how the team will bond, interact and ultimately perform. Obtaining accurate information on Team Dynamics is easy and inexpensive using the Athlete DISC Profiling system. I have noticed that when teams significantly underperform, there is almost always critical behavioural issues (“personality clashes”) that were never addressed by the coach. Sport is tough enough. Coaching is one of the most challenging roles a person can have. In a recent survey of elite coaches from a diversity of sports, coaches rated the three most challenging aspects of their roles. 50% rated “Understanding individual athlete’s personality and how to best motivate them”. 46% rated “Personal life balance – managing sport, career, home and social life.” And 31% rated “Team/squad dynamics and managing relationships within the team/squad”. Don’t make your job any harder by neglecting this critical aspect of team performance. Use the knowledge available with Athlete Assessments and the Athlete DISC to assist you to make better informed decisions.