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7 Turf Team Dynamics

The golf course superintendent’s meltdown was epic. Sure, I’ve seen guys lose the handle, get mad, talk like a sailor, but this was an outburst, an explosion, that sent the whole turf team running for cover.

Just before morning coffee break, the crew gathered around the 6th green to discuss the ongoing sod project. The morning was still, beautiful birdsong echoed in the cool, misty air. The first foursome of the day had yet to arrive. On the surface, all seemed well. But soon – thanks to the “black sheep” of the crew driving the Sand Pro right through the middle of just-laid sod – the pretty “song” was replaced with a damning dirge that shook the pines. Then things started flying. Hard things. Helmets. Shovels. Pails. Except these weren’t kids playing at the beach. These were grown men – or, more accurately, a grown man – going berserk. And I won’t forget the event.

Yes, without a doubt, it had been building. We were all aware of the skipper’s distaste for incompetence. And this one moronic member (he will remain unnamed) couldn’t seem to do a thing right. And, to make matters worse, he seemed ignorant, unaware, and unwilling to make changes to his work habits. Everyone was frustrated with him. He had it coming. Well, maybe not the flask to the forebrain, but he was certainly on thin ice. Regardless, thanks to the tirade, our team’s dynamics were forever altered. And not for the better.

Ask anyone who has ever done time on a turf team, the topic of team dynamics is bound to bring a smirk. A smile. Or, quite possibly, a painful cringe. Put a bunch of blokes together with tools and trimmers, and interesting things are going to happen. Every day.

In fact, having worked on three separate crews myself – each with their own wildly different group dynamics – about the only thing I can say I know for certain about the topic is that, well, it’s interesting. The jockeying, the bickering, the bonding, the highs, the lows – and, yes, the flask flinging episodes – it’s quite remarkable how the dynamics play out.

Unfortunately – especially for hot-head supers who resort to fire-breathing strategies – managing the dynamics on the squad is a never-ending challenge. Where there are people, there are problems. And, of course, organizational behavior, or “team dynamics,” is an immense, multi-layered topic that even the best leaders, the best managers, and the best supers of our time will always be grappling with.

For many managers, sticking their head in the sand seems to be the easiest solution. (ie: “The crew will figure it out.” “It’s something I can’t control.” “Boys will be boys,” yada yadda yadda.)

But here’s the problem (and, as far as I can tell, it’s relevant for every golf course superintendent on the planet): the dynamics of your team will have a direct result on productivity and your ability to achieve your goals. And, yes, this would be a constant with any team in any business.

So, bottom line, it’s wise to invest into the relationships and dynamics of the team. But where, and how, to start? Easy. You.

As a team leader, you can have a tremendous influence on how your team’s dynamics play out. The following information was gleaned from a number of online managerial support sites. Hopefully, some of these approaches and ideas will help you improve your group dynamics…and help you reach your goals.

  1. As a Leader, Know Your Team – You need to guide the development of your group. Start by learning about the individual members of your team. Invest in your relationships. The better you understand your crew and what makes them tick, the better equipped you’ll be to pre-empt problems that could arise, including issues with poor group dynamics.
  2. Tackle Problems Quickly – If you notice that a team member has adopted a behavior that’s affecting the group negatively, act quickly to challenge it. Provide feedback that shows your team member the impact of his/her actions. Then allow and encourage the individual to reflect on how they can change the behavior.
  3. Define Roles and Responsibilities – Teams that lack focus or direction can quickly develop poor dynamics as people struggle to understand their role in the group.
  4. Create a Team Charter – Define the group’s mission and objective and everyone’s responsibilities as soon as you form the team. Make sure that everyone has a copy of the document and remind people of it regularly.
  5. Break Down Barriers – Use team-building exercises to help everyone get to know one another, particularly when new members join the group. These exercises ease new members into the group gently and also help to combat the “black sheep effect,” which happens when group members turn against people they consider different. Lead by example and share what you hope the group will achieve. Be approachable and share “safe” personal information about yourself, such as valuable lessons that you’ve learned.
  6. Focus on Communication – Open communication is central to good team dynamics. Make sure that everyone is communicating clearly. Include all of the forms of communication that your group uses – emails, meetings, and shared documents, for example – to avoid any ambiguity. If the status of a project changes, or if you have an announcement to make, let people know as soon as possible. That way you ensure that everyone has the same information. Opinionated team members can overwhelm their quieter colleagues, so make sure your communication is strong and clear.
  7. Pay Attention – Watch out for the warning signs of poor group dynamics. Pay particular attention to frequent unanimous decisions, as these can be a sign of groupthink, bullying, or free riding. If there are frequent unanimous decisions in your group, consider exploring new ways to encourage people to offer their thoughts and opinions on key projects.

Unfortunately, there will always be situations and variables that are out of your control. For example, the unique personalities and struggles that individuals bring with them onto the team are always going to make team dynamics a challenging, never-boring proposition. But, hopefully, when the going gets tough, the tough will get going. And, hopefully, “the going” will not include tirades and flying projectiles.

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