dance team commitment and accountability

If you’re like most coaches you probably get concerned whenever there is conflict on your team. Maybe you stay up late at night trying to decide how to fix it or worrying about the fact that the team isn’t getting along.

If that’s you, think about the other side. Conflict, and conflict resolution, is an important part of establishing a team. In fact, it’s one of the essential steps to move from a group to a team.

Have you ever considered the difference between a group and a team? All teams are groups but not all groups are teams. A group is just a collection of people spending time together. A team is something much bigger and better.   A team is a group of individuals who must interact with each other to accomplish shared goals and objectives.

So how do you go from a new group of people to a team?

There’s a classic theory in sport psychology that explains why conflict is actually a normal and essential part of the process. It takes 4 steps to go from a group to a team, and conflict is part of the journey. 

Step 1: Forming

In the first few weeks of a new team it’s all about coming together. Athletes get to know each other and figure out their place in the group structure. Relationships are formed and tested within the members, and new team members learn their relationship with the leaders (coaches & captains). In this phase, leaders can help the group interact by starting practices with positive energy and planning team social events. Leaders can encourage mixing up interactions within practice like doing technique drills with new partners and playing different get to know you games.

Step 2: Storming

This phase is characterized by rebellion against the leader, and/or interpersonal conflict. Now that sounds terrible, but here’s an important point… it’s normal and part of the growing process. And it doesn’t have to last long. Arguments among team members will naturally occur as the dancers and leaders establish their roles.

The best thing for a leader to do in this phase (captains too) is to help everyone see their role. New freshmen play an important role. Seniors who are not captains, returning veterans, members who moved up from JV… everyone needs to learn and understand their value within the new team.  So, work to eliminate ambiguity and increase communication. 

Leaders often want to minimize conflict, but there is value in working through hardships. It helps dancers learn how to communicate with one another. They learn to work together, understand each other’s strengths and values, and find a common goal to focus on.

Step 3: Norming

If there is hostility and tension on a team, it is replaced by solidarity and cooperation. This is where the tension can serve you because if you allow the dancers to work through their differences, learn to communicate and actually grow to understand each other, now in the Norming phase they will begin to work together to reach common goals. (If you want more guidance on establishing common goals, check this out.)

True group cohesion starts to happen as dancers pull together and build team unity. Usually in this phase, satisfaction is improved, team roles are stabilized, and dancers strive for performance effectiveness.

Step 4: Performing

In this final phase, team members focus their energies on a primary goal of team success. Issues are resolved, interpersonal relationships have stabilized, roles are well defined, and dancers start to help each other to succeed. Of course, this is the ideal part of the season, but most coaches rush to get to this final stage. You won’t get here unless there is a chance for the team to learn about each other and work through their differences so they can come together.

Coaches and captains can help reach the highest level of performing if they reinforce each dancer’s positive role on the team, offer clarity about that role if necessary, increase deep communication and understanding, and continue to push the team with higher standards and goals.

Conflict: The team can be stronger for it

For years I would stress and worry whenever there was conflict on my team. I always dreaded the tension during practice if I knew the 2 seniors who were not named captains were upset. Or when I knew we were about to announce who was competing and who wasn’t, the anticipation of those inevitable negative emotions and conflict caused me so much anxiety! 

Now, I know better. Sure, I prefer it when things are smooth sailing and everyone gets along. But now when there is tension, I take a different perspective. I hope it’s resolved quickly, but I feel confident that it will be ok. And I know, the team will be stronger for it.

Conflict doesn’t mean your team won’t be successful.

In fact, if you have a positive team culture and help them through the conflict, it likely means your team will be MORE successful!

Embracing conflict and working towards a resolution together means the team is making progress towards unity and cohesion. 

As a coach, you can help them work through their conflict if necessary. Coaches can always model and inspire better communication skills. You can encourage journaling and reflecting on their emotions to help them better process the disappointment or anger they are feeling. Just learning to identify their emotions and where it’s coming from is a huge life lesson! 

Take time to discuss team roles, as a group and individually if necessary. If a senior is disappointed that she is not named captain, talk to her about her strengths and what you hope she will bring to the team. Maybe she’s the “team mom” and you know she’ll look out for everyone and always have the Advil, Band-Aids, and tampons in her bag. If she knows what value you see in her as a teammate and dancer, she’s more likely to see herself in that positive light and embrace her role. Clarifying her role helps the senior reduce any tension she felt over not getting captain

It’s ok to let the conflict simmer for a little while. It’s a balancing act of letting the team work it out and intervening when they need adult role models for conflict resolution. 

Bottom line, if you have a positive team climate, the conflict won’t last forever. Working through conflict as a team is an important part of moving from a simple group to a cohesive and successful team.

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