Maximizing Team Chemistry

To build a successful organization in the future, leaders will need to be deliberate in building great team chemistry.  Many organizations consist of both formal and informal groups. In building a high performance organization, individuals within a team must learn how to work together.  In this context, I use groups and teams interchangeable. In other words, employees and leaders need to respect each other and get along. According to leadership experts Michael Hackman and Johnson, the leader-member-exchange (LMX) Theory is another process that outlines the leader-follower development process for relationships.

Let’s explore this more closely. The basic concept is that leaders generally establish two different types of relationships with followers: “in-group” and “out-group.” The in-group is granted more responsibility and influence in decisions. This may remind you of high school. Were you part of the in-group at your school?  Did it hurt to be part of the out-group?  Leaders need wise individuals as personal advisors; however, a leader must be careful about possible organizational ramifications. Why should a leader care? The LMX Theory can create bad feelings in an organization. This could damage team chemistry and make an organization less effective. Organizational cohesiveness is critical for success.

Let’s apply this concept to a mystical journey to King Arthur’s Court and meet the Knights of the Round Table. King Arthur, the son of Uther, was made famous by withdrawing a sword (Excalibur) from a stone and made King of England. He was then given the Round Table as a dowry. Knights, such as Lancelot, were men of courage, valor, and noblity. They were to protect damsels, fight for kings, and undertake dangerous quests like the search for the Holy Grail. The Knight Order’s dominant ideas were the love of God, men, and noble deeds. The LMX Theory was in play.

Let’s dig deeper by exploring a dyadic relationship—marriage. The LMX Theory describes the role-making process for leader-followers. Gary Yukl, the author of Leadership in Organizations, maintains that a high-exchange relationship contains high mutual influence. Marriage involves shared experiences and common goals. What happens when things change?  Follow my example. Body Boy achieves his fitness goal. Mr. Boy is transformed from a shapeless couch potato to a well-formed man. Everyone loves his transformation, except his wife. She is an inactive person. She witnesses ladies swarm around Mr. Body. She screams, “Body Boy!” 

Sadly, misunderstandings can damage the chemistry in an organization. Have you seen it happen in your organization?  Formal groups are more costly in this regard than voluntary groups because they are the creation of management, rather than arising by natural design. Good organizational chemistry keeps the informal efforts aligned with the formal ones.

Clearly, good chemistry is vital in achieving any level of organizational excellence. Leaders need to build relationships with followers in a constructive manner. Therefore, organizations can accomplish this task through training and building caring corporate culture. The results will help produce good team chemistry for today’s organizations and successful organizations in the future.

How does one create good chemistry in nontraditional structures such as matrix organizations or virtual organizations?  Is it possible to infuse good chemistry into a badly run organization? If so, how?

 © 2010 by Daryl D. Green


22 thoughts on “Maximizing Team Chemistry

  1. Jones & George reference a program called Bee Hive that is a great tool to build chemistry in nontraditional structures. Employees can view other employees profiles and find a commonality between themselves and that person. Since good chemistry can be derived from commonality (whether it be interest, ethics, etc…), it is a great place to start.
    I feel is is possible to have good chemistry in a badly run organization. Again, chemistry can be pulled from commonality, but if the company goal is not the commonality, the company may not be successful. The “in-group” may function well amongst each other, but not toward the success of the company.


    Jones, G & George J. (2008). Contemporary Management (6th Edition).
    New York, NY: McGrawhill/Irwin

    • I believe creating good/strong chemistry starts with effective leadership, as it does in most situations. A matrix organization combines the advantages of the pure functional structure and the product organizational structure. This form is well suited for groups such as construction or military that are “project-driven”, as it attempts to create synergism through shared responsibility between project and functional management. However, this concept never reaches potential without leadership that can spark and maintain chemistry. Leaders are tasked with ensuring each member feels welcomed and appreciated, while at the same time ensuring each knows his/her role. Training of managers is crucial to ensure at least some form of exposure is introduced in a controlled environment before exposed in the field. Sometimes a leader only gets one shot to form chemistry. This is also an example of how leaders are not only born, but made.

      Jones, G & George J. (2008). Contemporary Management (6th Edition).
      New York, NY: McGrawhill/Irwin

  2. I work in a local corporate office however deal with our manufacturing facilities in the Southeast and Central America. Most communication is done by email and over the phone. Throughout my career, I have learned how important it is to build relationships with those around me; especially with my peers.

    Good chemistry is very important to being successful. As a manager, I have always stressed this key point. I try to have an understanding of who they are, what they do, what their role is in the organization and if at all possible, put a face with a name and meet in person. Over time, I’ve learned who to trust and go to with problems, and who to avoid. I try to get out of the office and visit locations as often as possible so that I can continue to build a personal relationship. I think that if workers have good chemistry, then they will have a better chance to make an organization successful, even if it’s run poorly.

      • I found several articles that corroborate what I try to practice. One talks about building an effective global business team. They say that trust among team members is critical to success. People trust one another more when they share similarities, communicate frequently and have a commone cultural context. Face to face meetings foster familiarity and trust — not easily estabished through virtual meetings. When team members do not ‘know’ one another, the emotional dimension suffers.
        MIT Sloan Managment Review, June 2001

        The second article discusses the neuroscience of social bonding and says that for teams to function well they have to go through some amount of social bonding. They focus on laughter as a way to bond. We laugh to communicate, and we rarely laugh alone. Laughing and social bonding will mainly occur in person, but it’s important to get together in person as least once to have a chance to bond. In emails you can sort of laugh and try to connect LOH, HA HA, :O but it loses a bit in translation.
        “The Biggest Challenge to Remote Teams – Not Enough in-Person Laughter”
        Susan Weinschenk, PhD

  3. In the world of project management, good chemistry may be developed in a matrix environment by building core relationships. Karen Davey-Winter expressed, that relationships are more difficult to establish in a matrix environment, they are more fragile, and can be more easily destroyed. Keeping a diverse group of people together in a matrix team depends on building loyalty and trust. Matrix project team members have multiple loyalties and if the team is not cohesive, these divided loyalties can be harmful to the success of the project. The keys to building loyalty and trust are communication, goal definition, recognition and rewards, and conflict management. Leaders today have a large task ahead of them. Keeping the team cohesive in a matrix environment will be key factor to a successful project or company.

    Reference: Team Building and Development in a Matrix Environment, by Karen Davey-Winter, PMP, 2010

  4. One approach managers should follow to accomplish good chemistry in nontraditional organizations like virtual or matrix groups or teams would be to include a few of the members who already know each other and have proven that they can function reasonably well together by having successfully functioned together on prior work team projects. This should provide at least a minimum “critical mass” of positive personality and skill set chemistry. A second methodology managers should become very familiar with is the 16 Briggs-Myers personality types when staffing the matrix or virtual teams, and try hard to balance the teams with members who exhibit different personality types or traits. For example, too many ENTJ, ENFJ, or ISFJ personality types on the same team could lead to “bad chemistry” because the organization is either too agressive or too passive thereby leading to goal failure because the team or group failed to function efficiently and effectively together. Periodically, the virtual or matrix members should come together face-to-face when experiencing some difficult episodes of work task completions to re-focus on their goals. Also, research has shown that virtual teams should occasionally come together and enjoy structured recreational outings as a work group to enhance their commeraderie and sense of worth & value as a group as opposed to individual worth & value when separated by vast geographic distances

    Reference: Contemporary Management; Gareth Jones, Jennifer George; McGraw-Hill International Edition; 2009.

  5. I came across an article on virtual groups. It recommends that having a highly functioning virtual group requires a face-to-face meeting. There were several reasons for this. One is that a face-to-face meeting with the group members will strengthen their bond and they will have a shared experience. Another is that a meeting between group members builds trust. Also the members will better appreciate each other because now they are seen as real people. It is highly recommended that virtual groups meet with one another at least once. This meeting can take place at the beginning or after some time.

  6. I came across an article on virtual groups. It recommends that having a highly functioning virtual groups requires a face-to-face meeting. There were several reasons for this. One is that a face-to-face meeting with the group members will strengthen their bond and they will have a shared experience. Another is that a meeting between group members builds trust. Also the members will better appreciate each other because now they are seen as real people. It is highly recommended that virtual groups meet with one another at least once. This meeting can take place at the beginning or after some time.

  7. Building trust can bring about chemistry. Trust occurs in three stages in which team members first do what they say for fear of being punished. They will then become familiar with one another and finally trust will be built on understanding and common values. Even bad organizations can develop good chemistry by beginning interactions with a series of social messages, defining the task at hand clearly and defining the employee’s role in reaching a common end point. Some strategies that management might want to try are 1) Making the group visible to every one with some kind of visual aid, 2) Providing visual contact through electronic chat rooms and 3) Finding a way to reward excellent work through electronic bulletins. Organizations will need to be aware of time, environmental, and composition (i.e. cultural differences) factors that may cause bumps along the way as well.

    Click to access teambild.pdf

  8. Contemporary organizations can learn a thing or two about “team chemistry” from the Olympics.
    According to an article by U.S News & World Report, “The Olympic arena has become a great laboratory for learning group chemistry.” Team chemistry is the secret of success in many sports, especially rowing. For example, the team loses if one person on the rowing team has an off day.

    How to infuse team chemistry in a badly run organization?

    -Differentiate between team chemistry and cliques (or in-group out-group effect). Having chemistry does not mean being best friends. According to Olympic coaches “chemistry is the state where humans act as a group in ways that amplify individual talents”, I would add “to reach a common goal”. This would ensure a negative LMX effect would not occur.

    -Increase informal group familiarity by engaging in off-the-clock events. For example team sports, games, retreats, events.

    -Pay attention to individual needs amongst team members. It is easy to only see a larger group goal and disregard each member’s unique personality and personal needs.

    -Ensure an attainable common goal is clear. This goes back to the building blocks of a leader.

    Instilling team chemistry amongst virtual teams is more complex than traditional face-to-face teams. However, according to a research in the “Academy of Management Journal”, in 35 sales and service virtual teams “Team empowerment was positively related to two independent assessments of virtual team performance- process improvement and customer satisfaction.” This underscores the importance of empowering virtual team members and I believe that it is the key to infusing chemistry in non-traditional teams.


    Team chemistry sets. By: Schrof, Joannie M., U.S. News & World Report, 00415537, 8/05/96, Vol. 121, Issue 5

    Academy of Management Journal; Apr2004, Vol. 47 Issue 2, p175-192, 18p

  9. In nontraditional structure organization like virtual team, it would be helpful to have an initial meeting to the team members and have them meet face to face and socialize periodically through the life of the project. Those meetings are important to build ties and relationships among the team members. To overcome the distance, virtual organizations encourage their employees to socialize through social networking methods and allow them to exchange pictures and have informal conversation. Informality builds rapport. Having virtual team members knowing each other is important in creating an effective working environment where team members are interdependent. Building relationships in matrix organizations is very important for employees to know each other; it’s been approved that people collaborate when a prior developed relation. It seems that informal networks are more valuable than formal networks are because members are more motivated than in the formal network.

  10. Even in matrix/virtual organizations improving chemistry between team members will develop the overall skills of the individuals working together. Creating a positive end result will only be effective if the team can develop skills to work through their specific problems. Setting the team up for success is first giving them the tools/information they need. According to Dyer & Dyer of Team Building: Proven Strategies for Improving Team Performance the most important team development is:
    1) Context: Laying the Foundation for Team Success
    2) Composition: Getting the Right People on the Bus
    3) Competencies: Developing Team Skills for High Performance
    4) Change: Devising More Effective Ways of Working Together

    These four Cs of team development above can change the way teams are succeeding. At my place of employment we use the phrase “setting you up for success”. Managers and organizations should set their teams up for success.

      • It lines up with theory Y. Theory Y managers are more likely than theory X managers to build climate of trust with employees. It includes managers communicating openly with subordinates, minimizing the difference between superior-subordinate relationships, creating a comfortable environment in which subordinates can develop and use their skills and abilities. Climate of trust among employees can be built by encouraging them to socialize with each other and get to know each other so you can maximize chemistry in your team.

  11. The most important characteristic of a highly-effective team is that the members all strive to accomplish the team goals. The goals should be clear, realistic, measurable, and supportable by both team members and upper management.
    Businesses often list traits such as commitment, loyalty, vision, urgency, motivation, synergy, collaboration, open-mindedness, progressive thinking, inspired leadership, respect, and effective communications as key areas necessary for good chemistry.people also have tried to keep individuals with traits such as a big ego or a snake off teams so as not to mess up the team chemistry. Team chemistry is difficult–but not impossible–to manage. Key variables to consider include members’ competencies, roles, norms, leadership, conflict, vision, goals, cohesiveness and size. There are roles both leaders and nonleaders can play to promote favorable team chemistry. It’s well worth the effort. Good team chemistry is essential to getting the most out of a team’s talent.

  12. I believe in the saying that if you don’t like what you do then don’t do it, but in our society it becomes exceptionally difficult to make this choice as we have to think of taking care of our families first and this leaves us with very minimum options. Companies can make use of their employees by encouraging intrapreneurship as this will encourage the employees to apply their skills in undertaking what they enjoy, it will also give the company a chance to realize and make use of employee’s talents and also to be able to match the skills of employees and their assigned tasks. Employees should always perform their best at whatever tasks there are assigned.

  13. With developing technology, organizations are utilizing less traditional approaches to spread important communications across the company. Crucial commands are being sent by email which are never the same as being discussed face to face. Delegating duties by these avenues creates a gap on the road to comradery. Distance teams and virtual groups are commonly comprised of highly skilled workers but because of the unfamiliarity created by the distance and low levels of cohesion, success rates are usually dismal in comparison. This gap is commonly bridged through encouraging downtime and group activities that have been shown to boost morale amongst the team. “Team chemistry is one of the most complicated keys to the success of organizations. Effective teams are more than just a collection of talented members,” says the author of Managing Team Chemistry. Communication is a key element in any successful relationship, and many times, individuals feel relegated rather than involved which stems from bad leadership. Typically, this organizational structure creates a haughty aurora and managers are out of touch with the common goals of the company.

    Williams, S. Managing Team Chemistry. Retrieved on April 10, 2010 from

  14. How does one create good chemistry in nontraditional structures such as matrix organizations or virtual organizations? Is it possible to infuse good chemistry into a badly run organization? If so, how?

    I believe that good chemistry starts with communication. The more avenues that individuals can take to learn about one another and increase interactions, the better the chemistry will be within the group. This can be achieved by the sharing of contact information, meeting offsite or offline if possible, or sharing representations of each others’ personal brand (i.e. Web site, social networking page, instant messaging)

    I believe that good chemistry can be infused in badly run organization. However, it is highly likely that the employees sharing this chemistry have probably united by the sharing of stories about the dire conditions caused by the poor leadership. Leadership starts from the top down. If employees are willing to start from the bottom up and work to change overall morale, they may face difficulty depending on the level of openness allowed in the organization.

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