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Leadership Communication Skills to Overcome Difficult Team Dynamics

Updated: Apr 4

by Stephanie Bickel

leadership communication skills

Last year was a warrior year. We fought for our health, our job, our government, and our teams. We fought to be heard. And, in that process, we learned incredible things. Things that may have taken 10 years to do, we can do more easily this year. We now have the tools where we can accelerate at a rate we never have before. Combine these tools with your exceptional leadership communication skills to become the person you aspire to be.

You’ve embraced this mindset about future possibilities and it seems as though nothing can stand in your way except one thing...the team you work with. They are difficult. They shoot down your ideas. They leave you out of important discussions. They are arrogant and in it for themselves. Working with them seems impossible. How can you make the most of these team dynamics to make 2021 a breakthrough year in all aspects of your career?

In over 20 years of leading communication skills training programs, we have found these four strategies to be most impactful in changing team dynamics.

1. Begin with what is possible. Picture better versions of you and your team.

First, start with your vision. For you and for your team. What kind of team environment do you aspire to create? We often hear comradery, loyalty, excitement, support, teamwork, having each other’s back, and true collaboration. Who do you want to be? Say those attributes out loud to yourself using your best speaking skills. You may say to yourself:

I have freedom.

Leaders are excited about this.

I am providing valuable recommendations.

I am heard and they build on my ideas.

You will be amazed at how fast these become beliefs when you consistently repeat them. Don’t just think about them. Start being that person now and you will change your team. If you wait, change will happen to you. If you continue to have negative thoughts and they are impeding your ability to move forward, you must have a change in thought.

Instead of, “They are forcing me to make the wrong decisions”, say “They are working with me to make the right decisions”

Instead of “They shoot down my ideas” say “They are building on my ideas.”

Another way to make progress is to focus on what you want to accomplish. What can you do to add value to your team and how can they help you? Create a mutually rewarding experience to help accomplish common goals. When we lead our communication skills training programs, we ask our clients these four questions:

What do you want to learn?

What do you want to teach?

What do you want to build?

What do you want to experience?

When you answer these questions, you will create a robust plan to keep the team engaged and growing together.

2. Make circumstances or team members neutral

Your emotions spiral out of control when you attach your feelings to a situation or person. You must start by making the circumstance or your team neutral. Accept that your team members are who they are. You are not going to change them, so you must change the way you think about them. That’s what matters. You can control your own thoughts. Your value is created in your own mind, it is not created for you by someone else. This mindset will change your experience during the journey and the outcome.

To make team members neutral, catch yourself from adding to the drama that others initiate. One of our clients referenced a difficult teammate who said to him, “I am feeling jammed by what you did”. Jammed is an emotional word. If someone else says it, then you start to believe it as well. In other words, their stress becomes your stress. Instead, say the word back to them, “Jammed, you feel jammed, hmmm…”. Then, pause and ask a question. “What made you feel jammed? What did you really feel? Did it make you feel less important?” Put the focus back on them.

Some team members, like the one in the example above, may be insecure. You are not going to get the recognition you seek from them. You will have to get it from others. Start with one advocate or sponsor at a time. When you start to experience your network grow, your difficult colleagues will begin to see you in a different way. Focus on that positive change instead of adding unnecessary drama to a neutral situation or team member.

3. Assess why meetings are unproductive. Then, be the change.

Pay attention to both the good moments in meetings, and the bad. Notice what makes your teammates feel comfortable and also what makes them feel insecure. Sometimes when too many people are trying to play the same role, there is conflict. For example, others will most often reject your idea if you are all fighting to play the expert role. If you make a suggestion, the way they add value is by poking holes in your idea. If that happens, you may need to adjust your role, because there are too many experts in the room. Change your role to facilitator. Be the person to ask thoughtful questions.

How can we tailor this to our client?

Where can we grow more?

How can we make this even better?

You can also add ways to make others feel smart, attractive, popular, successful, and high principled. Build on their ideas. Make a solution feel like their idea, not yours. Your goal is not to compete with each other, but to problem solve together. That’s what great team members do. You may just have to be the role model to get your relationship moving in the right direction. Use your exceptional leadership communication skills to help them be better versions of themselves.

4. Accept that there will be pain while the team grows

Anytime you go through change, you will encounter various degrees of pain, hope, and accomplishment. The same is true as you go through this experience with your team. Accept that this process is normal, even the parts that are difficult. As we go through life, expect 50% of what we do to be painful, and 50% to be great. Typically, the greater long-term successes come with the more painful short-term tasks.

Your path will feel something like this. You will have an “a-ha” moment about what needs to change. Then, as you start to do the things necessary to be successful, you will find yourself in a river of misery. Everything seems difficult. You are learning new things that take more time. Stress increases. Team personalities are challenged. This is where you need to be resilient. Power through. Don’t quit. Because when you persist, you will hit the momentum phase. And, as you gain momentum, autopilot will soon be activated. This is when it becomes easy because you put the time and effort to get there.

When you find yourself frustrated, take time during a break to reflect.

Say to yourself...

Our team dynamics could be so much better.

The team could be working so differently.

Then, put a plan in place to get there.

You be the change, instead of letting change happen to you.


Become a speaker who can command any room. Speak by Design University is a one-of-a-kind leadership communication program. It’s the only leadership communication program in the world that gives you access to self-paced learning, group coaching and training and, most importantly, private one-on-one coaching. Learn more and register.


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