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Brain circuits

How leaders can prevent entrenchment on their teams

Published 9 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

If you have identified subgroups in your team, division, or organization that pose the risk of becoming entrenched into silos (and worse, polarized), there are several strategies that might help to increase cross-group collaboration. Below are a few ideas that may help you weaken the boundaries between emerging subgroups:

Change up the team members. Leaders can shift people in and out of teams through job or resource allocations so groups are forced to shift their dynamics.

Move the physical spaces around.  Moving workstations so different people are near each other and more likely to change their interactions can be a very effective way to change the dynamics of group interactions.

Be conscious of pairing virtual and co-located people. Particularly in breakout groups, make an effort to make sure you vary who is paired with whom to help break down perceived divisions between groups.

Focus on shared goals and adversaries. If subgroups are forming, make sure to keep all of them aware that they share a larger common purpose.

Have informal activities. It is important to help people find shared common ground that is not just about the office. Do this during business hours so you aren’t adding more obligations to employees’ days.

Find bridge-builders. These are people who can easily identify with people in multiple subgroups. They can be useful in engaging each group and reducing tension between very divided groups.

Try role playing.  If groups have become entrenched and, worse, polarized, you’ll need to help each group build empathy for the other. Ask members of each group to imagine what it is like to be a member of the other subgroup, and consider how they would perceive their own team. Encouraging people to walk in each other’s proverbial shoes can help build understanding.


Further reading: 

How to spot team entrenchment by Alyson Meister.


Alyson Meister - IMD Professor

Alyson Meister

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD

Alyson Meister is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior and Director of the Future Leaders program at IMD Business School. Specializing in the development of globally oriented, adaptive, and inclusive organizations, she has worked with of executives, teams, and organizations from professional services to industrial goods and technology. She also serves as co-chair of One Mind at Work’s Scientific Advisory Committee, with a focus on advancing mental health in the workplace. Follow her on Twitter: @alymeister.


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