Thriving At Work: Master Team Dynamics And Mental Health!

Master Team Dynamics – Did you know that we spend about one-third of our life either sleeping or attempting to do so? Or that the average person will spend one-third of their life at work? That’s roughly 90,000 hours at work over your lifetime! That leaves one third of our life to do the things we want and need to do. 

So, just who do you spend one third of your time with? It’s a bit like “Big Brother”. A number of differing personalities are thrown together like a ready-made family and told to navigate the situations that arise. We know how that can turn out! Harper Lee, in To Kill a Mockingbird, says, “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family…” 

In the same way, for the third of our life spent at work, we cannot choose our colleagues. We are gathered together within an enclosed space, doing the work of super-humans, day after day. 

Our team dynamics are a spectrum of personalities, a motley medley of characters and this is the team’s strength and their challenge. 

Where do we start with working well with each other? We start with knowing ourselves. 

Personality Tests For Team Dynamics

There are many personality tests once can do to help you answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ One of the most well-known is the Myers-Briggs personality test, which you can easily access online. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and it gives us pause for thought. Knowing yourself is the first step in understanding others.  

Personality traits are characteristic patterns in how you think, feel, and act. It involves your character and core beliefs and your inborn temperament. 

When we look at our team members, there is a great deal of diversity. We are not an homogenous unit. We are of different ages, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, languages, abilities, beliefs and levels of experience. Added to this, some of us live with mental health issues and/or neurodiversity.  

If we are a leader, this makes our job very challenging. Just how do we bring out the best of every person in our team? How do we grow them whilst simultaneously managing the conflict that often arises? How do we look after each person’s interests whilst still ensuring all the jobs are done? Our settings are as good as our staff, so understanding how to work well with others is vital to enjoying a safe, happy, successful setting while building your team dynamics. 

Mental Health Effecting Team Dynamics

The stats are quite alarming. It appears that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.  

These problems include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, phobias, bipolar, PTSD and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Jonathan Haidt’s book,’ The Anxious Generation’, illustrates the stark reality of mental health problems in the Western world. He ascribes the start of this to the introduction of smartphones and the effect this has had on our society. 

Haidt calls it The Phone Generation Effect which impacts, amongst other things, socialising skills. He suggests that attention, listening, engaging, reading emotions, developing relationships and working within a team are all affected by this. 

He notes that put together, this leads to increased anxiety and far less resilience. How many of your team members confess to being very anxious, or state, “I have anxiety”? This state of anxiety is growing exponentially and it is driving our society. 

Of course, anyone of any age can struggle with mental health, including anxiety. Knowing some stressors will help us form strategies for addressing these with our team members. 

Stressors include personal situations, such as grief, family strife or moving house. Another stressor is finance. Many are struggling with debt and running costs and the burden can be overwhelming. Social stressors include relationship difficulties and even the job a person has at the setting can create much internal stress for them. 

I have spoken with many leaders recently who do not know how to manage a team member who is full of anxiety, battling depression or one who is self-harming, or self-medicating. Absences due to mental health problems can be extremely difficult for a leader to manage and for a team to negotiate. 

The first thing to remember is that we are not counselors or therapists. We are not trained to deal with mental health issues. However, we can develop strategies to help us manage mental health challenges in our teams. These can include: 


  • Have clear policies and codes of conduct; adhere to these 
  • Signpost; have information available online and on paper (available in a confidential space) 
  • Keep short accounts; follow up regularly 
  • Use supervisions and appraisals productively 

A very important factor to note is that of capability. It is imperative that a setting has a policy that includes capability pathways. Our fundamental premise at our nurseries is that children are safe. Does this person’s mental health issue put children (or other adults) in danger? If so, we are responsible for dealing with this fairly and effectively. Another aspect to consider is this: does the rest of the team have to carry the workload of the person who is struggling with mental health? This may be possible for a short time frame, but if it becomes too burdensome, then it is unfair on them and resentments will quickly escalate. 


Some mental health conditions can fall in the neurodivergent category, the most common being ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia. The Early Years sector naturally attracts neurodiverse individuals, who can bring much richness to our settings. Learning about neurodiversity is part of our duty of care towards our team members.  


Neurodivergence is a concept originally attributed to the 1990s sociologist, Judy Singer, who believes that we all represent human diversity and implies that neurodiversity is not a ‘them and us’ situation.  

Laura Boxley, PhD, states that, ‘neurodiversity is the idea that people experience or interact with the world around them in many different ways—some that may not be considered typical. It is based on the framework that ‘different’ is not the same as ‘deficient.’’ 

Neurodivergent individuals often experience differences in: 

  • mental function 
  • learning styles 
  • sensory processing 
  • communication style 
  • behaviours 

Again, as with mental health issues, we need strategies that will benefit us, the team dynamics, and ultimately, the children in our setting.  


  • clear and unambiguous communication, eg “you will find it next door” – does this mean the room next door, the building next door or another next door? 
  • agendas prior to meetings, reminders 
  • clear rules, policies and procedures  
  • prior notice of change  

In both mental health and neurodiversity contexts, a key strategy is to educate and inform your team and together, create a supportive culture and improve your team dynamics. 

Using these strategies will lessen misunderstandings, alleviate frustration and promote acceptance for all parties. 

However, the best way a leader can manage these situations and improve team dynamics is through the use of coaching.  

Coaching is about setting and achieving goals…a coach uses insightful questioning to help someone identify the goals they want to achieve, recognise their current circumstances, consider all the options open to them and choose which actions they will take within a defined timeframe’. (The Coaching Academy) 

A coaching approach enables leaders to set the tone of the setting to one of acceptance and encouragement. It empowers people to find their own solutions and to be accountable for their actions. It is goal oriented with clear action points set. People feel heard and understood. There is individual progress but also a deep sense of team cohesion. 

Working well with others can be tricky. It can also be rewarding, beneficial and just plain fabulous! Knowing yourself is the start. Learning about and understanding personality, mental health and neurodiversity is the next step – a step that is both a necessity and a privilege.  

We will all be richer for it. 

EnRich offers training on:
Coaching for Leaders: for leaders of all levels; understand the concept of coaching, learn fundamental skills, and develop a coaching approach in your setting. A 2-hour online tutor-led course and a full day training course are available. Working well with others; understand personality, neurodiversity and mental health and the role these play in a team; learn strategies that benefit all team members and learn coaching skills to empower each one.

“Leadership & management, a coaching approach”; a 6 module course delivered through individual coaching (a day course is also available) that equips every leader in early years to be the best they can be. 

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