Geodynamic numerical models often employ solely grain-size-independent dislocation creep to describe upper mantle dynamics. However, observations from nature and rock deformation experiments suggest that shear zones can transition to a grain-size-dependent creep mechanism due to dynamic grain size evolution, with important implications for the overall strength of plate boundaries. We apply a two-dimensional thermo-mechanical numerical model with a composite diffusion-dislocation creep rheology coupled to a dynamic grain size evolution model based on the paleowattmeter. Results indicate average olivine grain sizes of 3–12 cm for the upper mantle below the LAB, while in the lithosphere grain size ranges from 0.3–3 mm at the Moho to 6–15 cm at the LAB. Such a grain size distribution results in dislocation creep being the dominant deformation mechanism in the upper mantle. However, deformation-related grain size reduction below 100 μm activates diffusion creep along lithospheric-scale shear zones during rifting, affecting the overall strength of tectonic plate boundaries.