Healthy tension and team dynamics

Mar 13, 2022

 In todays world, managing tension or stress in ourselves and others can make the difference between a successful energizing work environment full of high fives and an unhealthy group of individuals resorting to finger pointing and disengagement. 

 From a sailing perspective and context, this can be translated to becalmed (Green), underway (yellow), and overpowered (red).  The boat is simply not going to move without some strain and pressure.  The wind hits the sail and propels the ship forward.  The trick is staying in that sweet spot so we can maintain steerage.

 In coaching others, I used to think that the goal of my efforts was to bring individuals into the green.  In other words, to reduce strain.  Over time I realized that the place of action and movement was in how the stress and strain was handled and coaching the skills to find consistency.  Here are some tips to guide in the right direction.


  1. Take the temperature: As a leader, you set the tone for the way that stress is processed and tension is handled. Make sure that first you are aware of how you are personally handling challenges because this will reflect in your team.  Then, take the opportunity to connect with each of your reports on a consistent and regular basis to tune in to how they are handling their own issues and what you can do to help.


  1. Tune in to how stress is processed: Taking on too much can manifest in different ways in different people and understanding this in yourself and others is essential to success. The ideal result of asking for help is rare.  Common responses are overperforming, escaping, or blaming.  What do you see?


  1. Make space for recovery and play: Know how much is too much. Overloading can quickly lead to burn out and doesn’t help anyone.  By saying ‘NO’ to what doesn’t fit the situation, you have a chance to say ‘YES’ to more healthy possibilities.  Finding a balance that works for you and your teammates can vastly support the clarity of work/life balance.


  1. Eat that frog, for breakfast: By picking the most unpleasant or tedious thing on the list and doing it first, we can build momentum to tackle the other tasks. Furthermore as a leader, we can show to our team our fortitude towards ‘W.E.I.T.’.  This cultivates skills in others that are guaranteed to give a solid return on investment.


  1. Celebrate the wins: Positive reinforcement of what went right builds camaraderie and confidence. When specific behaviors are highlighted through the lens of values a strong and supportive culture is formed.  Individual and group recognition can create an energizing culture of joy.  Consider monthly or quarterly retreats or ways to honor the behaviors that make the team successful.


In summary, by simply tuning in to how you and your team are experiencing stress and strain can make all the difference.  Benefits from investing your energy here can include retention of key talent stemming from a more supportive work environment, a higher degree of efficacy when dealing with inevitable challenges and an organically sustainable bottom line in your P&L.