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Avoid Post Game Blame: Learn to Tolerate Team Tension

For all you golfers out there, you may recognize the interview mentioned below and the tension seen in the photo above, that took place during and just after the USA Golf Team lost to Europe in the Ryder Cup, again.

For you non-golfers, the Ryder Cup is a golf tournament where the USA Golf Team is pitted against the European Golf Team. The USA has lost eight out of ten times. Phil Mickelson, from the United States, was on the team and is one of the best golfers in the world. Tom Watson, another world class United States golfer, was the Captain of this year’s USA Ryder Cup Team.

Taken from the USA Today:

GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — Phil Mickelson delivered his most memorable shot after the Ryder Cup was over.

Not with a club, but with his words.

It’s rare to hear even a remote reference to criticism from a player at Ryder Cup. Mickelson took it to an unprecedented level when he delivered his message in the closing news conference, sitting alongside his 11 teammates with captain Tom Watson right in the middle.

The interview took place on TV, and if you watched, the tension and discomfort was palpable across the other eleven players, as they sat listening and looking back and forth between Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson.

Awkward? Yes!

Not what you want on a team. Well, not after the competition is over.

Was Phil Mickelson out of line? Well, yes, we think his timing was off, and no, the need to deliver the message was important. We would have advised Phil to deliver the message much earlier in the process and more directly.

Tolerating tension on a team is vital to the team’s success.

Too often teams stay out-of-the danger, wanting to diffuse the tension between team members as quickly as possible. The leader is the critical influencer here. This desire to reduce the tension can be due to a leader’s level of control and need for a firm hand, which doesn’t allow for any type of criticism or negative feedback. Or it can be due to a leader’s desire to be liked, and keep the peace.

Both of types of leadership get in the way of success.

Ironically, teams tend to pull together under pressure. Often a crisis will force a team to confront and deal with differences.

In fact, a crisis is often one of the best opportunities for building tremendous levels of trust. Why? Because, in a crisis people are emotionally invested in getting to the outcome, surviving the crisis. So they will tend to hang in, stay in the discomfort and tension of differences that come up between team members. What can be learned from these situations is tremendous.

Yes conflict and tension are uncomfortable. Does it get easier? Maybe, but not really. Conflict and tension are almost always uncomfortable situations. However, knowing that it will be difficult, and inviting and encouraging conflict anyway, can actually build team trust, and get to much better outcomes.

This should provide a leader motivation and desire to step in and support the discomfort as a path to a better team.

No doubt people will be critical of Phil Michelson for exposing the ugly team dynamics. Clearly, the path was not ideal, and sadly, one that is all to common, post game blame. However, maybe that criticism should also go towards Tom Watson for not inviting and dealing with the tension before the tournament ended!

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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