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Tense, Stressed & Unproductive? 3 Ways To Turn Your Team Around.

Updated: Dec 13, 2019



A new client emailed us to describe a common, relatable situation.

“I manage a team of smart, wonderful people,” she explained, quickly adding, “They’re all great. Really great. But something’s not working.”

She told us that team meetings often felt tense. Some employees looked down and leaned away from the conference table, looking blank and disengaged, as if they literally couldn’t wait for the meeting to end. Other employees seemed overly aggressive, interrupting one another, talking far more than they listened. Projects kept stalling. Mistakes kept being made. Nobody seemed inspired about their work. People weren’t performing at the level she knew they could.

“These are creative, passionate people. I know they’re capable of doing amazing work,” our new client added. “But something’s not clicking.”

So, now what?

As a leader, how can you repair a team that’s out of sync? How can you create an environment where people can thrive and deliver their best possible work? Do you buy sandwiches for everyone to try to boost morale? Force everyone to watch a mandatory Powerpoint presentation about collaboration?

Turkey sandwiches and Powerpoint slides are usually not enough. To really transform the team, it takes accountability and commitment, heart and courage, and a willingness to learn new communication tools and approach conflict in a very different way.

We’ve worked with teams for the last twenty years, and we’re often asked for our advice on how to transform teams that have become bitter, stuck, and stalled. There’s a lot we can say on this topic. (In fact, we wrote an entire book about it.)

If you’re managing a team that’s underperforming, and you want to turn things around, here are 3 initial steps that we recommend:

1. Stop rushing. Slow down.

Usually, when conflict arises at work—or at home—our instinct is to find a solution immediately. We don’t want to experience discomfort, ambiguity, or tension—not even for fifteen seconds! It feels too uncomfortable. So, we rush to find a solution. Before the other person has even finished speaking, we interrupt to say, “Well, here’s what we should do next…”

But this “rushing” is counter-productive. It usually just prolongs the conflict and leaves people feeling exasperated. (“Wait a sec, let me finish,” “You’re not hearing me!”)

One of the most powerful ways to turn your team around is to stop rushing and slow things down. Give people plenty of time to speak. Create a no-interruption policy. Make room for lots of answers and options to emerge. Let your team know, “It’s okay if we don’t completely solve this today. We don’t need to rush. Let’s take our time and come to a really good solution.”

For business leaders who love moving quickly, this can be uncomfortable. But the irony is, by slowing down, you’ll ultimately get to the best possible outcome much faster.

2. Settle your nervous system so you can think clearly.

Imagine a tense meeting you’ve been in. How did it feel? What happened? You probably noticed several physical changes. Your chest felt tight. Your face flushed. It felt harder to breathe. Maybe you noticed an unpleasant feeling in the pit of your stomach. You’re not imagining these things. They’re very real.

When you experience stress (any type of stress, whether it’s an upsetting text from your ex-spouse, or a snide comment from a coworker), your body’s nervous system kicks into high gear, producing extra cortisol (a stress hormone) and making it difficult to think clearly. This puts you into a low-performance state—literally, your brain is impaired. This is not the moment to make important business decisions.

First, you need to settle your nervous system so that you can shift back into a high-performance state. We teach our clients several tools for doing this. You can start by simply taking a few deep breaths—and for more suggestions, read our article, How To Be Your Best In the Midst of Conflict.

3. Lead by example. Let your team know it’s safe to be honest and real.

Have you ever been at a dinner party, and everyone’s making polite small talk about the weather, and then one person decides to say something honest and real…and the whole atmosphere in the room shifts?

“Mark and I are having some issues.” “I’m really worried about my daughter and how she’s adjusting at her new school.” “Honestly, I haven’t been doing great lately.”

All it takes is one person. As soon as one person chooses to take down their armor and be vulnerable, the floodgates open. Suddenly, everyone else feels safe to join in. “Oh my gosh, same here.” “I can relate.” “I’ve been feeling the same thing.” “I thought it was just me.”

It only takes one person to instantly transform a team. Just one. You can lead by example, showing your team that’s it’s okay to be honest and vulnerable. Imagine what might happen if you started your next meeting by saying, “I’ve been feeling pretty stressed lately and honestly, it’s been affecting my sleep. How about you guys? How are you doing, really?”

We’ve seen incredible turnarounds happen once people become vulnerable and honest with one another, instead of guarded. Once the walls come down, creative solutions come through.

In Summary

If a team isn’t working well, turning things around does take effort. But it’s worth it.

A high-performing team can accomplish things that are so much bigger and deeper than any one person can do alone. To build a skyscraper, to send a rocket to Mars, to triple your company’s revenue, it takes a team.

If you’ve been feeling discouraged lately, feeling like your team is “a lost cause” or “just hopeless,” try to remember a time in your life when you were part of a healthy, thriving team. Remember how good that felt. Maybe it was at work, on the playing field, in your high school theater department, or fighting for a cause you’re passionate about. Remember that creating a thriving team is worth the investment.

And if you want some help figuring out which “next steps” to take, reach out and inquire about working with us. We’d be honored to help take your team from tense and stressed to thriving.

CrisMarie and Susan


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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