Managing Your Team’s Tension Level

Conflict ManagementYou may or may not be responsible for a high level of tension among your team, but you will surely be blamed for it if it is unacceptably high to your team members. Managing the tension level in your team is a balancing act that requires finesse and constant awareness on your part. If the tension level is too high, the team will be focused more on that tension, its causes, ways to fix it, new job potentials, etc., than on doing their work. If the tension level is too low, however, team members may be happy but performance may be lackadaisical. There is a “sweet spot” for tension level that you can think of “enthusiastic engagement,” where people are challenged and productive while also being fully engaged with their jobs.

Several sets of conditions may affect the tension level of your group. First, consider any unresolved conflicts, either between team members or between the team and yourself. If these are festering, they will need to be addressed straightforwardly and resolved satisfactorily in order for the tension level to be reduced. Second, look at your own behavior. If you are overly critical of people, fail to pass information along to your team members, or in some other way create obstacles for people that get in the way of their performing their jobs, then you need to work on fixing these problems. Finally, consider the organizational environment. If layoffs are threatened, for example, tension level will be high. It will be up to you to do the best you can to mitigate the effects of tension within the organization.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with an unproductive tension level among your group:

  • Review your scores on earlier phases of the Task Cycle, particularly in planning and managing conflict. If you plan more collaboratively, you will increase involvement of team members and this will likely reduce any tension related to deadlines and expectations that your team members consider to be overly stringent. You will understand the source of discontent early and have the opportunity to deal with it. Conflict also needs to be addressed in a straightforward manner. If your team members see that you are attempting to resolve conflict, they will likely exhibit more patience with the problem, thereby reducing tension.
  • If conflict is an ongoing problem in your team, you might want to consider participating in training opportunities related to conflict management, negotiation tactics, or nonviolent communication.
  • High tension is not positive engagement. An honest look at your leadership style will help you see your part in creating high tension in your team. Yelling at people may make you feel better for a while, but it is likely to result in team members who do not tell you about problems until it is too late.
  • If things in your team are easy and productivity is high, congratulate yourself for a job well done. If productivity seems to be slipping, however, you may want to re-examine your vision and possibly increase the level of challenge involved in your goals and objectives. Your team may appreciate being involved in riskier initiatives, particularly if they regard these as a team effort and know they will not be punished if the initiatives are not as successful as hoped.

If the high tension level in your team is caused by organizational policies beyond your control, you could look at assuring your team that you will keep them informed as things change. Ultimately, successful management comes down to communication. Even if you can’t change the things around you, you can change the way you communicate about them to your team.