A deep truth is emerging from the collective chaos around us; the question is, “are we ready to listen?” The undercurrents and impacts of social distancing, mask wearing, isolating and working from home are showing up within and across teams like never before. As humans, we are hardwired for relationships and connection. The circumstantial re-wiring of our neural circuitry has stirred up both complex and chaotic challenges for teams at the micro (individuals on teams), meso (teamwork across teams) and macro (systems) levels in organizations. One leader recently shared, “There is a lot of dysfunction within teams, disruptive behaviours; all signs the volcano is bubbling.” In ten years of consulting work with ineffective, dysfunctional and toxic teams, I too, am sensing a tectonic shift in the challenges and conflicts within and across teams.
The ways in which we’re working and relating have changed dramatically. The absence of casual conversations, water cooler chats and shared coffee breaks have disrupted the social ecosystem and relational architecture of “the way we do things around here.” The underground economy of teams, the undiscussables, elephants, unresolved issues and negative emotions that exist within and across teams now lack opportunity for emotional release valves and the “liminal space” to have meaningful informal dialogue, connection and support.
Stress is the great de-skiller. The fractures evident within and between teams are compounded by the magnitude of stress, uncertainty and psychological safety to effectively surface, address and resolve issues and conflicts. The “emotional garbage can era” of informal venting with peers and face-to-face coffee break chats has driven issues and team challenges underground. Emotions are hot and the problems can be heavy.
The emerging deep truth is this: what worked in the past cannot be relied on for success in the future. Leaders must change and model new ways of thinking, working and relating. The adaptive challenges teams are experiencing are rooted in the complexity of values, beliefs, loyalties and behaviours. Leadership expertise and technical know-how cannot “fix” what appears to be broken at this time. Avoiding conflict, sweeping issues under the rug and wishful thinking don’t solve the real issues.
Task driven teams have value. But what happens when the relational arteries are clogged, and “production” slows. Healthy relational dynamics and cultures are the driving mechanisms for effectiveness and results. Adaptive challenges require different processes and approaches; the people experiencing the challenge need to be involved in co-creating the solutions. Dissonance and confronting reality are part of the equation. The old adage ‘Change happens when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change’ rings true. The unresolved underground dynamics, when left unaddressed, undermine team effectiveness. The conflicts, issues and challenges you’re observing on your team are both symptoms and red flags.
As you listen to your team, what might you be hearing?