10 Signs Your Team is Stuck – and What To Do About It.

10 Signs Your Team is Stuck – and What To Do About It.


I meet with leaders all the  time who are passionate, talented, and innovative but who are still struggling to get their teams to perform at the level they know is possible. They have clear roles and objectives but often fall short of achieving their goals.  They feel stuck!  When talking with these leaders, I find they are often dealing with the same frustrations. Based on these shared frustrations, I have put together a list of the top 10 signs your team is stuck:

1) Your organization has corporate values such as TEAMWORK, LEADERSHIP and RESPECT; however, these values rarely get lived out on a day-to-day basis.

2) Strategic plans get off to a good start, but often get stalled and fail to fully achieve the original goals.

3) Difficult or uncomfortable conversations get avoided during team meetings, resulting in many informal “meetings after the meeting”.

4) Change initiatives and new approaches are met with resistance and skepticism.

5) The composition of your organization’s staff fails to reflect the diversity of your community in areas such as gender and race.

6) When discussing differences of opinion between coworkers, conversations often feel like a tug-of-war where each person is only focused on proving the other person wrong and getting them to their “side”.

7) Your organization’s strategies and plans often resemble the pendulum of a grandfather clock; going in one direction for a while, only to swing back to where things were in the first place.

8) Internal competition is constantly undermining your ability to do any collaborative teamwork.

9) Policies and procedures keep getting in the way of any meaningful progress.

10) Team members often talk about the struggle of managing the conflicting demands of work and home.

What most leaders don’t know is that the thing they’re most avoiding – tension – is the very thing that could get them unstuck and explode the growth and effectiveness of their team. Here are three easy steps to start tapping into the power of healthy tension and getting your team unstuck

Here are three easy steps to start tapping into the power of healthy tension and getting your team unstuck.

When I say tension, I’m referring to ongoing situations where there is no one solution, no fix, no perfect way. Unsolvable problems that never go away. These can also be called polarities, conflicting values, or chronic issues. Here are 12 examples of tensions to manage in our teams:

Task vs. Relationship
Control vs. Empowerment
Critical Analysis vs. Encouragement
Structure vs. Flexibility
Tradition and Stability vs. Innovation and Change
Centralized vs. Decentralized
Planning vs. Execution
Truthful and Candid vs. Tactful and Diplomatic
Cost vs. Quality
Speed vs. Service
Give Freedom vs. Hold Responsible
Work vs. Home

The first step in getting unstuck is to identify your crux tension. These are the 1 to 3 tensions that you find yourself dealing with every single day; tensions that always seem to be tied to how well or poorly things are going. The things that come up at staff meetings and have you (and your teammates) saying, “I can’t believe we’re dealing with this again.” These are your crux tensions, and I would suggest that they are the gatekeepers to your team’s ability to thrive. From the list of 12 tensions above, identify the 1 tension you feel is a crux tension for your team. How well is your team managing this tension? What are things you can do to bring a better awareness of this tension to your team so they understand it, realize it’s not going away, and collectively manage it in a healthy way?

A bias is your preference or your default point of view. It’s the side of the tension that you see first and you see the clearest. I am going to suggest that with every tension you manage – including the crux tension you just identified – you will always have a bias to one side over the other. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you like one side and dislike the other, or that you believe that one side is right and the other side is wrong. It simply means that you have a preference. The goal when managing a crux tension is to mind your bias. Similar to “minding your manners”, or “minding the gap” (if you have traveled in the UK), “minding your bias” means to pay attention to it; to be aware of it; and to be mindful of it. This means to have both confidence and humility based on your bias. Confidence comes from knowing that you possess a unique point of view, potentially a point of view that no one else on your team fully sees or understands. We want to take responsibility for bringing this unique point of view to our meetings, our projects, and our team relationships.
Humility comes from knowing that there will be others on the team that will have a different – yet equally true – point of view. This diverse point of view is one that you might not be able to see clearly, or even see at all, without the help of others. If you are able to see the wisdom that comes from their resistance and embrace their different perspective, they can become a powerful and important ally as you work together to achieve your team objectives together.

Now the real challenge becomes how to have a productive conversation with a teammate who has an opposing bias to yours, and not just end up in a polarizing debate about who is right and who is wrong? This can be challenging because most people speak the language of problem-solving. We like to banter and debate in a way that pulls from an either/or, good/bad, right/wrong paradigm. However, the unfortunate reality is that, if you engage in conversation with a teammate whose bias is opposite to yours, this problem-solving language will inevitably drive the teammate more strongly into their bias, and you will end up more polarized than you were before the conversation. You have to learn a new language – the language of healthy tension. This starts with valuing curiosity in an uncompromising and ongoing way. If you realize during a conversation that you’re not truly curious about what the other person is suggesting, and that you’re closed to the reality that their ideas may contain wisdom and truth, that indicates that you are approaching the situation like a problem to solve and only want your side to win. In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey wisely encourages us to “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” This means you need to start by trying to understand and embrace the point of view conflicting with your own. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up—it only means that your goal is to fully understand the other perspective first. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t share your point of view. We are responsible to share the unique perspective that our bias brings; however, if you start with the goal of trying to understand the other side of the picture, it often results in a greater opportunity to share our own, and to explore how two perspectives can work together to complete the whole picture.

Once you realize that many of the biggest challenges facing your team are not problems to solve, but instead tensions to manage, everything starts to change. You realize that it’s OK that your team is always talking about (and often struggling with) these tensions – in fact – it’s critical that you keep fighting hard to manage these tensions well. Conversations that were once avoided are now being had in a respectful and impactful way. Teammates that were once polarized and divided start to become powerful allies. Goals and objectives that seemed impossible start to become achievable. Positive change that would have been once feared and avoided is now embraced in a wise and confident way. Your team gets unstuck! Is your team tapping into the Power of Healthy Tension? Take the quiz – www.thepowerofhealthytension.com/quiz

Tim Arnold

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