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Overcoming Team Tension – Part 1

You’re working on a big project. Deadlines are approaching. Major work needs to be done. Numerous team members are involved. The goal is clear.

At the beginning of the project, things go smoothly.  But then trouble sets in. It starts out as a minor difference of opinion between team members. Then, there’s a stall in progress. Suddenly someone digs in their heels. Positions become more firm. Arguments ensue and no one is happy. Nothing gets done. It’s a case of team tension.

People work on teams because collaboration allows productive activity to flourish. One person doesn’t have all the skills, resources, or knowledge to get everything done. So teams form to foster synergy. The theory is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Individuals can make progress, whereas teams can make magic.

But difficulties can arise because not everyone sees a project the same way. Team members bring different experiences, training, and points of view to their work. Sometimes, these clash. The result is team tension.

RECOGNIZE THE SYMPTOMS                                                                    

 You experience team tension when you encounter the following symptoms:

  • Team members communicate points of view to each other, repeating them over and over. It’s just the same old arguments. If someone doesn’t break the logjam, discussions can become more heated. Arguments ensue.
  • You think that you have perfectly sensible ideas and you have good evidence to back them up. But your suggestions are routinely rejected by others on the team. They tell you that your idea won’t work. You disagree, and tension builds.
  • Individuals begin implementing one part of a decision they’ve made, without informing other team members. This is progress by stealth.
  • You worry that there is an overwhelming issue no one has addressed. You feel that it must be dealt with sooner or later. Perhaps you feel too intimidated to bring it up.
  • Someone threatens to quit to the team. The hints may be subtle. For instance, someone leaves a discussion with no agreement or decision made. Then, the resignation note, along with nasty accusations, arrives.
  • Team members use documentation to cover themselves. They write down what they agreed to, or send detailed emails of what they plan to do, or what they expect you to do. The more complicated it gets, the more trouble there is. Documentation is useful, but not when it masks unresolved differences.
  • Someone appeals to a higher authority to resolve the dispute. Or they suggest a vote. But bosses don’t like to take sides, and voting creates winners and losers rather than consensus.
  • An agreement is made at a meeting for specific action on an item. But then it never gets implemented by. Excuses are offered. Communication goes back and forth asking when the implementation will occur. The communication gets more pointed, more accusing, and usually more officious sounding. It’s a mess.

So, you’ve discovered that team tension exists. How do you address it? That’s what we will look at in the next blog.

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