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Overcoming Team Tension – Part 2

In the last blog we looked at how to recognize the symptoms of team tension. So, what are some practical ways to manage it? The first is to simply acknowledge that team tension exists. This can take some bravery. In the middle of a meeting, make a declaration: “We seem to be at an impasse here. I’m sensing some tension about our differences. I wonder if we could…” Then fill in the rest of the sentence with one of the suggestions below.


Allow the situation to rest for a while. Sleep on it. Think it over during the weekend. Share your thoughts with colleagues outside the team. If there has been a long build-up to a disagreement, it may not get resolved quickly. Be patient.


Consider asking an objective outsider to help resolve differences. When you do, be sure to present both sides thoroughly. Then, listen for what your advisor has to offer. Avoid saying, “Yeah, you’re right.” This often means you’ve heard what is being said, but you don’t really get it and you plan to do nothing. A trained mediator can help, but only if both parties agree.


Consider what you are really attached to. What are your motivations for pursuing a course of action? Perhaps what you think is of paramount importance is not really essential to the project. Focus on what makes a difference, and let the rest go. Make a concession or agree to a minor part of the project without holding it up. The consequences will likely be minimal.


Do you really understand the other person’s point of view? Practice active listening. This means hearing their comments in full, rather than composing your own response as they speak. Then, repeat back your understanding of what the other person said. Check with the other person to see if you got it right. Sometimes your empathy will encourage him or her to tell you more, uncovering additional clues about how to deal with the issues.


Offer to concede a point or meet in the middle. You’ll be surprised at how accommodating the other person can be when you “blink first.” Don’t think of it as backing down. Think of it as creating an opening towards a productive next step.


In a meeting, remind everyone what the objective is. Ensure everyone agrees. Then help them visualize a picture of success. When people realize they are all working towards the same purpose, they become less entrenched in their own positions.


This technique can work for two people or for a large group. List the issue at the top of a piece of paper or white board. Then write down everything you agree on. Anyone in the discussion gets a veto – if they don’t agree, it doesn’t get written down. Listing a series of agreements focuses people’s attention on core values and common steps. You’ll be surprised at how much people actually agree on. And, when people discover this, positive energy emerges that spurs further cooperation.


Humility can go a long way to opening up conversations. Apologize for making accusations, or even for not understanding the objective properly. Then, use one of the techniques above to find a genuine path towards team commitment.

Remember that team tension is natural. If your team consists of a variety of strong individuals, disagreements will naturally occur. If they don’t, your team may have too many conformists who are unwilling to challenge the status quo. Strive to keep the differences minor, and not long-lasting. What you should hope for is a situation where team members say, “We often disagree with each other, but we can always go for a beer afterwards.”

It isn’t easy admitting that team tension exists. By breaking the ice, you allow others to admit that there is tension. Only then can you move towards a better solution. Eventually, someone on the team will thank you for being so forthright.

Remember to keep the perspective of time in mind. Minor differences today will eventually form the histories, the stories, and the anecdotes that you will look back on as the team celebrates its successes.

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