Few people would lobby for more tension at work. Yet there are ways in which tension can not only be helpful, but transformative. Artists talk about the need to linger in a state of tension in order for the creative juices to flow. Likewise, people in organizations need a little agitation to keep collaboration alive.
Jim King wrote in an HBR blog that tension in teams is a good thing. He praises teams who handle it openly and don’t bury discomfort in the name of team unity. To keep discomfort to a minimum, Mr. King recommends physically arranging the team around a whiteboard, so that they are facing “the issue” instead of other team members. He also reinforced the need to keep the discussion focused on facts, not personal aspects. Too often, people assume that others have the same knowledge, when in fact they see reality much differently. Aligning on the verifiable truth early will avoid angry outbursts later.
Taken too far or dealt with inappropriately, tension can be destructive. How can you diagnose whether the tension your team is experiencing is destructive or transformative? The telltale signs of destructive tension are:
- People frequently use the phrase, “Yes, BUT…”
- Thinking is narrow, limited to short-term or the current situation only
- Individuals “own” parts of the process or project and aren’t open to others’ ideas
- There is lots of talking, but little listening
- Little to no mutual understanding
- Tension is not dealt with openly, but shows itself indirectly (e.g., snide remarks, silos and lack of communication)
When you have transformative tension in your team, you will see an increase in:
- Creativity and innovation
- Free flow of ideas
- Listening for deep mutual understanding
- Respectful treatment of everyone
- Valuing ideas, even if they are new or unusual
- Use of the term “Yes, AND…” to build on suggestions
- Group ownership of projects and processes
- Acceptance that positive tension can be productive and necessary
Maybe we should embrace the fact that tension is an inevitable and even necessary part of work life. As the old saying goes, Goodbye tension, hello pension!
Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!
Photo courtesy of stock.xchng
Sad to say, one never gets rid of tension. As the above indicates, it is how you react to. and/or use, tension that allows you to cope well and succeed or otherwise. Most of us create tension for ourselves and/or for others. Deadlines create tension, even more so when they are unrealistic and arbitrarily determined by those who have nothing to do with achieving them. Talking about, and understanding, what is causing the tension, will often help those affected to cope, including having a catalytic effect on team performance. Nevertheless, managers have to be careful about simply creating tension to achieve the latter outcome. People are not stupid and can be unforgiving.