“I do not want to go home like this. Can you do something about the atmosphere?”, he said.
It was Friday afternoon, 1 hour before the end of the executive team offsite. We had spent two days together, in seclusion, far away from the office.
Two months prior to that, the CEO had asked me: “Help me build my new executive team”. He had done some serious reorganisation, put new structures in place, replaced one third of the staff. And also his leadership team had been intensely reshuffled.
By now, he was sure that the right people were in the right place. Now it was time to focus on the hard part: make sure they act like one team. They agreed to work on their team dynamics for two entire days. No business agenda. Just group processes. In order to say the things that needed to be said and detect the team patterns that were holding them back.
The exercise was hard at times. Hilarious at others. And by Friday afternoon, the team was feeling exhausted. Then this one director spoke up and asked me to do something about the atmosphere.
“Sure I can”, I said, “and I will, but first and foremost, it is important to sit with this tension. To feel what is alive among the team members. Let’s not sugarcoat this. Not everyone in this team feels appreciated, harsh words were spoken, wounds need to be licked. This is the reality of this team. Let’s not hide away from that. It is important that as a team, you build the capacity to hold this tension. To make it visible and sit with it. Only that way it can dissipate and free up room for the work that needs to be done. Because let’s face it, we are not here just to have fun, but to build a productive working relationship.”
Every team and every organisation has a limited TEM-cup, this means: their Time, Energy and Means (money, people,…) are finite. When part of this important TEM is spent on bickering and coffee machine gossip about some of the colleagues, this eats away precious TEM to be spent on actual work, on actually realising the organisation’s mission. So how can you re-fill the cup?
They agreed to finish the discussion on the “hard stuff”. And after that my colleague and I invited them to take part in a fishbowl exercise. In turns, they sat down on a chair in the middle of the circle. We asked the other colleagues, to share authentic words of gratitude and recognition, just for one minute.
One minute per person.
Authentic words of gratitude and recognition.
It took about 3 minutes to shift the entire mood in the room and re-fill the cup. The director spoke up again after we completed the exercise: “Thank you for that. We needed that. I go home feeling very positive and supported.” Morale: Whenever your team is in a dark spot, do not shy away from the words that need to be said. Do not cover up the tension that needs to be felt. Only by collectively holding the tension, it will dissipate and make room for something constructive. And on a second note, it just takes minutes to re-fill the cup when you use authentic words of gratitude and recognition.