Blog · Nov 13, 2015

Managing Team Performance – Avoiding Stress

Team performance – keeping it stress free

Managing team performance is a challenge for business leaders in organisations everywhere. There are many areas of possible friction. Whether it’s how much autonomy to give an individual team member, or how big a task to give one particular group, leaders and managers may feel they are constantly battling to keep their teams happy, stress-free and productive.

A recent BBC News article highlighted just how big a challenge this can be. More and more people are working extremely long days and weeks but that doesn’t mean that they’re becoming more productive. In fact, this level of stress appears to be damaging the UK’s productivity as a whole. The average British worker is now siginficantly less productive than their French counterparts, despite working significantly longer hours.

Last year’s Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report picked up on a similar trend, which it called ‘The Overwhelmed Employee’, describing it as ‘a challenge that nearly every company sees… but struggles to handle’. Stress and over stimulation is clearly becoming a problem for people in businesses of all sizes. In this article we’ll look at some of the strategies that we’ve used to help people change how they perform, measure, review and improve – and alleviate possible stresstriggers.

Focus on what’s important

One of the biggest problems identified in the Deloitte report is bombardment. Every day many of us receive more emails, phone calls, letters and messages than we can possibly handle. If you don’t have an effective strategy for handling, processing and delegating these, it’s easy to become completely overwhelmed and to shut down. This goes for members of your team too – but there are practical steps that you can take to reduce their daily load.

These practical steps centre on the first of our Performance Principles –  Focus on What’s Important. In short, this means having a laser like focus on the tasks and action that improve your performance and get you closer to your goals. Ben and the team maintained this level of discipline in the run-up to their Sydney Olympics win by constantly asking themselves the question ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster’. If the answer was ‘no’ they re-thought the action and came up with something that did.

Taking this extremely focused and disciplined approach to both individual and team performance can help to reduce stress in two important ways. Firstly, it ensures that everyone is doing valuable, productive work. Used correctly, this technique will mean that nobody is getting stressed by having to fit in frivolous or unnecessary tasks. Secondly, in the vast majority of cases it significantly reduces workload, by forcing everyone to consider why they do what they do. Doing something ‘Because I’ve always done it’ or ‘Because that’s the way it’s done’ becomes less viable.

For example, you can make it clear in your emails who needs to take what action. This will allow all the members of your team to focus on what’s important and to play to their own strengths. It also avoids the risk of team members duplicating each other’s work and wasting time and resources.

Can stress help develop high performing teams?

For many of our clients, there is a moment when they decide that “doing fine” is not good enough. It’s a moment when the question arises – how do we take “okay” performance and invigorate our teams throughout the organisation? How do we lift our performance into something extraordinary, where everyone throughout the organisation is engaged and onboard with the goals of the business? How do we create high performing teams?

It’s a process we understand well – and one which we believe starts with the setting of stretching and memorable team goals – Crazy goals as we call them. From here, the process of building high performing teams can begin. However, ironing out roadblocks as they appear, or even better, understanding what the potential road blocks might be before they appear can only contribute to the likelihood of success. Stress is one of those potential road blocks.

As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review articulates,  if one follows the media attention on stress and its negative health impacts, it is easy to reach the conclusion that stress is irredeemably bad—something to be avoided as much as possible.

Another school of thought suggests that pursuing a “stress-free” life often causes more stress down the line. The same HBR article outlines how problems may compound, and how, by failing to face our most intense challenges, we may never overcome them. Its authors, Alia Crum and Thomas Crum make the point:

“Think about a time when you experienced substantial personal or professional growth, or a time when you performed at your highest level, such as finishing a race, building a business, or raising a child. What was it that motivated and fuelled you to grow, learn, and improve during these times? We are willing to bet that those times invariably involved some stress or struggle.”

Stress has positives – it can connect us directly with the most challenging and important aspects of our lives. Of course, sustained stress can take its toll, but it may also bring unexpected benefits, tin the form of personal growth. There has been empirical research in the area of psychology that has suggested that individuals who adopt a “stress is enhancing” mindset in their lives show greater work performance and fewer negative health symptoms than those who adopt a “stress-is-debilitating” lens.

So, how do you build stress management into your team development? What strategies do you recommend?

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