One of the biggest challenges a team manager and their team can face is the that of managing stress. Stress is all around us and can be caused by numerous factors. The team manager can inflict stress on the team if they display incompetence and undesirable behaviours; the team can inflict stress on the manager by doing similar; the organisational culture can be toxic and the environment in which the team itself works can also put the team under a lot of stress. Stress can also be brought into the team as a result of individual personal challenges that team members are facing in their private lives. Stress is all around us and it is vital that both the team and each individual in the team is equipped with the right attitudes, behaviours and skills in order that not only can they prevent stress building up but they can handle it when it manifests itself. The impact of stress cannot be underestimated as the effects can have a huge impact on productivity and individual health.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated vastly overdue change in terms of providing support for employees from organisations with many HR Departments rushing now to engage Stress Management and Well-Being consultants to assist them with their policies and procedures in relation to providing support and advice for both prevention of stress and for managing it. This is to be welcomed and a huge emphasis must be placed on training and coaching team managers and their teams as to how best to prevent stress in their teams but also on how best to manage it when it occurs. Senior leadership have a huge role to play here to ensure that they are leading by example and that they also, are not the primary cause of stress.
There is a lot, though, that team managers and teams can do for themselves in order to play their part in preventing stress. As I have highlighted through many articles and videos, one of the key challenges any team has, is not to immediately ‘fly into task’ when they are presented with their aims and goals. This immediately can cause stress as there has been no discussion as to how best the team are going to work together. This results in ‘personality style’ clashes, confusion over specific roles and responsibilities, disagreements as to how best a task is tackled, and inappropriate and unwelcome behaviours across the team. The team immediately goes into the ‘storming’ phase of its life cycle and it can be very challenging to get the team out of this, due, in many ways, to the stress that is being inflicted upon the team and also the stress that the team is inflicting upon itself. Trust can be destroyed and with little trust the team will not perform to anywhere near its potential.
An essential step in any team’s life cycle is to ensure that before any ‘flying into task’ the team gets ‘around the table’ and ensures a full and open discussion about the essential basics that must be put in place and understood by the whole team. They should ensure a full and open discussion about the following:
· What is the team’s specific purpose?
· What are the team’s specific aims and goals?
· Does everyone understand their own roles and responsibilities and also, those of the other members of the team?
· What are the overall training and development needs of the team as a whole? Is stress management a development team for everyone?
· Each team members’ needs and expectations must be openly discussed. What specific behaviours must each team member demonstrate and what behaviours must be avoided. How will the team identify when it is under stress and when individual members are under stress? How will the team support each other when stress occurs? Is the Team Contract in place?
· What review processes have the team put in place? Have they made provision for reviewing the team’s performance against its purpose and goals? The Team Development Plan? The Team Contract?
· Managing Stakeholders. Senior stakeholders can be a huge source of support for teams but they can also be a source of stress. Has the team identified their stakeholders and specifically how they are going to manage these stakeholders positively?
There’s a lot to cover in terms of simply covering the basics prior to getting ‘stuck into the task’ and you can see that if the team does fully and openly discuss the key basics and come to agreements then if these agreements are kept to then stress can be prevented and (if stress does occur) effectively managed.
Too often, the key sources of stress on workplace teams are
self-induced simply because they do not pay attention to the essential basics of effective team formation and team working. As they say in the medical world, ‘prevention is better than cure’.