How you can help you team manage their states

Manage your states

Last week, we looked at how teams are organic systems and as such by definition unstable (If you did not see that post, it might be helpful to read that first HERE).

The lack of stability shows up as a result of the shifting states of each team member, and that in return obviously has repercussion on the state of the whole team.

So what do we mean by states?

States are temporary conditions that constantly transitioning into new states. You are tired, refreshed, lethargic, energetic. Those are all different forms of physical states. Or you are happy, sad, exuberant, angry or whatever. These are emotional states. The two play an ever ongoing interdependent dance with each other. When I have slept well, I feel happier than when I just had two hours restless sleep on a plane.

The state that we are in at any given time influences our performance quite dramatically. Just think of yourself and what a difference it makes to your own performance when you are feeling energetic and happy – or the opposite.

But it is more complex than that. Humans are a social species and we influence on each other. There have been made all sorts of experiments to prove this. You take a deeply depressed person and ask them so sit in a train compartment with 6-8 other people for 15-20 minutes. Just sitting there, not saying a word. And then you interview the other passengers about how they feel afterwards and you can register a clear dominance of more negative, pessimistic state in everyone in that compartment. Alternatively, you ask a guy who just won the lottery, became father for the first time or some other major happy events to also make a journey in a train compartment. Again, just sitting there, not saying a word. When you interview the other passengers, you will find a significant level of positive states and optimism in the whole group.

The rule of thumb here is that the person in the group with the strongest emotion tends to affect the rest of the group positively or negatively as the case may be.

Think about that the next time you turn up for work in a bad mood and with the attitude that it only concerns yourself and they should just get on with their work. You have just lowered the productivity level in your team by anything from 10% to 50% depending on how foul your mood happens to be.

So the first lesson here is that I need to manage my own states. That is a whole subject in itself and I will dedicate a full module to that in my upcoming Team Leaders’ Toolbox training.

For now, let’s just assume that you already understand that and are fully aware of how to manage your own states and what the consequences are for your surroundings when you don’t.

Next, we need to look at, that apart from your basics state, you can also be more or less helpfully in affecting your team members states – both positively and negatively.

What causes us to shift or change our state?

At a very basic level, it is about stimulus and response. Something happens and you react (as per reflex) or you respond. When we respond, there is the notion that we actually make a conscious choice. People who are good at managing their states respond.

Many of your team members will just react. And their reactions follow a very simple pattern.

When something happens that is within the range of what they expected, there is no reaction. Their state is unchanged. When something happens that is better than they had expected, they have a positive reaction and that shifts their emotional state to a more positive mood (and of course that has repercussion on their physical energy levels as well). But if something happens that is worse than they expected, they will react negatively and experience a shift in state to something that is more negative with a corresponding drop in physical energy levels as well.

This pattern has an added complication. Our brain is not very good at differentiating between what is actually going on and what we think is going on, or maybe will be going on in the future. So when we have a feeling that this is going to be great – or terrible, we react accordingly even if whatever it is has not yet occurred.

Shift your focus and you shift your state

That is why paying attention to what we are focusing on is another important part of managing our states. When I focus on what I want, what I would like to create, I have positive thoughts/emotions. When I focus on what I don’t want or what I would like to avoid, I have negative thoughts/emotions.

In the same category but slightly different is the sensation of lack of control. Most of us go into seriously negative states when we feel that we have no control of what is currently happening or about to happen. We have this to different degrees. Some people handle a lack of control better than others. But take away all control from someone and you basically have a torture situation.

A good dentist understands this, and explains very carefully what she is going to do next, etc. In that way, she is actively managing your experience and trying to avoid you going into unnecessarily negative states (Because it is bad for business, you won’t come back, and you will tell your friends bad things about the experience).

Also in this category is any notion of fear. You do not want any of your team members to experience any form of fear. Because it obviously triggers very unhelpful mental and physical states. This sounds so obvious, but think of your own career, how many times a week you had that feeling of fear in your belly? How often was it caused by someone in a senior position, their behaviour or words? Causing any form of anxiety in your team is very unhelpful.

So in summary, you can help you team members manage their states by:

  • Skilfully managing your own states
  • Avoiding unpleasant surprises whenever you can (Being clear about what is going to happen and what your expectations are)
  • Being clear about what needs to be done, but leaving the control of how to do it up to them.
  • Helping them stay focused on what we are trying to create or achieve as opposed to focusing on what is not working or that we want to avoid

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This post is one of a series where we are exploring the notion of leadership and how this is different from management. Our starting point is the Service Profit Chain and the understating that the management part of our job will only take us so far. If we really want to create an organisation that is capable of delivering outstanding customer experiences, we need to develop an organisation that delivers outstanding employee experiences – and that requires leadership. You can check out other articles of the series below:

  1. Are you an inspiring leader to work for?
  2. What does it require to be an inspirational leader?
  3. The something for something system is at the heart of the uninspiring workplace.
  4. How is team management different from team leadership and why should I worry?
  5. Teams are organic systems, and therefore, by definition unstable.