Do you think that tension good or bad? It’s not as simple as you think! Most leaders tend to disapprove of tension, but it can be productive! The simplest way to explain tension is by looking at a rubber band. When you stretch a rubber band, you put energy into it. The farther you pull a rubber band back, the further it will fly when you let go. However, if you apply too much tension, the rubber band will break. When leaders try to improve their team and grow their business, tension is inevitable, but successful leaders know how to use that tension to bring out the best in their teams without breaking them.
One of the traits of a dynamic, healthy organization is that people are unafraid to share their ideas. But this kind of culture does not happen naturally. It must be modeled, cultivated, and nurtured by a leader who welcomes disagreement and does not insist on having the right to answer or the last word.
The goal for leaders is not to avoid tension. It isn’t even how to resolve tension. Instead, leaders need to know how to manage tension to produce positive results. Every challenge is not a threat to your leadership. If you think that way, you will not be able to receive any constructive criticism or suggestions. With stability, security, and wisdom, you can embrace those who disagree with you and listen without becoming defensive.
Organizations without tension risk...
Maintaining the status quo
Being unaware of what can be done better
A lack of innovation
A lack of respect
When a decision is made...
Once a decision is made, it needs to be respected. Regardless of how a decision is made, the entire team needs to own the decision. This means we welcome disagreement and the free exchange of ideas within the team, but when the responsible person makes a decision, everyone supports it. Practically speaking, this means that they don’t nod at the end of the meeting and then walk out and tell a friend how dumb the idea was.
Should tension come from the bottom up or the top down?
Top-down tension is controlled and managed by the leader.
Bottom-up tension is either because you have a complainer or a peak performer on your team. Make sure that you know the difference!
How to create and manage healthy tension:
Set clear expectations.
Hold people accountable by having tough conversations.
Ask questions, don’t just give answers.
Always look for ways to improve.
Force people to work through their own disputes.
Give frequent feedback.
Q: Do you have a culture created that embraces tension? What will you do to work on that? Describe a time when you spoke up and created tension. How was it received by your team members? How was it received by your boss?
Q: How open are you to tension that is created by people in the organization other than you? Describe a time when you had to respond to tension created by another person. What did you do? What do you wish you would have done differently? Q: How has tension allowed you to grow as a person or how have you used tension to help grow members of your team?
Identify a source of tension in your team that you are not currently managing. Think about who is involved and how you can take some control over the tension. If the tension is caused by an unpleasant team member, go back and listen to the episode Tough Conversations and come up with a plan to address the tension and use it to help your team grow.
Look back at the list of things that happen if you do not have tension in your organization. Do you recognize any of the signs on that list? If so, pay extra attention to whether or not people voice their disagreements in your next meeting. If you leave the meeting with a complete consensus, it is likely that you need to do more to create a culture that values tension! Try asking your team to each come up with one thing they would improve whenever you are coming up with a solution or debriefing a past project.
As you start the new year, consider taking time to set your expectations again for your team. Look over the list of ways to manage healthy tension and make sure that you include them in your expectations. Sometimes people will not voice their concerns because they are afraid of what the boss will think. Telling them that you want to hear their concerns and feedback upfront will help alleviate this concern. However, remember to follow up your words with your actions! You will quickly lose your team’s trust if you get defensive whenever they give negative feedback.