You’ll be Shocked to Learn Why Tension is Actually a Good Thing for Teams


I know, I know. Even hearing that word creates a tightness around my stomach and makes me cringe.

We HATE it.

It’s uncomfortable.

It means that group members are not getting along.

And it’s bad for the team right?

Well, yes.

And, no.

There’s actually a very good reason why tension can be a good thing for your team.

According to psychologist Sherrie Campbell, tension offers a lot more benefits to your team than you might think. Not only does tension help team members learn to work together, adapt, chase goals, and embrace change, but it can be vital in generating creative new ideas and solutions.

Jim Kling suggests that tension can be either destructive or creative. The trick is for the leader to understand when it’s healthy and when it’s not.

It’s usually pretty easy to sense the difference in destructive versus creative tension. Creative tension occurs when different ideas are brought to the table, and team members disagree on how to move forward. When dealing with creative tension, there are a few ground rules that will keep the team from surging toward destructive conflict.

Don’t make it personal.

Focus on trust.

Keep values at the center of the discussion.

Encourage collaboration, compromise, critical thinking, and humility.

Allow “losers” to join the winning side.

Here’s how to deal with destructive tension:

#1 Either Address It or Dismiss It
How do you know when tension needs to be openly addressed or dismissed?

It’s time to openly address it when it starts spreading it’s ugly fingers into the environment and infecting the rest of the team.

You may think it’s an awkward conversation to take before your crew, and you’d be right. It will be a little bit painful. Here’s how I’ve started these types of talks…

“Hey guys, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of tension today, and I want to talk about it.”

“Team, we’re obviously not syncing here. What’s going on?”

There’s no easy way to bring up something that everyone feels but no one wants to talk about. But the tension that doesn’t get forced into the light festers.

When is it time to dismiss tension?

When it is drama-filled and due to one person throwing a temper tantrum. These individuals love the attention they get from causing a scene. They are toxic to the health of the team and need to be pulled aside and reprimanded on a personal level. There’s no need to make an announcement to the team. Usually, people who like to create drama and issues with other coworkers are experiencing feelings of inadequacy, fear, or insecurity. Take time to do a little probing into what’s causing these selfish behaviors. People always exhibit behavioral issues for a reason. A good leader or teammate knows when it’s time to be a compassionate (but firm) listening ear and help facilitate an attitude adjustment.

#2 Discuss feelings.

Most of team conflict and tension is due to expectations not matching reality. Stewart believes that Ally should take on more of the project load, while Ally feels she has a more difficult part of the project and Stewart should shoulder the more manageable tasks.

At the end of the day, it is two competing emotional viewpoints that need to be verbalized. Once both parties state what they felt to be the correct perspective, they can begin to work through the conflict. Many times, arguing team members are surprised by what each other thought was the issue. In their eyes, they are the wronged one.

#3 Concentrate on what you are for, not against.

When stress is high, and tension is thick in the room, it’s easy to focus on what you are against. This is a focus that can divide teams. Instead, teams need to pay attention to what they agree on and shared values. Focus on the positive. On what unifies. Not what divides.

Psychologist Matt James argues that “against” thinking can make your path fuzzy and actually decrease motivation. By focusing on what you are “for” you have a clear vision of ways to accomplish those goals.

All teams will have their highs and lows. Tension and conflict is a natural part of any close-knit community that is working toward a goal. Teams should be wary of any tension that leans toward the destructive. Leaders need to drive all destructive tension toward communication and reconciliation. In some cases, however, tension is a surprising positive; leading to innovation, stronger team bonds, healthy change, and even team members who are more adaptable. This creative tension should be carefully monitored by members of the team and leadership. In healthy groups, creative tension pushes members into new creative spaces and heightens productivity.

Thanks to @purpose.p for the topic suggestion! If you want to see the cool ways the PURPOSE Project is reaching young adults as they navigate college, career, and life, check out their Instagram Page.

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