• Brent Stromwall

The Cost of Winning

Roger is a senior partner at an accounting firm and a member of the leadership team. During their Level 10 meeting, the other two most senior partners (we’ll use the names Steve and Samantha) disagreed about the resolution of their budget shortfall. Their disagreement became a little – okay very – heated, and the two seemed to be ready to strangle each other. Steve made his point, then Samantha hers. Then back to Steve. And the cycle continued as emotions escalated, faces became red, and the decibel level cranked up.


Roger and the other three partners in the room became extremely uncomfortable. One opened her laptop and started reading and responding to emails. Another started scrolling through something on his phone. “Probably looking at the news,” thought Roger. The other one had her head down acting as if she was deep in thought reviewing the budget reports. Roger just doodled on his as he thought of different ways to get himself out of the room and back to the safety of his office.


Emotional immaturity in a team is toxic for everyone in the room, and the business. Steve and Samantha were operating in enemy mode as they fought to be right and win the battle over the budget. (See The Anatomy of an Ideal Team.) Their narcissistic self-justification became so overwhelming for everyone else in the room (including themselves) that all collaboration stopped and the other four were seeking ways to protect themselves by either “freezing” or, literally, fleeing the room. Steve or Samantha may have won the argument, caused the decision to go their way, or made their point, but the cost to the team's health was immeasurable.


Sadly, the fight, flight, or freeze response is so prevalent in meeting rooms that it’s surprising that some businesses still function at all, let alone make a profit. Emotional immaturity may be normal, but it is in no way healthy. Most successful people have been taught to act out of self-interest, be competitive, assertive of their own opinions, and protective of their reputations. These characteristics are so dominant on Roger’s team that the dysfunction causes them to struggle with making any headway each day in even the smallest aspects of the business. And since these outbreaks are unpredictable and an explosion can occur over the seemingly most minor subject, no one trusts anyone else – and certainly not Steve or Samantha. Patrick Lencioni states: “Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy… tend to dread team meetings, and are reluctant to take risks in asking for or offering assistance to others. As a result, morale on distrusting teams is usually quite low…”1


On the other hand, joy-filled teams are those that have a capacity for joy that is much larger than the distress that is building up in the room. When everyone in the room is experiencing joy they are able to remain relational while experiencing the unpleasant emotions. This is because the relational “circuits” in their right brain are “on” and functioning well. They are exhibiting goal-directed behavior (thinking ahead), flexibility, openness to creative solutions, curiosity and interest in other perspectives, regulating their own emotions, focus and attention, impulse control, collaboration, and recognizing others' feelings.2 All of these and more functions are in the executive center or right, prefrontal cortex of the brain.


A joy-filled team is more effective, creative, collaborative, and efficient – and enjoys being and working together! They experience unpleasant emotions and help one another feel and process them in a healthy and mature way. They are genuinely glad to be working together on what matters – and ensuring that everyone on the team is glad to be there. They don’t sweep the distress under the rug and hope it just goes away. They realize that distress is real and will affect the health of a team whether or not it is addressed. The joy-filled team addresses the stress, resolves it maturely, and continues to work on what matters collaboratively, creatively, and cohesively.


The leaders set the tone. They must first work on developing their own emotional maturity so that they can have joy in these distressing moments. Second, they must model maturity in how they handle their own unpleasant emotions, bringing the rest of the team along with them. And finally, they must support (allow and invest in) having each individual on the team work on developing their maturity.


Covering all the ins and outs of emotional maturity and how to develop it in ourselves is the topic of many books (and blogs). One skill that is a sure method to reengaging your brain’s relational circuits is to practice appreciation. For our purposes, appreciation is described as re-experiencing the good emotions of a positive memory. When a person practices this outside of stressful moments (i.e. when they are calm) they are strengthening their relational circuits and getting their right brain functioning properly. When unpleasant emotions start to hit, they can build enough joy capacity to not become overwhelmed. Mature people practice appreciation, remain relational, and experience both unpleasant emotions and joy at the same time.


Leaders and teams that practice appreciation can remain relational and build trust. Joy is like jet fuel. As joy-based trust thrives in a team their solutions are better, the performance excels, communication is seamless, and everyone is more satisfied with the work. Let’s talk about helping your team strengthen and grow each person’s joy capacity so that you all excel and profits aren’t a mistake. Rather, they’re growing off the charts.


Let’s talk more about how you can build relational skills in your team and enhance the joy of your organization.


Acknowledgments

I have to give credit for much of my insight to my friend and mentor Barbara Moon, who patiently invests in me weekly (using her book, Joy-filled Relationships) and ad-hoc Q&A with me via text messages.

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