The path to resolving tensions image.png

by Brent Lowe

Imagine this. You and a friend have just arrived home from the grocery store. As you put away the groceries, your friend spots your newly purchased stalk of celery. It’s held together by an elastic band. A smile comes to her face. With your back turned, she takes the elastic, pulls it tight and sends it flying. It hits the back of your neck with a snap. Pain radiates from the spot of impact. She laughs. You are not so amused.

Here’s a different scenario. I sometimes workout to an online training program. A few of the exercises use an elastic band loop. For example, I’ll squat with an exercise band around my knees to help strengthen my leg muscles. As I progress, I move to a stronger exercise band.

Tensions in organizations are like these elastic bands. When a tension grows and is then used like a slingshot, pain and damage result. If, instead, tension becomes a tool to better the organization, the muscles of a team develop.

The words “tension” and “sensing” are core to Lead Together—self-organizing—teams.  They bring attention to anxieties, agitations and anticipations that arise within our bodies. They act as signals. It’s what we do with those signals—consciously or unconsciously—that lead to action.

When I say tension, what comes to your mind? My guess is some version of conflict. Tension can also come in the form of excitement and anticipation—a yet unrealized opportunity. Tension gets stored as energy. What we do with that energy is up to us.

A tip for managing tensions on your team

Has an elastic ever gone flying while you attempted to wrap a few items together? This only happens once there is tension in the elastic. As tension builds up, it wants to release that energy—to return to a rested state. Similarly, when we allow tension in our bodies to build, it can explode in unexpected ways. For that reason, it’s best to deal with tensions early and often.

Consider including triage time as part of team meetings. Its purpose is to allow for the raising of topics—tensions—needing resolution. Start the triage time by generating a list of topic. The facilitator starts at the top of the list by asking the first topic owner, “What do you need?” This question shifts the focus of the agenda item from the tension itself to the underlying need. “I need more information about X”, “I need Y to make a decision about Z”, “I need advice so I can make a decision.” The conversation continues only long enough for the topic owner to resolve their tension… for the elastic band to return to its rested state.

It’s best when triage time occurs on a regular basis—usually biweekly. The frequency allows for ongoing tension resolution. And there’s no need to wait for a meeting to raise a tension. Our bodies are in and out of tension all day. It’s our sensing of these tensions that moves our work forward. Get busy practicing the “noticing  and naming” of tensions as they arise. Ask yourself “What do I need to resolve this tension” Not sure? Request the support of a colleague to be your brainstorming partner. Often when we’re in tension, a good solution is hard to come by.

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