Can women team leaders repair sagging team morale and broken communication lines when a deadline creates chaos that threatens team spirit and productivity? This article reveals a hidden cause of team dysfunction. You’ll explore proven ways women can transform team disagreements into productive teamwork and communication.
Understand How an Employee’s Brain Responds to Stress
Most people say they use their brain when they work, but they don’t know they have three brains in their skull. We have a primal brain from our early stage evolutionary development, plus upgraded brains that evolved later.
How Does This Relate to Team Morale, Conflict, Communication and Productivity?
We can process emotions faster than we think, especially when we perceive stress. This was quite helpful when we, as primitive people, lived in the Sahara desert eons ago. Because survival was tough and uncertain, part of our brain was always on the lookout for physical threats. This hypervigilance was quite helpful in case a saber-toothed tiger emerged. We could save our lives by reacting quickly without thinking. Even though our lives have changed, our amygdala often still responds to emotional stress as if it’s an actual physical threat. Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence” coined the term “amygdala hijack” to refer to how emotions can outpace thoughtful behavior.
When the amygdala takes control of the brain, it triggers a fight-or-flight response. Your adrenal glands prepare your body to fight or flee the perceived threat by releasing stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat and even goosebumps are common physical evidence that our limbic system is trying to protect us from a threat that may not even be real.
These symptoms don’t have to result in fight or flight (angry team members in conflict, disengaged employees, passive-aggressive behavior, etc.) Instead, women in leadership positions can train team members experiencing stress to:
All of this has been proven to reduce internal and external conflict, exhaustion and feelings like powerlessness and fear. Teams trained to recognize and reverse unhealthy stress symptoms that could lead to a fight-or-flight response can transform disagreements into elevated communication, collaboration, teamwork, morale and productivity.
Emotionally Intelligent Women Leaders Model Mindfulness
There are many ways to prevent a team from becoming dysfunctional or overwhelmed by amygdala hijack. The savvy woman leader begins by developing her own emotional intelligence so she’ll be a role model for her team.
She discovers how to manage her own amygdala. Then she consistently practices this essential self-care. She knows her internal balance will benefit everyone concerned. She’ll role model how to prevent unnecessary conflict, stress and miscommunication. She understands how important it is to develop and nurture strong connections between the emotional center of her brain and her executive (thinking) center.
She not only knows how to de-escalate her own emotions when stressed, she ensures that her employees are trained to de-stress. She encourages them to perform proven mindfulness techniques. She and her team members practice a healthy blend of planning for the future while observing and taking advantage of the present moment.
The emotionally intelligent woman leader educates her staff to become engaged, focused and attentive to their thoughts and feelings in ways that prevent and calm stress. Over the years, I’ve trained many leaders and team members to transform unproductive negative thoughts into relaxing, constructive thoughts and behaviors.
Other Ways Women Leaders Transform Team Conflict into Collaboration
Women make exceptional leaders for many reasons, including their hardwiring and social conditioning. You can learn more here. Successful women leaders role model optimism. They also comprehend the power of simple step-by-step ways to foster excellent teams. For example, particularly during stressful times, the female leader comments on each person’s contributions. She states clearly and specifically what the person should accomplish next. This helps prevent confusion or loss of focus in the midst of conflict or chaos. She takes steps to eliminate unhealthy competition.
The savvy woman leader also reminds the team why a project is important and mentions any related rewards. She makes sure the completion of each step is celebrated, even if just with a momentary high-five.
Whenever possible, she encourages regular breaks to breathe deeply and refresh. She encourages practicing emotional intelligence by reminding people of simple ways to be mindful. She practices a holistic way of cultivating her team during high-stress events, including healthy snacks that sustain energy and create smiles. This holistic approach elevates the trust of her leadership style. You can learn more about how and why women leaders develop trust and credibility with their teams here.
Successful Women Leaders Also Prevent Future Teamwork Problems
Some of my Women in Leadership Coaching clients were surprised how much tension they dispelled during early signs of conflict when they simply announced a firm commitment to prevent future teamwork problems. They promised their teams they would debrief as soon as possible after the stressful situation. Demonstrating their sincerity to improve future team function, these women leaders also asked team members make specific suggestions.
One of my coaching clients put up a visible board inviting employees to record, in the moment, what they thought was causing stress. Another client used technology to develop a simple app where employees recorded notes. In both instances, team member’s comments were truly helpful because they were quite specific. Examples of staff complaints included:
Employees of these two women leaders felt empowered because they were asked to propose solutions in the moment. One of my Women in Leadership Coaching clients asked her employees to either write their ideas on a mural or directly tell the leader, instead of feeling powerless by grumbling. Being able to record their concerns and hear the team would problem-solve after the crisis made team members feel heard, valued and respected, even though they knew the situation would remain unresolved until the deadline was met.
One of my Women in Leadership Coaching clients contacted me because of persistent teamwork problems that were causing her to be downgraded during performance reviews. After I helped her understand why and how her team members could help resolve the issue, we explored ways she could gain their trust in her leadership by asking them to identify exactly what training they needed.
She discovered her team members truly were the experts who could best identify what training they needed. Their needs included:
This list was exactly what she needed to resolve teamwork conflict and communication glitches. After she used this information to give her employees what they wanted, her team sustained productivity. Morale held steady, even when people were challenged by tight deadlines that had previously created short tempers, unproductivity and confusion. The titles of the trainings we co-designed during her Women in Leadership Coaching sessions are below.
Consider a New, Holistic Approach to Gain Better Leadership Results
As you can see, the training my Women in Leadership Coaching client provided supplemented traditional teamwork, conflict resolution and communication training with emotional regulation tools and mindfulness supported by brain science. Follow-up evaluations indicated: (1) the woman leader met her objectives and (2) she avoided repeating old problems. Because of this, her performance reviews, including her 360 degree evaluations, significantly improved.
We also did considerable work to ensure her team members would be committed to the goals they worked to achieve. What we created guaranteed her team members felt heard because they co-created both their goals and the processes they used to achieve them. Because we wanted to ensure we addressed company culture, she and her team also developed a process that ensured their roles were clear and internal competition was minimized.
Once you discover proven leadership tools, you’ll be able to lead with your strengths instead of having your leadership style cause problems for you and your team members. Use Women’s Leadership Coaching to take the shortcuts you need in order to gain the trust and follow-through of winning teams that include people with many diverse personalities.
© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. as interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Certified Master Leadership and Executive Coach Doris Helge is author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job,” Doris has helped hundreds of leaders like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Click here now to sign up for your complimentary Leadership Coaching Consultation.