Diverse teams are one of the most efficient ways to address problems in an organization. A group of people from different backgrounds not only brings different strengths and competencies to the process, but brings different cultural perspectives which increases efficiency and effectiveness in problem solving. Teams, however, are just as susceptible to stress as individuals. This presents a unique problem for safety leaders, and demonstrates the needs for “soft skills.”
A little stress is a good thing, but when it comes to safety and operational processes, leaders need to pay close attention. When there’s no stress, our performance is suboptimal because we’re ordinarily not motivated to get things accomplished. Too much stress causes a number of problems within a team leading to a deterioration of performance.
1) Conformity of Thought / Groupthink
When the collective stress on teams increases, so does the reliance on other team members. Leveraging the strength of the team when there’s an optimal amount of stress can create extraordinary results, however, when the stress level reaches a tipping point decentralized teams suffer. In high stress situations, the conformity of thought increases. Team members are more susceptible to being moved from opinions to a group or majority opinion, especially those expressed by more forceful members. Additionally, if there are any dissenting opinions, they tend to be withheld and thoughts and ideas don’t receive critical evaluation.
2) Communication Problems
Another symptom of stress is communication problems. When deadlines and pressure encroach on production efforts, less communication occurs. When the communication level drops between team members, there is an associated loss of production In addition to the decrease, the communication that does occur tends to be ambiguous and non-technical, which further complicates the transfer of information. Established communication pathways may no longer be effective for communicating internally and externally, so safety leaders should be especially vigilant for deteriorating communication efforts.
3) Information Management / Decision-Making
A third symptom of excessive pressure on teams is the visible negative impact to information management and on the decision-making process. During stressful periods, groups will increase the centralization of information flows, essentially escalating the stress to team leadership. This can bog down the team via overloading the leader, who may have other decisions, especially in terms of leadership and strategic decision-making. Team leaders can help ameliorate these particular human factors problems, primarily by being aware of their presence and impact on teams. Maintaining a calm demeanor can help other team members provide a context for the situation. Ensuring that the ancillary needs of team members can also help lessen the impacts of stress on the team as well.