Look at the four faces in the graphic above. It’s easy to notice that three of the four faces appear unhappy. Is it possible that teammates are either frustrated, apprehensive, or depleted about seventy-five percent of the time on normal and healthy teams? Other than the smiley face in the trust phase, it seems that all other stages in a team’s lifespan are filled with unpleasant emotions. How is this normal and healthy?
Frustration (Investment stage)
It’s easy to get frustrated when a team is starting over. Norms must be reestablished. Boundaries and roles aren’t clear. Debate over mission and values causes conflict. Frustration re-energizes the team following a significant change.
Apprehension (Innovation stage)
Most people feel scared when they’re out on a limb taking a risk. It’s hard to cope effectively when you are experiencing fear. Anxiety is the anticipation of loss. If you are bracing yourself for anticipated failure, you’re unlikely to be responding with poise and flexibility.
Depletion (Distancing stage)
Change equals loss. Circumstances evolve. People leave. Promises aren’t kept. Priorities shift. The way it used to be transitions to the way of the future. Current state gives way to desired state. Teammates try their best to navigate the stages of grief (denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance, etc.) but sometimes falter. This process takes its toll on the team’s energy.
For most teams, growth is a positive sign. Growth always means change. Whenever you add or subtract a member from a team, the chemistry of the ecosystem must adjust. Each teammate does so at their own pace modified by the uniqueness of their own trauma history. Strong teams recognize these differences, allow space for adaptation, and embrace a culture of professionalism during stress. As long as things are moving in the right direction, most teammates will eventually get unstuck and rejoin the game.