Changing at Lightning Speed

Published: July 11, 2018

Sometimes change happens faster than humans can cope. Despite our best intentions to adapt with maturity, the pace of change surpasses our stress threshold. Most teammates want to be their best selves during transitions. Unfortunately, rapid and unexpected transitions have a way of bringing out the child in some of us. What kind of teammate do you become when the pressure is intense?

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.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.