Staying Calm in a Storm

Published: February 21, 2018

Someone on the team needs to stay focused when chaos hits. Once adrenaline is dumped into everyone’s blood streams, the fight-flight-freeze instinct takes over. Our best intentions to remain calm get hijacked by the contagious emotion of the group. The teammate with the best coping skills becomes the leader. Here are some tips.

Take a slow inhale followed by a slower exhale: One of the fastest ways to calm your body’s reaction to stress is to breathe with your diaphragm. Inhale into your stomach for 4 seconds and let the exhale leak out for 8 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times until you notice a measurable change in your tension.

Name the emotion and the reason: “When _____, I feel _____, because _____.” The act of putting words on thoughts and feelings is an effective way to start your coping process. Worry, by itself, doesn’t solve problems. You must identify why you’re struggling before you can choose a strategy to fix it.

Entertain all viable solutions: Allow creativity and curiosity to fuel a mini-brainstorm session. The pros and cons of each option can be weighed later. Begin by encouraging the diversity woven into your team’s fabric to be harnessed for problem-solving. Make sure to check in with your quietest teammate. He or she may have the best idea.

Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each path: The best next step often rises to the top once you begin assessing assets and liabilities. Pain seeks healing. Comparing options is a simple exercise that quickly elevates smart actions. Consensus isn’t a must if all points of view have been heard.

Act on the team’s decision: All the moving parts can now return to synchrony. Going forward after being stuck energizes the team. Perhaps there is a reinvestment following a major change. Maybe trust is strengthened because people came together. The team invented a solution.

Learn from the experience: Even if the solution doesn’t pan out, growth has occurred. The team has advanced beyond the crisis and, by doing so, altered its DNA. These lessons will come in handy the next time a change throws the team into chaos.

The time between expressing pain and deciding what to do about it differs for every team. Some teams need to make sure the world fully understands how unfair life is before activating their coping strategies. Others just get back to work as though the obstacle posed no challenge. Either way, coping styles get built into the culture of the group. Who is leading the way on your team?

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 University 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.