Tag Archives: mental state

State of Panic

“Tell me how it sounds, to focus the mental state of the group on the real issue,” I invited.

Darla took a deep breath. “I have been thinking,” she started.

“Good, using I-statements is good.”

She started again. “It seems to me that we are not making progress on the project we started last week. I expected to see some changes in our process already, measuring some of the samples coming off the line. AND, I see the same team doing the same thing we have always done. No sampling, no inspection. I am curious.”

“Good, I like I am curious.”

“I am curious about the way you feel about the project. We are all in the room. Everyone will have a chance to participate. I would like each of you to speak for yourself. Who would like to start?”

“I like it,” I said.

“But, what if no one says anything. What do I do then?” Darla was visibly off center.

“You put the issue on the table. Your team will now go into a state of panic. You have moved the mental state of the team from collusion behind your back to a state of panic. Every manager before you has always rescued them from this panic. Believe me, your team has specific feelings about this project. They have verbalized those feelings at the water cooler. They pair up at lunch and talk about the way they feel about the project. You are drawing those same conversations, that they have already practiced, into the team meeting, so the team can deal with them. Your primary goal at this point is to outlast the panic.”

Two Sides to the Contract

“Darla, you are a new manager, here, been on the job for three weeks,” I started, “but in that three weeks time, you entered into a contract, an unspoken contract with your team. Here are the terms of the contract, as you described to me.

“You have some new projects to roll out, with your team’s support and cooperation. You enlisted the efforts of the team toward these new projects. If the team digs in and supports the new projects toward the goals you defined, then you, as a manager will be successful. This is the way you see the world, this is your assumption. This is the context as you see it.”

“Okay, sounds good so far,” Darla nodded.

“But, remember a contract is an agreement between two parties. I am not sure the other party in your contract agrees with you. Based on your description, here is the way they see the world.
– Darla is our new manager and she has some new ideas, that sound like the old ideas from the last manager we had. We are not sure these new ideas are really any good, may be doomed to failure and we are going to get blamed for not working fast enough or paying enough attention to quality.

“If the project is not successful we are going to get stuck holding the bag, all blame will land on us. Yet, if we can slow-walk the job, stiff arm direction and show proof why the project won’t work, why, if we can do that long enough, Darla might quit and we will be off the hook. It was a bad idea in the first place.”

Darla began to absorb the new story of events. “So, the problem is not the pace of the work or attention to quality. The problem is the mental state of the group.”

“How do you change the mental state of the group?”

Did the Personality Change?

“How do you change the mental state of the team?” I asked. “How do you get the team to engage in different behaviors?”

“You mean, like that personality test I took when I started here? I didn’t think you could change someone’s personality,” Darla pushed back.

“Darla, if you go into the sanctuary of a church or temple, are you likely to be loud and boisterous, or quiet and reflective?”

“Quiet and reflective,” Darla responded, not sure where I was going with this.

“And, if you are at a sporting event and your team scores a goal, are you likely to be quiet and reflective, or loud and boisterous?”

“Loud and boisterous,” Darla smiled, still unsure of the point.

“Did your personality change?” I asked.

“No.”

“Then what did change?” I prompted.

“Well, the circumstance changed.”

“Exactly, the circumstance, the venue, the context changed. Your personality did not change, the context changed. And when the context changed, behavior followed. How do you change the mental state of your team?”

“Change the context?” Darla floated.

Slow Walking and Sandbagging

“What do you think is slowing down the team?” I asked.

Darla did not immediately respond. “I don’t think they like me. I have been their manager now, for three weeks. I know it is a short time to make an assessment, but I would think, by now, they might drop the pretense and be a little more cordial.”

“How long does it take to make a first impression?”

“You mean, from three weeks ago, the first day?” she replied.

“Yes, I assume the assessment of you, by the team, was made within the first three minutes of your landing in your office. By the way, you are the third manager in the past 18 months, so don’t think it is all about you.”

“I know, I know. That was made very clear in my interview, but I thought I was up for the challenge. It’s just that, even in a meeting, I say something, and I sense an imperceptible roll of the eyes in response. We have some new projects I am supposed to roll out, yet, I have never seen a group of people move so slowly.”

“Do you think they are sandbagging you?” I wanted to know.

Darla nodded. “I get the feeling, they think if they stiff-arm me long enough, I will quit, just like the last two managers.”

“If you had to describe the mental state of the team, what words would you use?”

“Defensive, collusive, irrational. I mean I am not a bad person. The projects I am supposed to roll out are good projects, interesting work.”

“So, if the projects are not the problem, and you are not the problem, what is the problem?”

“The words you used, the mental state of the team.”