Avoid team tensions with good boundaries

Last week I took a call from a distressed manager.  I empathised as she shared her all too common frustrations and desperation about the lack of support she was receiving from her small team.
She spoke about how her team were snappy, making easily avoidable mistakes, one was underperforming while she figured out if she wanted to stay in the job and the manager was resorting to micromanagement just to get things done properly and on time. She was not sleeping at night and felt the team was breaking down.

I put on my team detectives’ hat to find out what was causing all of this distress.

My first stop was to review the team culture and like most organisations this team was:

• hyper busy, time poor and in a cramped work environment
• understaffed for the job but not the budget
• getting urgent requests from other parts of the business
• constantly interrupted by people walking by or wanting a chat 
• moving between offsite appointments and desk work many times a day
• taking on new work to try to improve income.

I then chatted with each team member privately and they spoke open and candidly about how they perceived that they were the victims of a terrible situation. It was easy to see how their work performance would be adversely affected by these complaints and beliefs.

I then brought them all together, to unveil the culprit of all of their woes, and declared that the real villain was not any of them.  Too much chaos and not enough calm was tipping the team into frustration and overwhelm.

To be the happy, healthy, hardworking team they all wished to be, they needed a new way to respond to the constant stream of adhoc, urgent, reactive, unexpected work requests that was making them feel overwhelmed and act stroppy.

I explained that yes, their workplace was a little more chaotic than most, but that didn’t mean that the approach to their work needed to be chaotic and feel out of control.

The solution to their team breakdown problem was to create better boundaries.

We spent the rest of our time together developing practical boundaries that supported the needs of the business, the manager and the team members.

To implement a new culture of calm over chaos we focused this on 6 new boundary actions:

• getting clear about and communicating limits
• re-organizing work allocation• taking control of availability
• getting help with challenging situations
• skills to stand firm but know when to bend boundaries
• clear expectations to reduce misunderstanding and avoid violating boundaries

My experiences have shown me that a great way to increase our sense of control and reduce overwhelm, even when the world is crazy, is by setting good boundaries.  Without boundaries, we say yes, even when it is not good for us or causes us to feel drained, taken advantage of and disrespected.

It might surprise you to learn that the biggest obstacle to setting a boundary is fearing how others will respond and the uncomfortable feelings of guilt and fear that come along with having to say no or not right now or I can’t.

With good boundaries people feel psychologically safe to speak up, are more trusting and make fewer mistakes because deadline and expectations are clearer.  All of this enables them and their managers to be free to get on and do high quality work.

Until next month,
Andrea Tunjic

If you would like to share any feedback or could do with some help with team relationships, please reach out.
[email protected]

Our human resources article this month has been contributed by Andrea Tunjic (CAHRI) 

Andrea is an award winning Leadership and Human Resources Strategist.

With a diverse career spanning 25 years in the people management space, Andrea has earned a 360 degree perspective on work. She started out as a union official, has worked as a senior HR manager, lead her own small businesses, consults in all aspects of people leadership and business improvement strategies to organizations throughout Australia and has written a book on the topic called People Power.

She is also the creator of a range of online leadership courses aimed at helping managers become more effective leaders and teams to Vibe Up.  She is also the is the developer of ICoachMe, a self-coaching process that has been recognised by the International Coaching Federation. Andrea’ s approach to people management is engaging, knowledgeable and practical with an unwavering commitment to empowering staff and leaders to work to their best, resolve problems well and enable them to become happier, more empowered and more successful at work