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Self-Inflicted Turbulence Taking your Team Off-Track?



Look around 2020 has been a crazy year. There’s no shortage of information and opinion on our ‘new normal’ and what the future may or may not look like. We can’t control what’s happening around us but we can control how we respond. 

I heard about this term from a commercial pilot many years ago when I was working on a project. It became a firm favourite and something that I look to instil in all the leaders, teams and executives that I work with. 

Self inflicted turbulence is allowing the intense emotions of the things we cannot control to distract us from our ability to perform at our best and deliver the best possible outcomes. 

When everything is going wrong and they’re facing an emergency, these pilots are taught to block out any and all unnecessary emotions, thoughts and process that is extraneous and won’t help them resolve the situation to either move out of danger or land the plane safely. This is a skill that can be considerably helpful to block out the noise that is going to unnecessarily distract you and the team from “landing your plane”. 

This is not about becoming robotic and being blind to external people and issues - rather this is about understanding what’s an unnecessary emotive response and what is a real issue that needs to be considered. 

Why is this an issue in the workplace? 

When it shows up in our work it reduces the cadence, capability and focus of individuals and teams. Individuals and teams get distracted by disruption, politics, fear or 

It’s so easy to get caught up in the challenges of other projects or any other issues that are going on in the workplace. But we need to be incredibly careful that it doesn’t take us off track or divert the attention of resources and time into unnecessary activities. 

I’m seeing this get in the way of teams deliver on their intended outcomes as they internalise the stress of issues that are out of their control. 

Don’t let this get in the way of your awesomeness. If your team is being distracted and disrupted by self-inflicted turbulence here are a few quick steps to help your team (or yourself) deal with it when it arises:

  1. Take time out to address the elephant in the room and air the grievances, issues or problem and allow the individual or people to be heard. It may seem like a distraction and taking you off track but by spending the time to hear these thoughts you can help stop them in their tracks and start to build a plan to address them. The identification and validation of feelings, emotions and distractions can help us acknowledge them without judgement and then choose how we want to respond.

  2. Focus on what you actually can control. You can’t control the economy, decisions made outside your team but you can remain focused on the work you put in to your projects and helping the team stay the course to deliver the planned outcomes. 

  3. Keep the routines, rituals and process of the way of working your team has established and try not to deviate from it. By focusing on the rhythm of the team and work being completed you can build energy and positivity from the continual small steps in the right direction.

  4. Ask for help or seek an alternative point of view if you need it. Waiting too long to ask for help can exacerbate a problem and make it even more stressful. 

  5. Laughter….thats a huge one for me. Find time to laugh, smile and have a giggle with some colleagues or friends. Stress can damage the cohesiveness of a team so find a way to restore the balance with some lightness.

What do you think? Are your teams suffering from self-inflicted turbulence and if so, how are you helping them through it?

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