The trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension is not that well understood in organisations. And yet it is a fundamental equation that can help improve productivity, the quality of work relationship and outcomes.
Interpersonal tension is a sad thing. It occurs when people simply don’t get along. This could be a personality clash or residual tension from previous encounters. Oftentimes, people simply avoid others they don’t get along with, and that’s fine if it doesn’t impact your work outcomes. But what if your job requires you to work with someone with whom you have interpersonal tension? I’m not talking about a saboteur who actively tries to stop you doing your job – that would require escalation to a more senior manager or the involvement of HR. no, I’m talking more about the persistent naysayer who you just don’t get along with well enough to be able to focus on the task at hand.
Task tension is a happy thing. According to taskmanagementguide.com, task tension can be described as a positive feeling that a person or a group feels when they have an interesting work to be done. Task tension includes feelings of zeal and enthusiasm that encourage people to intensively research the task, seek for ways to complete it, build their collaboration around these aims, and overcome many interpersonal problems for the sake of common goals.
Chart: the trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension
The chart shows that, over time, interpersonal tension decreases as interest in the task increases. The challenge is to work on techniques that overcome interpersonal tension quickly so that teams can focus on the task. This moves the interpersonal tension line from A to B, and hence saves time, increasing productivity.
And so, the workplace challenge is first to ensure there is a stream of interesting team-based collaborative work available so that task tension has a fighting chance of overcoming interpersonal tension.
And then, the workplace goal is for task tension to overcome interpersonal tension as quickly as possible.
- Self-awareness of our own behaviours and how those impact others (“Knowing me…”)
- The ability to ‘let it go’ and work with others as you find them (“Knowing you…”)
- So that you can get on with the task at hand (“Aha!”).
Knowing me, Knowing you, Aha!
It is important to bring people together to reflect on their own behavioural style, recognise that of others with whom they work and begin to understand how to collaborate. It helps team members and their leaders play to their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and work collaboratively together for the benefit of the organisation. This is of fundamental importance in today’s complex workplace.
And so, I have three questions for you:
- Do you have the reflective practice in place to be able to do this?
- Do you have the right behavioural insights to facilitate the discussion?
- Do you have the right facilitator to bring people together in a way that values differences, seeks common ground and builds collaboration without the session falling apart?
I can’t help you find a stream of interesting, team-based, collaborative work. But if you’re searching for your “Aha!” moment, I believe I can help with expert facilitation supported by leading edge psychometrics.
Committed to making a difference in building collaborative teams that get the job done