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  • Writer's pictureThriving Teams Institute

Managing Team Dynamics: 3 Signs of Team Leadership Burnout


In an ever-evolving business landscape, it is crucial to understand that the success of an organization does not solely rely on the individual brilliance of its employees but on how these employees mesh together as a system and function as a team.


Team dynamics - the behavioral relationships between members of any given team - dictate how a group interacts, collaborates, and ultimately achieves its objectives. Team dynamics are the energy that fuels the team in their work, silently influencing our work environments, the team's mood, and the trajectory of a project.


However, while most organizations recognize the importance of individual leadership, they often need to pay more attention to the influence of team dynamics on the overall performance and well-being of their leaders and teams.


The post below provides an all-to-familiar scenario of how even the brightest of stars when thrust into a leadership role without adequate preparation or understanding of team dynamics, can experience burnout and inadvertently contribute to an unhealthy and toxic work environment. It's a testament to the significance of developing high-performing individual contributors and nurturing and training them into effective leaders of teams.


By emphasizing the development of healthy team dynamics and equipping individuals with the tools they need to lead, organizations can not only prevent burnout and enhance productivity but also ensure their workforce's sustainable, long-term performance and success.




How does a high-performing individual in a team experience full-blown job burnout?


In the majority of cases, there are indicators that can be observed early enough to reverse the trend.



Consider this scenario. It is one of many that cause leaders and teams to burn out.


Pat, a star performer, has been crushing it at work, a real force multiplier on her team, who raises the bar for everyone she works with by balancing the proper amount of challenge and support for each team member, pushing them to do better. She has been a key driver in her department's performance and has been identified to supervise a new project with new levels of responsibility. Rather than invest in development and prepare her for her new duties by providing management training, her boss decides she should start her new role immediately. And so she does. No one notices that she is barely surviving and not thriving as she transforms from a very effective individual contributor to an ineffective manager.


Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. It is a regular occurrence for organizations to transition new leaders into leadership positions without prior training. The Center for Creative Leadership reports that almost 60% of new managers report not receiving leadership development training prior to them assuming their new position.


What happens next is critical. And if unnoticed can lead to the end of stardom and have ripple effects across the team and organization. A wise manager who views their department as a multi-team system will manage the team dynamics and look for signs of emerging behavior, such as burnout on a team, and then take action to remedy it before it spreads.


3 signs that a star performer is on the path to burnout


1. They are overwhelmed

Before her promotion, Pat was a strong contributor as a team member and took the lead when the situation called for her expertise. Shared leadership was the norm on her team. Now she has to supervise 16 others. She has a big team and a complex project she is responsible for. Rather than take a shared team leadership approach similar to the previous team she worked on, or design a team leadership structure with sub-teams (also known as a multi-team system), that would be suitable for the project the team is working on, she decides to go with the whole-team approach and lead the team herself stating it is more efficient if she makes the decisions and lets the team members focus on their work.


With a 1:16 team leader to team member ratio Pat quickly feels she is in over her head with the administrative tasks required in her new role, the team dynamics that cause intra-team conflicts that surface out of nowhere that are impacting engagement, team learning, productivity, and her well-being.


It is safe to say Pat is overwhelmed. She exhibits all the behaviors of someone who is completely stressed out. She is transforming, from a high performer to a star that is going to burn out in a fiery explosion 💥🌋☄️🔥and become a loose cannon.

2. Loss of productivity

From a leadership perspective, Pat is becoming less productive, because she simply doesn’t have the psychological resources, experience, or time to give her attention to things that need it, and she defaults to micromanagement, using directive, not outcome-based leadership to assert control, instead of allowing her team to learn together and work through its challenges.


3. Not open to developmental feedback

As Pat’s team become less productive and more disengaged, the new supervisor decides to ask for feedback, a custom designed 360 because Pat heard it was a good thing to do, not because of a growth mindset that feedback is valuable and provides new perspectives and possibilities. After Pat receives the feedback and is not painted in a favorable light, but full of opportunities for growth, learning, and change, it is rejected because Pat was not developed to view constructive feedback as an opportunity to get better, and views it as a threat to her authority. Her defensive behaviors kick so she doesn’t learn. And as our research shows, if you’re not learning you’re not leading and the business isn’t performing. Defensive behaviors make leaders and teams blind to perspective, block idea flow, and create barriers to individual and team learning. The ripple effects of these behaviors shut down individual and team voices over the long term and help companies stay status quo or go backward. Building and maintaining a competitive advantage depends on leaders and teams being able to learn quickly.


Pat is not thriving and she is no longer surviving. When people and teams are thriving, they feel a sense that they are learning and moving forward in their development as individuals and as a team. There is also a positive energy, a sense of being alive and connected to other members of the team. Neither is happening in this situation, so the death spiral of performance and conflict continues until Pat hits burnout.


Why burnout happens

As human beings, we do not have unlimited psychological resources to commit to leadership and supervision. Every day those resources are depleted and need to be replenished. Unlike a car, which will run out of gas and will simply stop, humans if they are not refueled, keep going right through to burnout in the workplace, and as research shows into the realm of unethical decision making. And there you have it – Pat went from a high-potential, star performer to a burnt-out supervisor, and on a path to becoming a unethical leader.


Star performers hold value for any organization. This type of behavior can cost the organization their competitive advantage as productivity drops, workers become disengaged, all connected to the decisions the burnt-out leader has made. Good news is this can all be prevented with an investment in the development of people before promotion or taking on a new responsibility.


If they learn anything in business school about leadership, much of what students learn is about leading from the top of the organization. That is not the true nature of organizational leadership. Leadership isn’t that simple and teams and organizations are complex. Great organizations have leaders at all levels and the best leaders understand they are team members as well and that leadership can be shared, and resides in the team, not one particular individual. They understand that in today’s fast-paced landscape they cannot rely simply on hierarchy as they move into action. They have to develop leadership structure throughout their teams and organizations.


How could this productivity-killing pain point have been avoided or turned around?

Upon being identified for leading the new project, the company could have enrolled the new leader in a program to develop their team and project leadership skills.

If the organization does not have a program, we offer one here at Thriving Teams Institute. We believe team thriving is a choice. Leaders at all levels can learn how to set the conditions for their teams to thrive. Businesses and other organizations that value their people and see them as a competitive advantage choose to make the investment for their teams to be developed to thrive. See here for more information


At Thriving Teams Institute participants in our programs learn:

1. The function of Team Leadership is to create and shape a secure environment for their teams to do their best work. Effective team leadership demands leaders understand they need to be a good team member and to constantly co-create and re-create relationships with team members in their teams to shape the environment for learning to occur so team members can sustain high performance.


2. They would learn to think as a leader of systems. Teams are complex human systems full of talents waiting to be utilized that cause their own team dynamics and behavior. Seeing the team as a system allows us to inject purpose and vision into the system and set the conditions for innovation, learning, thriving and high performance.


3. They would learn how to create a learning culture for their team. Our research show that when teams aren’t learning, they aren’t performing well. Creating a learning culture begins with security so people feel safe, but also requires leaders and team to be deliberately interacting in a way that supports team and organizational learning.


4. They would learn about self-leadership, emotional intelligence, and establishing secure and healthy professional relationships, which helps the leader develop self-awareness, learn how to manage their emotions, establish strong bonds with their teams, and strengthen team dynamics.


5. They would learn about concepts such as span-of-control, the effective span of team leadership, which in our experience and research finds is 4-7 people. Anything larger, the supervisor does not have the bandwidth to effectively lead, and a new organizational structure needs to be designed to maintain and improve performance.


6. They would learn the difference between individualistic leadership and team leadership and how more hierarchical, command and control leadership approaches constrain an organizations ability to learn and adapt to remain competitive and relevant in today’s fast-changing landscape.


7. They would learn how to use coaching techniques to support team leadership. Leaders that coach their teams to create new solutions that work for their situation influence the organizational behavior needed to accelerate team learning and raise performance.


There are many other important topics for leaders to learn on the road to becoming an effective leader. No one program will cover all of them. A leader’s development is a journey in lifelong exploration, discovery, and learning, investment in who they are, not what they are.


Through self-development, challenging experiences and positions, and participation in programs like what we offer at Thriving Teams Institute, leaders and their teams will grow, learn, and develop the skills and knowledge critical to maintaining their effectiveness. If you’re not learning, you’re not leading.


Develop your star performers and build great teams.


Organizations can boost or obstruct their star performers development and their teams performance. If they invest in their development, specifically behaviors, mindsets, and reinforcement of learning, they can elevate the individual, their team, and the organization. If they don’t then there is a risk of the star performer and their team flaming out and the organization losing a high potential employee.


To learn more about how we can help your teams thrive in your workplace connect with us here.


You can learn more about our team development courses here.



***A version of this post originally appeared on From The Green Notebook, a blog focused on leadership development.

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