Have One Purpose To Organize The Answers To What-If Questions How To Keep Your Team From Freezing Under Pressure

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How To Keep Your Team From Freezing Under Pressure

First question: Have you ever played poker? I mean real poker, with real money at stake. (“Real” money, of course, which is a relative term—mainly relative to your current net worth.)

Second question: Have you ever lost at poker, with real money at stake?

You play differently when you lose than when you win, don’t you? That’s because there’s more pressure when you lose.

And when the pressure is on—when the stakes are the highest—we tend to play more conservatively. We took a little chance. In other words, we play not to lose, instead of playing to win.

This is human nature. When the pressure is on, we focus on what we can lose, rather than what we can gain.

The same dynamics that affect us at the poker table affect your team at work. Professor Heidi Gardner, of the Organization Behavior Unit at Harvard University, found that in high-pressure situations, teams get a kind of tunnel vision, focusing more on the risks of failure than the rewards of success. As a result, they revert to safe, conservative methods instead of creating original solutions.

This is a problem because the safest course is not necessarily the best course.

Now, let’s be clear here. There may be times when the safe path is the best course. But how do you know that if you don’t compare it to other options?

If your team freezes—when they default to safety and stop making these choices—then everyone is basically saying, “The status quo is our best—and indeed, only—bet. .” And at this point, you psychologically reject any possibility of a breakthrough solution, a solution that would improve the situation instead of keeping it frozen where it is.

So how do you fix it? How do you get your team—with real results on the line—to keep coming up with original solutions?

1. Let them know that options are valued

Create a culture of “two or more options for every challenge.” Make it clear to your team that only one option is not an option. Make several choices that are a core team value, and agree on them. When your team knows that there is an expectation of “two or more options,” they start making those options.

2. Listen to everyone

Gardner also found that in high-pressure situations, teams tend to defer to the highest-ranking members. But the truth is that good ideas can come from anyone. So instead of just asking senior members what they think, ask everyone. Sometimes the most junior member of the team sees something—a piece of information, a connection, a resource—that everyone else doesn’t.

3. Play the “What if?”

I’ve written about this before. An easy​​​​​​ way to generate creative ideas is to play the game of “What if?” For example, ask your team questions like:

What if we had unlimited time to solve this problem?

What if we had to solve this problem for just $100?

What if our competition faced this problem and solved it? How could they do it?

By asking these and other “What if” questions, you force you and your team to think about the problem in a different way, opening up the possibility of creative solutions that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Losing at poker is no fun. I know. I was there. But—in that and other high-pressure situations—there’s a world of difference between freezing up and feeling helpless… and there are options that can lead to a breakthrough solution.

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