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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Teamwork and Team-Building


Winning The Mental Game of Stress

Preventing Team Burnout at Work

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Optimally-performing teams are aware of the many challenges that can threaten them and they quickly handle them before they rage out of control. Working closely together for extended periods of time can cause strain, stress and even burnout. This inevitable workplace stress is something that needs to be looked at carefully and adjusted for. The team leader and team members need to be continually tuned in to the early signs of stress so direct measures can be taken to prevent its spread.

Let's first examine the many ways stress can manifest itself in teams.

15 Potential Signs of Team Stress and Burnout

  1. Indirect communication.
  2. Sloppy and inaccurate messages.
  3. Gossip and talking behind people's backs.
  4. Insensitivity to others' feelings.
  5. Negative attitudes.
  6. Reduced sense of humor.
  7. Lack of caring attitude.
  8. Breakdown of social manners and civilities.
  9. Lack of pride in team functioning and work output.
  10. Lack of traction and follow-through.
  11. Reduced sense of team belonging.
  12. Lack of team cohesiveness.
  13. Reduced team identity.
  14. Reduced problem-solving activities.
  15. Festering stress issues.

Any of these issues alone may be an individual matter. Taken as a group, as a pattern, as an enduring plague, they most certainly will become team issues. Often one individual on a team can infect the rest of the team with negativity and a non-caring attitude. A major role of the leader is to be alert to these types of situations, and to act on them before they do individual or team harm. As such, it's important not to ascribe intentionally bad motives, industrial espionage, character issues or pathological issues to these behaviors. Often these have nothing to do with the team itself, and stem simply from individual stress and other issues. The goal is to address them while they are still non-team issues.

It is important to realize that signs of stress do NOT indicate that your team is beginning to falter or break up. Stress in any team is inevitable, and normal, even within high-performing teams. The key is to consider stress as a normal human response to the challenges of living and to assist your teammates in getting over each stress hurdle.

13 Leadership Strategies For Dealing With Team Stress

The aware, knowing leader has a wide and deep skill set with which to handle the various team-disrupting stress issues that will arise. Here are 13 key ones.

  1. Increase contact with individuals you deem to be stressed to get a better sense of what they are experiencing.
  2. Gain a sense of the person's degree of stress and burnout potential.
  3. Show caring, sensitive concern for them as human beings.
  4. Listen deeply and seek to understand their situation without judging them.
  5. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.
  6. Indicate that you are there for them, anytime they want to discuss any issues.
  7. Recognize their good work on the team and make sure they know they are appreciated.
  8. Use your sense of humor to broach more sensitive subjects, if you think this is appropriate.
  9. Encourage people to take care of themselves and take some time off if need be to tend to personal matters that may be getting in the way of optimal team functioning.
  10. Suggest more work-life balance activities as a buffer to the stress they are experiencing at work.
  11. Offer 1-1 coaching on issues the person may want to work on.
  12. Have some team-building experiences out of the office to renew the sense of fun and teamwork that may be lost.
  13. Reclaim the sense of team identity by having "team bonding activities" that reaffirm who the team is and what their purpose is.

Often, individual stress is team stress. Small stressors can lead to larger stressors, unpleasant work incidents and burnout. You, as leader, can mediate this stress and keep the team on the success track.

Your mandate as team leader is to be a combination cheerleader, navigator, counselor, analyst, orchestrator, catalyst and all-around facilitator of good team things. The team can use you as a stress buffer, burnout prevention resource, business coach and fixer-upper of issues and strains that befall the team. Plan in advance for the inevitable stress that will come your team's way and have processes and systems in place for dealing with these challenges in healthy, positive ways. Your team will thank you.

To learn more about how team building can help your organization reach its potential, visit Bill Cole, MS, MA, the Mental Game Coach™ at

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2005, 2008 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 73-item executive leadership skills assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your leadership mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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