There is a phenomenon in battle called the “fog of war’. What it means is when individuals who are fighting in a war perceive they are losing. They may act according to the perception and retreat when in fact the unit or army they are part of is winning the war. The fog of war creates a challenge for generals and their armies. If individuals and individual units feel they are losing from their perspective, they may give up which prolongs the victory. The same phenomenon can happen in business.
In our daily fight to be successful in our roles, we will have defeats. Perhaps we have a disagreement with a co-worker or supervisor. Perhaps we lose out on a sale we were expecting to win. Perhaps a client has a poor experience with our service or product, etc. Sometimes these events can cause us to think and feel our isolated experience is a sign of enterprise wide problems. This can cause discouragement and discontent with some members of our team and can spread to others.
I have fought feelings of discouragement many times. I have experienced personal losses in a business sense and was tempted to think, we must be ‘losing the war’ as a company and maybe I should give up or move on. I also know from experience and from our training, we get what we focus on. We will find evidence of our predominant thoughts. When I focused on challenges and failings, I would feel discouraged and questioned whether we could achieve our goals. Conversely, I began to focus my thoughts and energy around the successful outcomes I desired, my results inevitably changed and my perception of where we were as a company changed. That perception increased my confidence and satisfaction with my company.
The ‘fog of war’ in my experience seemed to happen when our business was in what Bruce Tuckman called the storming phase of team development. Tuckman proposed his model of team development called forming, storming, norming and performing in 1965. Forming is where we set goals. This can happen at when a company is new or when changes occur. It can happen when we lose or add new people. Storming is where we feel comfortable enough with each other to express discontent and challenge each other. It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. Norming is where we start to give up our own personal crusades and agree with others to make the team function. This phase is not about avoiding conflict, it is about coming together. The final phase, performing is where the team is achieving goals and things are running smoothly. A company can be in one of the four phases as whole and individual teams may be at different phases. Individuals on teams can be at different phases as well.
It is easy for employees who are in the storming phase to experience the ‘fog of war’ phenomenon. If a team or company stays there for a prolonged period, they have a greater of not emerging this phase leading to business failure. If you are a leader of a company or team in the storming phase, have hope. Most companies go through similar phases. The following suggestions can help shorten the storming phase and remind team members that even though they may experience setbacks from time to time, they will ultimately succeed.
- Let your team members know that the challenges of this phase are temporary. Educate your team that all companies go through similar phases. Just naming this phase of team development will help give the team hope things will get better keeping the, positively engaged.
- Keep your team focused on positive outcomes desired. It is easy to get fixated on failures. Remember, we tend to manifest the results of our predominant thoughts. Keeping the team focused on positive outcomes will help dissipate negative energy.
- Make sure you as the leader and your team leaders model the attitude that the team will emerge victorious. Team members must be able to look to the leadership for how to act in times of challenge and difficulty. A negative team leader will multiply the ‘fog of war’ dynamics if not addressed by discipline or replacement.
- Show your team you have faith in them. Team members can lose hope and exhibit behaviors that hurt the team. Let them know they are a valued member of the team. Help them understand the impact of their performance and behavior on the success of the team.
- Encourage the team by sharing any team successes no matter how small. Celebrating successes will lift morale and give hope the team and organization is moving in the right direction.