Working on a team with people who have a wide range of skill sets can be invigorating. But teams can also present a challenge when different opinions arise — and when work conflicts suddenly turn personal. When left unaddressed, such conflicts can foster a hostile workplace culture, and make it difficult for employees to collaborate together — ultimately hindering productivity, motivation, and well-being. So how can leaders combat this dilemma? By cultivating team mindfulness.
Team mindfulness is distinct from individual mindfulness, which is the kind of mindfulness we hear about most often Individual mindfulness is an intra-personal — inside a person — aspect of one’s cognition. It has to do with how a person perceives and reacts to experiences, Mary Zellmer-Bruhn, Ph.D., a professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, tells Thrive. “Team mindfulness is inter-personal — between people — and has to do with how groups of people interact,” she says. “It reflects the quality of interactions and collective processing going on in a team.”
Team mindfulness also encompasses two key features: present moment focus and non-judgment. Present moment focus encourages team members to live in the now, and avoid excessively thinking about the past or anticipating the future, Lingtao Yu, Ph.D., a professor of Organizational Behavior at the UBC Sauder School of Business, tells Thrive. Non-judgment means team members put aside any biases they have and strive to recognize each others’ unique perspectives and opinions. “These two features will help improve a team’s focus, productivity, and work relationships,” Yu says.
Present moment focus can help team members be active listeners, and attentive towards each other in any environment. In a meeting, people won’t be distracted by devices, emails, or even their own thoughts, Bruhn points out. This lessens relationship-undermining misunderstandings in the workplace, because people are less likely to have negative reactions to their ideas being voted down or passed on if they feel that their team listened attentively to their proposal, and judged it thoughtfully and with focused compassionate directness.
Non-judgment helps employees foster more compassionate and open attitudes towards each other. That doesn’t mean workers aren’t critical, notes Bruhn. But it does mean that they’re “less likely to shoot down an idea without considering its merits, [and] that they manage their process to listen first, then consciously analyze and critique content.”
In a 2016 study, Kathleen Sutcliffe, Ph.D., a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Business and Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, found that there is a correlation between mindfulness and reductions in emotional exhaustion, along with an increase in job satisfaction. “Mindfulness at work is positively associated with sleep quality among working professionals,” she writes. Having happier, more well-rested workers collaborating may also contribute to reducing friction in a team environment.
Want to implement team mindfulness in your own workplace? Here are a few expert-backed steps.
Carve out a few minutes every week for employees to practice individual mindfulness in the workplace itself, Yu suggests. “This provides opportunities for all team members to practice focusing their attention to the present moment.”
Bruhn recommends that workplace leaders spearhead the movement by modeling mindful behavior. This will encourage employees to do the same.
Setting standards and expectations for behavior is integral to cultivating a more mindful team, Bruhn says. A good way to do this is having a clear, concrete discussion. Make sure your employees know that sidebar conversations and checking screens when meeting and interacting with others is unacceptable.
It is important not to let an embrace of mindfulness turn into shunning every conflict altogether. “We need productive dissent and debate to make good decisions,” Bruhn explains. “Mindfulness does not mean suppression of conflict or critical thinking… This is about making sure that knowledge and ideas are shared first, that people have the opportunity to understand perspectives, that points of view have been offered, and that only then [are] critique and judgment actively chosen and executed.”
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