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The "4 S" Stages of Team - Stuck

Where you live - the state of your team

This is the first of our 4-part series that unpacks the characteristics and helpful tips to navigate four key states teams find themselves in -

1. starting

2. stuck

3. shook

4. stoked

You’re stuck

We’re starting with the stuck state since this one can be especially challenging to navigate. Here are some signs your team is stuck:

  • You’re experiencing the “right talent, wrong outcomes” phenomenon.

  • You’re spending a lot of time planning and conducting “sensitive” conversations that aren’t getting results.

  • There’s a persistent “elephant” in the room.

Typical approaches - well-intentioned but...

It’s time for a “definition of insanity” discussion. The standard approaches to working with a stuck team usually consist of delivering universal messages to the whole team in hopes that everyone has clarity, tackling the issues in 1-on-1s, addressing issues with personal development goals, or facilitating conflict resolution discussions (at times with the help of HR). But how is that really working out?

A spatula to unstick your team

While we fully endorse the virtues of directness and accountability, they may not be the only ways to bring about real change. For one, these approaches put a person in a defended state (which is not the same as defensive, necessarily) in terms of which brain circuits are activated. When this happens, access to creativity and connection is blocked. We’re no match for millions of years of human nervous system evolution.

The second challenge is that the pathology, as it were, may not exist in the individual team members, but rather in the dynamic between team members, so systems thinking is needed here.

This is where indirect approaches can work beautifully. Utilizing a different means or entry point into the stuck dynamics can save the day. We find that pointing to neuroanatomy can externalize the issues in a disarming way that doesn’t make team members feel singled out. The issues don’t feel as personal.

Follow that up with the skillful use of improvisation techniques from the field of humor, and you can watch old patterns, defenses, and assumptions dissolve in refreshing and fun ways. This is how the desired circuits get activated and we can put millions of years of nervous system evolution to work for your team. Talk about working smarter, not harder!

The VITAL5 ROUNDUP - The "4S" Stages of Teams - Stuck

  1. Uh-oh, quicksand! – Your team is stuck. You have a “right talent, wrong outcomes" phenomenon on your hands. But don’t panic.

  2. Been there, done that – The usual approaches rely on team members being in a defended/guarded state, which is the equivalent of a nervous system stop sign for openness to creativity and connection

  3. Not all who wander or are lost – There is a place for indirect approaches to the issues! Take the scenic route for better results!

  4. Look over there! – Blame neuroanatomy and your ancestors. Use an external model to broach entrenched issues.

  5. Yes, and… - Follow that up with some humor and improv to challenge old beliefs and patterns the team may have about its fellow members.

VitalConex is a connect-and-create company. To learn more about the "peanut butter cup" of successful teams, check us out at

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