If you’re noticing people at work spinning their wheels, you’re not alone. Post-pandemic, more and more organisational leaders are highlighting regression in their teams.

One senior exec called recently to request inspiration for his team of middle managers. During discovery, I asked about the issues currently facing the team. He pinpointed three areas of concern and highlighted his frustration in covering old ground because these same aspects had been previously addressed, several years prior.

I explained about regression and behavioural backtracking. In tense times, people seek a quick release. Looking for familiarity and security, the easy choice is to revert to earlier coping mechanisms. It’s why smokers who successfully quit months (or even years!) ago suddenly start smoking again. Hit by unexpected or traumatic stress, they light up once more, desperate to relieve the internal strain they feel.

The unfortunate thing about stress is that it’s indiscriminate. Unrelenting pressure affects everyone and when emotionally overwhelmed, even those in leadership positions can suffer regression. But unless you’re self-aware, it’s likely others will be first to notice you operating below your typical level of functioning. And they may not feel equipped to offer feedback without an invitation.

In his book “Rebel Ideas”, Matthew Syed tells the story of United Airlines flight 173 which crashed on 28th December 1978, when a dashboard light failed to illuminate correctly. More than twenty lives were lost, including a flight engineer whose professional perspective could have saved the situation, had he only voiced it in good time.

It’s essential you empower your people to offer their best ideas when most needed. Even if you believe your culture welcomes contribution, stressful times can spark a climate which stops people speaking up. What should you look out for? Communication difficulties developing in your team, challenging relationships springing up between tense work colleagues, or an underlying focus on status and hierarchy coming openly into play.

What makes matters worse is that regressing leaders often feel personally responsible for finding answers. However, your attempts to solve it all alone can take your team down, just like the United Airlines captain whose flight engineer failed to share critical information. Managers involved in pinpointing problems help widen your perception of the issues – and may even offer collaborative solutions everyone quickly buys into.

After two tough years, every company faces difficulties adapting to a radically different business environment. Many have foundational challenges which require a whole-team approach. Whatever the case, it’s highly likely some of the answers you need are inside the great people you have hired! To ease the flow, I highly recommend bringing in a skilled facilitator who will create a productive climate and encourage your team to inspire one another forward.

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