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As a leader, what’s the mood on your team?

We want to be more impactful and more effective. We take a lot of courses, get coaches, talk to friends and mentors about how we can be more effective. However, sometimes all the action and tactics in the world aren’t helpful when we aren’t honestly addressing the mood.

Environments have a mood. Your family, your company, your country, your team - all of these places have an atmosphere that permeates our thinking, actions and reactions. Once identified, the mood can be shifted. But like so many things, if you can’t recognize the mood (and the impact it is having), you are unlikely to be able to address it.

Unlike emotions that can change faster and are more a product of an individual in a moment, the mood is something that surrounds a group of people or an environment. For example, at a birthday party the mood is celebratory or joyful - even though individuals at the party may have their own emotions.

This model helps clarify four major buckets of mood that you may encounter in companies or organizations. 

Acceptance, Ambition, Resignation, Resentment

Let’s start with Ambition: this is the quadrant in which we want to see teams operating. Sometimes it’s easy to paste a veneer of ambition over the actual mood of the team. Ambition is a combination of action and optimism. The team can see what’s possible and can combine that broad outlook with a sense of responsibility. Let’s make it happen!

Resentment on the other hand, is the space of changing or taking action, but not willingly. “I’ll do it, but I don’t want to”. This space relinquishes responsibility. “This is the reality, but I don’t accept it willingly” and possibly and puts blame on “the boss” or “the client” or any other external factors. Familiar? It’s a common mood in the professional space.

Resignation holds the same relinquishment of responsibility but without any ability to take action. “What’s the point? My action won’t matter. It won’t change anything or make a difference” This is the reality, but we are powerless to change it. This mood shuts the team down from even trying. Talent is wasted and standing by.

Finally, acceptance. In acceptance, we see our environment and we are at peace with it. Perhaps we need to take action for change in the future, but for now we’re in a mood of alignment with what is. This might feel great at first, right? Team is happy. Things are peaceful. But acceptance isn’t a mood that encourages innovation.

So, your team is there, marinating in a mood that is rarely defined or discussed but is having an impact on the team everyday.

And as a leader, you may not be seeing the mood firsthand if you aren’t working side by side with the group. Or maybe the team presents their “best face” when interacting with you. So, it is up to you to uncover the mood of the team. Some common ways to do that include:

  1. Survey. Many companies run annual or bi-annual employee satisfaction surveys that can be a solid start in understanding mood. Dig into these results to fully understand what’s behind the findings.
  2. Have a facilitator conduct 1:1 interviews that address a variety of team members and roles, Interviews can be confidential with an overview that addresses broad findings.
  3. 1:1 conversations with you (leader/manager) if you have folks on the team that trust you to share straight feedback. (P.S. If you don’t have people who feel they can share honest feedback with you, that’s another situation to address.)
  4. Hold “Town Halls” for smaller focus groups that allow people to talk about Hopes Fears and Dreams where you are a listener gathering data and feedback (Just listening. Not fixing.)

However, validating the feedback or insights you have collected is an important step in getting a grounded assessment of mood. 

Practicing tuning into mood in the meetings or groups you are a part of can help you better assess your own team. To understand the mood take into account:

  1. How do people interact with one another? Are there open conversations or partial conversations that don’t discuss the truth of the matter at hand?
  2. What are the side conversations are happening outside the group? Collaborative conversations? Complaints?  
  3. How effective is the group? If it is not effective, why? Notice the answers you hear. “Nothing we do has an impact” or “Expectations from leadership aren’t realistic” or “We just follow orders, even though it’s the dumb thing to do”.
  4. What is your mood? How are you feeling in the group? Do you sense your mood is shared? It’s likely that you are fully aware of the mood yet haven’t named it or taken the time to assess the full issues. 

Once you’ve identified the mood, you need to build a skillset to shift the mood. It may be natural to want to give a pep talk of some sort, expect a shift and new results. Realistically, shifting the group may be an ongoing project and something that is always changing and adjusted, not fixed. And it makes sense that a group moves through different moods in changing times. Losing clients, a failed launch, key team members leaving, new leadership with new leadership styles can all impact the mood of the team.

The point being that if you have no recognition of mood - because you may feel like “feelings” or “mood” aren’t the point of a professional environment - you’re missing a big piece of the teams’ management and care. Managers that are blind to mood can damage their leadership potential  further by:

  1. Tone deaf communication
  2. Leading through control, which may be appropriate for a short amount of time, but will not grow and engage a team
  3. Missing opportunities to further develop more nuanced leadership skills
  4. Missing the valuable feedback from a team that may feel resigned or resentful

Building the skills to identify, address and shift mood is incredibly desirable for leaders to be effective and authentic. 


For more about moods, refer to the Institute for Generative Leadership, Newfield Network where many of these concepts are discussed at length.

Courtney founded the Design Operations team at Facebook and spent 6 years building the discipline into an impactful team key to creating design operations excellence. Before Facebook, Courtney was Principal of Program Planning and Principal of Client Development at Hot Studio working to build a team that could scope, manage and deliver complex digital engagements. 

As a coach, Courtney partners with leaders to support them in building strong teams with clear vision and communication.

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