All-Terrain Teams: How Neutral Thinking Is Crucial to High Workplace Performance

October 14, 2022


Limitless Minds


Unstable markets… reorgs… confusing hybrid environments… high turnover… stagnant salary structures… shall I go on? I will, but don’t worry: this isn’t a negative blog.

When it comes to adversity in the workplace, the question isn’t “if,” it’s “when.” To be successful, employees must learn how to thrive under pressure, and adversity tolerance isn’t just important as an individual skill—it’s a key asset to any team.

In order to maintain high performance, a team must have a game plan for dealing with challenges, change, pressure, and adversity. When the chips are down and the pressure is on, what do you need from the people around you? Even more so, how can you be the kind of teammate they need?

You—and your team’s!—next right steps lie in the characteristics of neutral thinking: trust, clarity, and alignment.


Self-reflection exercise coming your way! When assessing how your team functions and how confident you feel working together, it’s important to look inward. What kind of a team member are you? Do your current behaviors energize or energy-drain? Get clear by asking yourself the following questions:

Are you available to your colleagues?

It’s common to be distracted during discussions with your team (ahem, too-many-tabs-open syndrome), but that doesn’t mean it should happen. The key to staying engaged? Keep the main thing the main thing. When you’re talking with your team, that’s gotta be the main thing.

How do you react when teammates approach you with a problem?

Do people avoid bringing problems to your attention, or do they see you as a collaborator in helping them find solutions? How often do colleagues come to you for assistance or problem-solving help?

Follow-up question: When people do come to you, do you ask questions/empower them before you jump to problem-solving?

Do you talk more than you listen?

Listening can help people change—in a good way.

“We found that speakers paired with good listeners (versus those paired with distracted listeners) felt less anxious, more self-aware, and reported higher clarity about their attitudes on the topics,” wrote Guy Itzchakov and Avi Kluger in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article.

Through their research, the pair found that receiving high-quality (meaning attentive, empathetic, and non-judgmental) attention can positively influence a speaker’s emotions and attitudes. It can also help people see both sides of an argument, an invaluable tool when it comes to working together.

Who on your team fits into these roles for you?

The next step: encourage others to self-reflect, too. Remember, the stronger one of you is, the stronger you all are. Iron sharpens iron!


Who is playing which part? Individuals on a team should always be clear on their roles and the roles of each of their teammates.

A 2018 study published by Frontiers in Psychology showed that role ambiguity (“the lack of clarity in understanding the actions to be taken to achieve proposed individual goals”) leads to poor performance. Those with clearly defined roles, however, are better able to plan, guide, and control the work they do. Isn’t it nice to know exactly what you bring to the table?

Once you have your own responsibilities pinned down, clarity plays an even bigger role in how a team functions: communication style. Good teams know to stay in touch, whether that means picking up the phone to talk through a problem or sharing insights as they work something out.

When speaking with your team—about projects, issues, or otherwise—use neutral language to describe the objective objectively. Avoiding judgmental labels (“this is bad, this is good,” etc.) will allow you to better understand what you’re speaking about. What makes this thing ultimately “good” and what parts of it are unworkable?

In the same vein, it’s important to be specific and precise in your language. What’s the point in saying “we need it to be better” when what you mean is “we need to give a compelling example of this concept, as well as a clear business case”? By harnessing specificity, you’ll more quickly get to the point, and thus the solution (while also deepening your own understanding of what’s working and what isn’t). It’s the real-life equivalent of the “this meeting could have been an email” trope—and your teammates will thank you.


Finally, a successful team is on the same page—in terms of goals and values. Think back to your favorite elementary school recess game; at its heart, isn’t a shared objective what makes a team, well, a team? And while you’re at it, don’t you want your teammates to appreciate the same thing? (In this case: fun and playground glory.)

Ultimately, teams need three things: a reason for forming, a vision for what is being achieved, and metrics that signal success. McKinsey’s book Leading Organization: 10 Timeless Truths reveals that when a team is working towards a common goal and vision, they are 1.9X more likely to have above-median financial performance.

If no established vision is in sight, team members can become disengaged. With trust, clarity, and that aligned vision onboard, remind yourselves what you’re working toward and how each of you will play a part in its completion.

For more information on what makes up a neutral team, how to function as a neutral teammate, and how to best support your team’s performance, visit Club Limitless. Our team is aligned in our mission to be here for you!

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