The Sound of Silence



In our contemporary society, it is undoubtedly a privilege.

Making time to think in silence is something any leader should do. To some extent, every one of your people should try to have time without distractions, in “silence”.

It is an incredible perk in today’s time, undeniably.

It is with no surprise that I see many first-time leaders consider silence a way of assessing the good health of their teams. How deceived they are.

A team comprises a group of individuals with different views of the world and life, educational levels, life experiences, and emotional baggage of various sizes.

Undoubtedly, there are rare moments where a high-performance team has absolute consensus regarding the vision and decision. And in those moments, silence ensues. In my experience, such moments are sporadic indeed.

At all other times, the silence can be deafening.

Considering Bruce Tuckman’s model, a high-performance team goes through four phases – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. 

When a company brings together a group of individuals to form a new team, people don’t know each other; they’re not sure what they will find, how their work environment will be and if the new colleagues are exciting and competent people. As planned as it may be, this first stage is a moment of stress, which carries anxiety, expectations, fear of rejection and failure. 

Many young managers find silence at this stage. People play defence, assessing carefully if or when to engage with a colleague. The fear of failure is ever-present. Meetings quickly become boring, with few or no people participating in the debate. People hardly ever give feedback to colleagues, even if they see them making a terrible blunder. And for sure, they do not celebrate other people’s victories.

And the inexperienced manager will think – “my people are getting along well, they never complain, never argue, never fight”.

Ahh, the sound of silence!

When we delve into Tuckman’s model – something I will not do in this article – we find the second stage, “Storming”, is its name.

I never heard of a silent storm.

For a team to be born, its constituents have to know each other. They have to know other people’s boundaries, character, and preferred ways of working. Friction is inevitable. With healthy confrontation, people start to learn their place in the broader sense of the team and their potential impact on the teams’ success. 

Within a team, each one should openly challenge and propose new ideas. Every single element should be comfortable sharing thoughts different from their leader.

Within a team, each one provides and seeks feedback. People are responsible for their results, and their peers make sure they are accountable for it.

People will laugh, fight, work, and row the boat at the same beat within a team.

There is no place for silence within a team.

Silence can and should be evaluated as a possible dysfunction of the team. And the initial step towards resolution is to build “Trust”, but I will leave it for another time.

Yours trully,

Ricardo Castelhano