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Tune the Mood – Enhancing Team Harmony and Effectiveness

Working on a project means being part of a team. The overall mood of the team effects the quality of life of the members, on the way they work, and the quality of what they produce. Each member’s vibe affects the mood of the group. Being on a team with a grumpy and depressed co-worker is no fun. it takes the energy out of work and creates a sense of division – him/her vs. everyone else.

Vibes: How Environments Feel
The idea of vibes was once relegated to the mystical world of spiritualists and hippies. Now we can safely say that they are real. So how does one promote good vibrations in a project team. We get a felt sense of a place and its people without having to analyze it. No thinking necessary. If you are sensitive, you know in your bones what is going on.

I remember walking into an office (yes, a physical office) and feeling a dull unhappiness. There was no juice or energy. it was like walking into a thick fog. I was about to take on a consulting role to assess the project and why objectives were not being met. My sense of the mood of the place almost had me turning around and finding another assignment. But, I was not deterred. I felt a compassion for the twenty-two people in that office who were suffering in this juiceless environment. I was confident that I would not let the vibe bring me down and that I could make a difference.

Just as there are depressive teams, there are teams that exhibit manic qualities, – everyone is frantically moving at top speed, getting things done fast (not necessarily well) and with no time for a break. Other teams are energized. An aura of satisfaction and happiness pervades their environment.

A team’s mood, its vibe, results from external influences, performance, and the moods and emotions of its members. Manage mood to make sure that it better enables collaboration and individual efforts. Do not leave it to chance or underestimate the impacts of the environment and individual team members’ moods on one another.

Emotions are Contagious
Scientific evidence shows that emotions and moods are contagious through a process of limbic resonance – the sharing of emotional states between people. Our brain chemistry and nervous system are affected by others and we synchronize with those with whom we have personal and working relationships.

The sharing of emotional feelings is like what happens when a tuning fork is struck, and its vibration causes another nearby tuning fork to sympathetically vibrate though the two are not touching. It is non-verbal and goes beyond body language and facial expressions to include chemical signals, sounds, and other more subtle signals.

In effect we are tuning forks. Our vibrations – the expressions of our moods, states of mind, emotions – effect those around us and those around us effect our mental state.

Mood contagion is not limited to people in shared physical space. A team working remotely may also experience it since tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language operate in virtual environments. Our written communications carry mood and emotions as well.


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Limbic Resonance
Our biochemical system is an open system which means that external events effect it. External phenomena, including the moods of others create chemical changes in our brains. These emerge as emotions and moods.

We communicate verbally, through facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, and through more subtle means.
“Within the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call ‘limbic resonance’ — a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states.”
“The limbic brain is the seat of communion, of maternal feeling, of social communication, of play, and of love. It is the base of non-verbal communication.”

The neuroscience and the way we are conditioned by patterns that program our limbic brain, and regulate and revise those patterns is interesting, but beyond the scope of this article. Here we want to understand the dynamics of team mood and how to manage it.

Monitoring the Team’s Mood
I recently was introduced to Perflo, an application that focuses on team performance and team satisfaction by regularly and frequently gathering and analyzing feedback from team members and stakeholders. It uses 30-second micro-feedback loops to collect impressions and report on them in real time. These micro surveys formalize a pulse-taking process that should continuously occur informally in every project.

For example, asking people about whether they are clear about their roles and expectations, whether team members are delivering on commitments to one another, team spirit, and levels of stress give management a sense of team health.

The project manager must be sensitive to the mood of everyone with a stake in the project – team members, clients, functional managers and senior managers. Regular and frequent (daily or weekly) monitoring will make it possible to identify problems early, before they have time to fester and emerge as crises. This is particularly important for project managers who are less sensitive to mood.

Team spirit, stress levels and general team happiness are signs of performance health. Generally, a team that is experiencing performance problems is not a happy team. Knowing the subtle goings on helps the project manager to investigate causes and proactively respond rather than react.

Individual responsibility
Monitoring one’s own mood is as important as monitoring the team’s mood. Individual responsibility to oneself and one’s coworkers includes the self-awareness that enables self-management and effective healthy relationships.

Equally important is opening to and learning to trust one’s ability to feel the vibe.

Setting the Foundation
Opening to awareness and the management of one’s emotions can be encouraged but cannot be mandated. To set a foundation for healthy optimal performance, organizations can promote mindful self-awareness and teach people how important it is to personal health and performance. Mindfulness and emotional and social intelligence programs go a long way to make individuals aware of how their emotions and moods effect themselves and others.

Bottom line: You are a tuning fork. Don’t bring your team down by bringing your bad mood to work. Cultivate mindfulness to shield yourself from being brought down by the bad moods of others. Learn the skills that will make you more sensitive to what is going on in and around you.\

[1] Richard Lannon; Fari Amini; Thomas Lewis (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-375-50389-4.


George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.