Tigers in the Cubicles: A Novel Approach to Dealing with Stress-Junkies
I proposed a rather unique solution at one particular company were I was working as a part of critical corporate-wide initiative. After attempting to resolve several reoccurring issues in a more rational and profession way, I suggested releasing tigers in the head office once or twice a day, in the hopes our projects would run a lot more smoothy. How would this work? The tigers wouldn't actually eat anyone - these wouldn't be vicious tigers - but the adrenalin rush from being chased by a tiger would give certain people their "stress fix", thereby eliminating the need to CREATE problems just for the thrill of the stress they'd all become dependent upon.
Needless to say, I received a lot of strange looks.
Being extremely serious and professional folk, they kind of missed the point I was making. Many of the problems and project failures we were experiencing were avoidable, and many problems were actually CREATED by people who seemed to thrive on disasters, sensationalizing relatively simple issues, and generally running around panicking like Chicken Little. My contention was that if these stress-junkies focused their energies in a more helpful/supportive/constructive way - or just got out of the way by doing something else (e.g., running away from my tigers) - we might just get some real work done.
The love of and need for stress, drama and disaster seems to be a basic part of human nature, satisfying our primal need for an adrenaline rush. Action movies are the box office record setters. Soap operas are full of angst, sorrow, fear and tragedy. "Reality" shows are full of tension and drama, and frequently name-calling and hair-pulling too. Disaster documentaries on subjects form the end of the world in 2012 to the next big volcano/earthquake/meteorite are found on every channel with even a slightly scientific bent.
While this sort of melodrama makes for good entertainment, it's counterproductive when you're trying to manage a project and trying to solve real problems.
So how do you control the fear-mongers, rumor-generators and extraneous-issue-issuers who are threatening your projects?
First, resist the temptation to be a stress junkie - keep your head and your sense of humor. If you stress too, you only add to the drama. Humor might not help with the source(s) of the drama (the idea of tigers didn't get my point across, nor did it solve the problems my projects were experiencing) but humor does help YOU to keep your perspective, and impresses the like-minded people you need on your side.
Second, improve your lines of communication with your team, your customer and all those like-minded people. Good communication stops rumors, tells people what you're handling the REAL problems and encourages people to work with you to solve those REAL problems. Try taking a few of the stress-mongers aside and have a little chat - try to bring them around to a more constructive approach. This is especially important if someone on your team is a part of the problem.
Finally, make sure you have a good plan, including a solid strategy for dealing with risks. A good plan tells people you're actively managing the situation, and a risk management strategy lets the dramatists know you're aware the sky couldfall, and that you have plenty of umbrellas on hand.
I still chuckle at the thought of those middle-aged, stuffy, Armani-suited upper-managers and consultants running in terror from my (mostly) harmless tigers. However, I've learned more practical and successful methods of dealing with people who prefer the adrenalin rush of problems to the quiet satisfaction of a well-planned, successful solution. Today, I just keep my sense of perspective, spend more time communicating and more time planning.