Leading during challenging conditions is difficult enough: variables, external stressors and pressure, and internal demands on time and resources. Add to that, leading challenging teams, and projects and organizations can reach an impasse; walls that seem nearly insurmountable.


Some of the signs of difficulty include individuals not putting forth their best effort, team malaise, and decreased productivity. These behaviors can infect a team, creating interpersonal conflict and dramatically decreasing effectiveness. As leaders we need to identify these problematic behaviors and take concrete steps to work through them with vision, specificity, and grace. All eyes are on us during these moments.

Here are three ways to effectively lead challenging teams:

Managing Conflict

It is inevitable that conflicts are going to arise among different personalities on a team. For example, some people are going to be more vocal while others keep their opinions close to their vest. A difficult team member can behave passive aggressively which may irritate the rest of the team. Or a dominant person might make others feel unheard and derail progress. Managing conflict is a crucial part of being an effective team leader. The key is to recognize tensions and developing strategies to diffuse these challenging situations.

How does your team currently manage conflict? Is it formal, informal, or a combination of both? How safe do team members feel to engage in difficult conversation? An honest and open audit may be necessary – one great resource for ideas is: Difficult Conversations.

Recognizing Differences

A great leader is aware of the personality differences among a team and takes preventative actions to both avoid conflict and create opportunity for team development to establish trust and communication norms. This might mean recognizing what people work better together and who excels doing individual projects and supporting these personal preferences. Providing verbal and written ways people can give feedback allows everyone to feel heard no matter their communication styles.

Adapt To Different Styles

Some members of a team may be more accepting of changes or being challenged than others who thrive on routine and take pride in their experience. Depending on the expectations of team members, a good leader adapts their style to the individuals. Rather than seeing a team member as difficult, seeing the strengths and challenges of a person allows a leader to avoid negative interactions.

Additionally, the needs of the team as a whole shift and change over time and depending on conditions. Keeping a high-level awareness of these changes and creating environments and experiences for them to thrive, recover, and collaborate will ensure a healthy and successful team and satisfied and appreciated individual team members.

For more information regarding leading challenging teams and steps you can take as a leader to support the success and development of your teams and leaders, send us an email and let’s take a look at possible solutions.

At Matt Walker Adventures, we help companies connect the challenges of adventure to business to develop effective strategies to motivate, manage and develop teams and employees.