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The One Thing Earthquakes Can Teach Leaders About Managing Team Pressure




For decades, conventional wisdom went something like this:

  • Work is work.

  • Personal life is personal.

  • Mental and emotional wellbeing are personal issues, and therefore have nothing to do with work.


(This line of thinking takes me back to logic problems from my high school math classes. If p, then q. If not q, then not p. Or does that mean that p is the inverse of q? It’s been well over 20 years since I last took math.)


The relationship between mental health and work started gaining more attention over the last decade, especially since the pandemic started in March 2020. This is a very good thing. Workplaces, after all, are made up of people. If you want people to show up and succeed, they need to be healthy, in all the definitions of the word.


This isn’t rocket science.


But there is a close analogy to earth science.


Let me explain.


Most models of organizational health don’t factor in wellbeing at the individual level. Furthermore, they usually don’t account for variation in how different people feel, think, and act in any situation.


When we factor in mental health and emotional wellbeing, we’re adding one huge, nuanced area of pressure (namely the interpersonal dynamics, such as behavioral differences, internal biases, stress from home, relationship issues, etc.) to another (organizational structure and operations, which includes things like workload, process, cross-team coordination, capacity, etc.).


These two sources of pressure impact every facet of the workplace, and slowly build over time.


This is where earth science comes in. Specifically, earthquakes.


Under the earth’s surface, geologic plates shift and bump up against each other, which builds pressure over time. If there’s no way to diffuse that pressure, a major earthquake is inevitable.

Fun fact: California has dozens of earthquakes daily. Don’t believe it? The key is that they’re small and less noticeable. If the pressure built up instead, we would likely see a doomsday scenario from the movies.


Teams are in constant flux, and that constant flux results in the steady build up of pressures over days, weeks, and months. From onboarding new clients and talent to managing projects and tools, change and movement affect people, and it’s critical to let out the pressure in small, controlled ways.


That’s what is at the heart of our work at Barometer XP. We use games to explore and release little bits of pressure about specific challenges a team is experiencing. By addressing these small pressure points along the way, you can avoid the tectonic shifts that might cause irreparable damage.