Many manufacturing businesses follow a predictable rhythm of activities based on a production and distribution cycle. And Santa’s North Pole-based outfit is an excellent example. Everything builds to a single tight annual shipping window, and to ensure customer satisfaction, it’s vital that the entire team is performing at an optimal level — particularly during the run-up to the crucial dispatch point.

Friction within the team can only detract from this, and as the team leader, the senior Elf needs to recognize if there are unresolved tensions, well in advance of critical points on the project path. Given the colocated nature of the toy-making factory, he and Santa can clearly observe non-verbal cues which point to disengagement, such as Hermey’s body language, with his sad expression and slumped shoulders. This inevitably reflects in his lowered manufacturing output, causing resentment amongst his fellow elves picking up the slack at the toy factory, when deadlines are so inflexible.

But when the Boss Elf shames him in front of the team, that has a negative effect on everybody.  Who can feel psychologically safe in such a workplace, when both lack of motivation and physical difference – such as a shiny red nose — are singled out for mockery and derision? No wonder Hermey doesn’t feel comfortable bringing his whole self to the workplace, or checking in with his feelings on a difficult day — never mind talking about his longer-term personal and professional aspirations. While he and Rudolph can support each other emotionally as a dyad, bonding over negativity creates factionalism and division within the production unit as a whole.

Thank goodness the team leader learns to recognize the unique talents and contributions that each individual can bring, and encourage appropriate professional development and areas of responsibility to help each of them shine. Quite literally in Rudy’s case, where playing to his singular strength is the only way to satisfy the Safety and Elf Administration on a foggy night.

After all, it’s only by working as a truly high performing team that the North Pole LLC is going to fulfill its primary objective, and not let down all the well-behaved boys and girls around the world who are its stakeholders.  That’s got to be a mission any well-aligned team can get behind with enthusiasm.

Perhaps by identifying areas in the schedule at a quieter time of year, Santa and his management crew could do some proactive work on team emotional intelligence building, and preempt further difficulties next Christmas? They could plan a team retreat in the springtime, perhaps to somewhere warmer… Resolving management problems always leads to improved outcomes, but learning from them and preventing recurrence is how a team evolves to ever greater performance and satisfaction.

Meanwhile, remember that all the rules of effective and respectful team communications apply just as much outside the workplace. If you are celebrating the holidays with your family remember to check in, be positive, listen and engage — and enjoy a GREAT break. See you in 2018!