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Support vs Challenge

I was talking with a client recently about how to get their team performing at their best. In that context I remembered this management matrix that I’d come across some years ago.

Management Matrix: Discover how high support and high challenge environments foster team growth and performance, while balancing the risks of burnout, comfort, and stagnation
Management Matrix: Challenge & Support

Top right: High support, high challenge. Most leaders want their teams to thrive (top right quadrant). This is where individuals get strong support from their managers and their peers while being pushed with challenging tasks and goals. It’s an environment that fosters growth, innovation and high performance. Your team will be highly motivated and engaged and be performing at their best. 

Top left: Low support, high challenge. In this zone, individuals face high levels of challenge but lack the adequate support to meet those challenges. While people in this zone are pushed to their limits, the absence of support to meet their objectives generates stress and can quickly lead to burnout. This can, in time, lead to disengagement.  

Bottom right: High support, low challenge. In this quadrant, team members have great support but they face few challenges. It creates an environment that feels safe and comfortable but does not push individuals to innovate or grow. You team might feel stable, but they have few opportunities to develop and will likely grow bored over time.

Bottom left: low support, low challenge. When individuals find themselves in an environment in which they are neither challenged nor are they receiving support they stagnate. Here, team members are neither pushed to improve nor given the necessary resources and encouragement. The consequences are low engagement, stagnation and lack of development. 

Actions for Managers and Leaders

Most managers will want their teams to sit in the thriving quadrant. To do this they need to foster an environment in which individuals are challenged while also providing them the appropriate level of support through resources, feedback and encouragement. 

In my experience, leaders driving organisational change in particular or those with very high expectations often find themselves with teams in the burnout zone. It might be that what they can manage their teams can’t. Avoid this if at all possible. Ensure that if your teams have significant challenge, whether driven internally or by the context in which they are operating (eg: early covid period), and balance this with sufficient support to prevent stress and disengagement.


Manage your teams through comfort zones. There are times when members may need to sit in this space temporarily, when recent surge performance or their context has taken them into the burnout quadrant. However, it’s not a place to stay. You need to recognise when individuals are too comfortable and gradually introduce new challenges to stimulate them toward growth. 

Finally, address stagnation. Identify and actively intervene when your team members lack both support and challenge, bringing both to bear to help them move back into the thrive quadrant. Otherwise, they are at risk of becoming disengaged and potentially departing. 


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