What’s at the Heart of Resilient Workgroups?

Workgroups become resilient through a shared understanding of the challenges they face.

People have a persistent and compelling tendency to make sense of their experiences. Life is complicated and vital information may be hard to find. People rarely have more than a glimpse of the events and processes that they encounter. Witnessing many of the major events in one’s life often resembles being on the sidelines of a race. For a brief moment one can see the unfolding events and witness the slice of time in which the contestants are aligned just so. A comprehensive perspective is hard to come by. So, people are left with doing their best to make sense of the information that comes their way. Being mystified makes people nervous, so they feel compelled to make sense of things.

A resilient group is one in which people share the process of sense making. Rather than each individual constructing a separate reality, members of the team come together to share what they have witnessed and to offer ideas about the events’ meaning.

Shared sense making builds upon trust and respect. It comes about through people listening to one another. Much of the chatter of day-to-day life goes through our minds without leaving much of an impression. For another person’s perspective to have a significant impact, people need to listen carefully and reflect upon what they hear. The most profound way to reflect is to engage others in conversation to explore new ideas. This is the process through which a team can develop a new perspective on their shared world.

The process of sense making creates more respect and trust in turn. People find it easier to rely on others who share an understanding of their challenges and priorities. The process of sense making can be a powerful component of virtuous circle of improving teamwork.

What To Do:

Building team resilience has a long horizon. It is important to start right away, but it is also important to be patient. A good topic for a first conversation is the team’s mission. What are the members’ views on the team’s primary mission, the conditions that support that mission, and developments that get in the way? The mission provides a good place to start because that is what everyone shares.

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