Telling a Tale the Builds Team Resilience

The team emerged from an all-day conversation of leaders from hospitals, research institutes, and universities. The group agreed that they were facing a crisis. Addressing the crisis required a fresh start. The old approaches had been proved ineffective. The need for action was urgent. The newly formed team was given role of being an agent of change.

Stories make a difference. People have a hard time keeping complex events straight. One way to lighten the load on memory and simplify the complex links among elements is to tell a story. The story line keeps the elements in some order, simplifying the outlines, reducing the memory load, and helping to make sense of things.

That last part suggests a powerful process that deserves respect and consideration. One way that a story helps to make sense of things is to draw upon fundamental story lines. These story lines are captivating. They have their roots in early culture that perpetuate themselves through the narratives in children’s stories, dramas, novels, or television programs. Once the story line begins to unfold, people feel on familiar ground. They can identify the main characters and have some reasonable expectations of how they will behave. They have a good idea of the ways that the story line can unfold for better or for worse.

Leaders can gain some insight into employees’ understanding of their team by listening to the stories they tell one another. The stories that existing employees tell to newcomers are especially informative. The practical question for leaders is whether these stories contribute to or detract from the team’s resilience.

Narratives that contribute to resilience have a few key themes:

    Challenge: The team faces especially tough challenges and is proud of its role in addressing those challenges.

    Struggle: The team has not had an easy history. It has at times lost ground in its efforts to address its challenges. It knows what a set-back looks like.

    Hope: The team has a vision of a future in which it has brought the challenge under control.

    Confidence: The team believes that it has the talent, energy, and commitment necessary for success.

A leader can influence a team’s narrative. It requires more than simply telling new stories. It requires developing experiences that give those narratives some substance.

A Resilient Narrative can be a valuable resource to a team?

What stories matter to your team?

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