Why Open Communication Is Key to Building Resilience in The Workplace and Overcoming Setbacks

by | Aug 12, 2014

team-past-adversityProject failures, lost momentum, and personnel losses are frustrating and discouraging, and they shake every company from time to time. A leader’s response to such setbacks is the #1 determinant of their effect on the future of the business and a core factor in building resilience in the workplace.

Leaders need to be prepared to declare a breakdown when it occurs, acknowledge where the team has fallen down, and facilitate a way to move forward that satisfies the mutual needs of the team and allows for open and productive conversation.

Blowing past or downplaying losses at a company can actually have a greater negative impact than the losses themselves. Team members will try to decode the failure privately or in small groups, which can erode company morale and inhibit progress.

In my experience as a manager, when a vital team member left the company, a strategy failed, or we lost a major customer, I used a “healing agenda” to guide my team through the breakdown and help get them back on track.

Here is how the four-step healing agenda works:

  1. Organize a meeting. Bring together those involved with or affected by the circumstances. One of the purposes of this gathering is to acknowledge the contributions of the group. Your people are likely invested and have contributed time and energy working toward a specific goal. They need to know that their efforts are appreciated.
  2. Give people the opportunity to speak about their feelings. It’s important that the others listen respectfully and not simply wait for their turn to rebut, refute, or defend. The intention is to allow folks to air their feelings and the group to acknowledge these sentiments. If someone disagrees with what another team member is saying, she shouldn’t interrupt or engage the other person in debate or conversation. This is not the time for a discussion. When it’s her turn, she simply states how she feels. Why? The situation—whatever it is—has already occurred. The ship, as they say, has sailed. The end goal is to move on together and not to rehash what could have been.
  3. Look forward. Often team members get stuck revisiting the past, wishing for different outcomes, or blaming themselves and others for the situation. These emotions fester and create frustration, anger, and negativity, especially if they feel they have no outlet or way to be heard. A forward-facing healing agenda allows them to express these feelings in a structured environment, acknowledge them, and move on.
  4. Declare the group “complete” with regard to this situation. When the leader does this, it brings closure. The group has already dealt with all the “what ifs” and “if onlys” (e.g., What if we had done this differently? If only you had done this better! Why didn’t we do this? How could this happen?). All of these conversations are now redundant; the group doesn’t need to rehash them again. Instead, team members can refocus on the future.

It takes courage for leaders to declare a breakdown; however, when they do, not only does it contribute to building resilience in the workplace, it becomes possible to leave difficult situations in the dust and move on to new and greater successes as a group.

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