We’ve just got each other’s back.

For a recent physician visit, I arrived at a very quiet office. Pleased that it was so calm, I remarked to the two staff members behind the desk that it must be a slow day. “Oh, no!”, they exclaimed, “This is just the calm after the storm. We’ve had a very busy day.” I asked how they navigated the unexpected ups and downs. They chattered a bit and then one declared, “We’ve just got each other’s back.” This might sound pretty innocuous, but my ears perked up.

Here was an example of a business capability to handle variation in workflow. The two employees clearly created it by virtue of their trust, their knowledge of each other’s jobs, their honest communication, their shared stories, and their expectation that they could manage whatever came their way. They were two very different people by most demographic measures, but they plainly had a shared mission as they faced the day behind the desk. I suspected there were many examples of strength-building behaviors in the physician practice — the kind you need for resilience in the face of change and adversity. I also expected that they went almost completely unrecognized — just part of the background.

Left unilluminated, employee-built resilience strengths are weak, variable signals of what’s going right. They may rarely cause blips on the performance radar, but they likely contribute to a steady, favorable baseline state. What if we deliberately looked for what was going right as work was done — particularly for employee beliefs and behaviors that contributed to a collective capacity for resilience — and shined a recognition and development spotlight right there? There is evidence that not only is baseline performance raised, but positive energy is generated for the kind of discretionary group effort required to meet unexpected challenges.

The staff I observed in the physician office would likely rate themselves high in purposeful communication, one dimension important to handling change and surprise. What about your workgroup? You can find out here. Take this quick quiz, get your score, and ask if there are unrecognized communication strengths in your workgroup. If we had this data from the whole group, even many groups, and discussed deliberate action to make these attributes visible, what kind of positive capability could we release in your workplace?

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