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How to Foster a More Resilient Team by Forming Habits Around Gratitude

Bring your humanity to work to improve team dynamics and business outcomes.

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BY Meghan E. Butler - 25 Jan 2019

how to foster a team

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Much of my career has been spent dealing with someone else's crisis, the nature of which--as we all know--is a hotbed of people's best and worst behavior.

One of my greatest leadership takeaways from these moments is simple: Those who lack personal boundaries and the ability to compartmentalize have a more difficult time making decisions and recovering from stress, ultimately handicapping their ability to move fluidly between different responsibilities.

And I know this because I got it wrong for a long time before I finally got it right.

In my experience, and in the experiences of many peers I deeply respect, a lack of resilience--the superpower we all have but not all tap into--is a primary deterrent to success and personal fulfillment.

Personal resilience is a superpower.

I recently attended the Texas Conference for Women, which featured the foremost authority on happiness and positive psychology, Shawn Achor. After listening to his TED Talk, one of the most viewed, and reviewing his contributions to Harvard Business Review, I was galvanized by his work and called upon his expertise to explore the relationship between emotional intelligence and happiness.

Achor explained that they are related, but neither are self-help concepts, and both pertain to the ecosystem of potential: One's ability to manage stress, navigate cultural dynamics, and build relationships.

This led us to explore the practice of building team resiliency by changing individual habits.

Make gratitude a habit.

Achor's most powerful example is from his work at Orlando Health in Florida. He and his team consulted with management to test positive psychology exercises during staff meetings. Over the course of two years, leaders began each meeting with an exercise where everyone present would take a moment and express gratitude for those around them.

Talk about an upgrade to an annual Thanksgiving tradition!

Its effect on team building was immediately evident in shifting attitudes and improved teamwork. But the profound impact of boosting team positivity through gratitude was not fully realized until one of the most tragic events in recent history.

Four hundred medical professionals at Orlando Regional Medical Center's Level One Trauma Center were responsible for treating the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016. Until the Las Vegas shootings in 2017, the Pulse event was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

In the aftermath of that event, Achor learned that their collective work on building positivity through gratitude dramatically improved the team's social cohesiveness and collaboration with patient care during the crisis. And the increased resiliency of the group contributed to an even stronger organization in the months and years following the shooting.

It all came down to this: By acknowledging hardships and successes--and expressing gratitude for what is learned during stressful or everyday situations--the overall resiliency of the team increased, improving the outcomes of patients, team members, and even the business of the hospital.

How to Practice Gratitude at Work

Practicing gratitude is way more than saying "thank you." It's acknowledging someone else's contributions, efforts, and vulnerability. It's the intentional recognition of their humanity.

Be vocal. Recognize someone's vulnerability during difficult discussions--"I know it takes a lot of guts to have this conversation, and I appreciate your willingness to share."

If doing the "Today, I'm thankful for..." exercise seems unnatural or forced, play the "rose and thorn" game. Ask your team to individually share their own low points or challenges within their role in the last week (the thorn), and immediately follow it with how someone else on the team helped them navigate or solve the challenge (the rose). It doesn't have to be grandiose. Even the smallest acts, like sharing a pen in a pinch, are kind and yield a cumulative impact over time.

Begin team meetings by asking everyone to take a moment and share what's good at work whether it's the people, the place, or the perks.

And, perhaps quite simply and obviously, say "thank you" and mean it. It doesn't have to be an extravagant act. You can casually weave it into conversations.Thank your team members individually for their contributions. Let them know specifically how their time and efforts make a difference to the organization.

Even the most challenging individuals have some quality to applaud. Find it.

There is an opportunity in every meeting and every conversation to express gratitude in a way that builds trust among your team and improves individual and group resilience. How will you create a habit of graittude?

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