When startled, your body moves quickly to protect itself: shoulders elevate to defend the vulnerable brain stem and neck, while eyes blink close to shield and preserve your sight.

Your body does all of that without any conscious or intentional thought.

As much as leaders attempt to build “no-surprise” cultures, unexpected – even astonishing – events are increasingly normal. Which begs the question: What sort of surprise reflex does your team possess?

“We need to get past the blame and defensiveness sooner,” a leader shared with me as we explored how they handle surprises. “And move quicker to learning and adapting.”

When the unexpected happens, here are three things your team can do to develop a stronger surprise reflex:

  • Resist the temptation to judge the event as good or bad. The verdict you choose has significant ramifications that can be avoided. A response of “it is what it is – now what are we going to do about it” enables the team to bi-pass unnecessary drama and wasted time.
  • Quickly move to asking questions, such as: What do we get to learn now? How will this experience improve our long-term performance? What’s possible now that wasn’t before?
  • Recognize and celebrate those who are affected by the surprise. Remember: The new work caused by a surprise is rarely equally distributed across the team.

Psychologist Viktor Frankl taught us that between a stimulus and the response there is always a moment of choice. Seizing this moment creates a greater future.

Hat Tip: KB

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