Home All The Best Possible Team Intervention: Don’t Show Up

The Best Possible Team Intervention: Don’t Show Up

written by Margaret Greenberg 1 July 2013

Margaret Greenberg, MAPP '06, is co-author of Profit from the Positive. After a 15-year career in corporate HR, she founded The Greenberg Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice, in 1997. Margaret specializes in coaching executives and their teams using a strengths-based approach. Full bio.

Margaret's solo articles are here and her articles with Senia Maymin are here.

Never say never. For sixteen years now I’ve run my own organizational development consulting and coaching practice. Never have I had to cancel a team off-site I planned to facilitate … until last week. A new head of HR and her senior team were counting on me to help lead their 20+ HR professionals through their first extended leadership team meeting. The day before I was supposed to make the out-of-state trip, I came down with an illness. Not showing up was the best possible team-building exercise ever. Let me explain.

Sunday evening I emailed the executive and her assistant explaining my predicament. I was just too sick to make Tuesday’s team building session, but suggested we talk by phone the next day for a few minutes to come up with a Plan B.

“Maybe we should cancel,” my client offered.

“Would you cancel if another member of the team suddenly got sick and couldn’t attend?” I inquired.

“Of course not,” she replied.

“Then don’t cancel because I can’t make it,” I advised.

Resilient Leaders

I expressed my confidence in her ability together with the senior team to lead the off-site meeting. I believed that doing so would convey their cohesiveness and commitment to the broader team. We also talked about how this mini-crisis could be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the way a team can pull together during tough times. It means being what Senia Maymin and I call the resilient leader in our upcoming book, Profit from the Positive. We all experience disappointments now and then. How quickly we bounce back is what separates an average leader or team from a great one.

Last year, in an article that appeared in Science, Steven Southwick of the Yale School of Medicine and Dennis Charney of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine summarized a handful of resilience strategies. The strategy demonstrated by this HR team was the ability to reassess the situation.

According to the authors, “…if individuals believe that they have the skills, experiences, and resources needed to successfully deal with an adverse situation, they are more likely to appraise the situation as a challenge.” Simply put, how you view the situation affects your actions. Reinterpreting an adversity as a challenge is precisely what we advocate in Profit from the Positive and precisely what this HR leader and her team did.

Another Resilience Practice

I must admit, as physically sick as I was, I think I felt sicker over letting down my client and her team. I needed to practice being my own version of the resilient leader by finding what Reivich and Shatté call evidence to dispute my own negative beliefs:

  • Belief: “The client will think I’m such a loser for not showing up.”
  • Evidence: “That’s not true because I have a proven ten-year track record at this company for being a trusted coach and skilled facilitator. They’ll probably appreciate that I’m not spreading my germs all around.”

So What Happened in my Absence?

Just hours before the kick-off reception on Monday evening, my client met with her senior team to break the news and brainstorm what to do. Cancel? Find a last-minute substitute? No. Since she and her team had been intimately involved in defining the objectives and had participated in several design sessions with me, they were familiar with the discussions and exercises I had planned for them.

When a few members were hesitant to proceed without a facilitator, the others built their self-efficacy by reminding them that “we know this stuff.” They assessed the risks of cancelling versus going forward as planned. After much discussion they came to consensus that they should each lead a portion of the agenda and agreed if anyone got stuck, others would jump in and help.

How did it turn out? Here’s just one anonymous piece of feedback from the meeting evaluations the client shared with me:

“I give the Sr. Leadership team two thumbs up or 5 stars, which ever scoring method they prefer. Shifting gears at the last minute due to Margaret’s illness and the decision to keep the offsite as scheduled really showed your commitment to us and our organization. The genuine facilitation directly from you all was effective and impactful in many ways.”

I felt like a proud parent. I learned an important lesson: When we relinquish control, we give others the opportunity to flourish. So, the next time you’re charged with designing a highly effective team-building session, imagine what would happen if you just didn’t show up.

Author’s note: If you would like to review Profit from the Positive for a website, for a print publication, or even for Amazon and/or Barners & Noble online, we are making it available in electronic form to reviewers around July 15. To be a reviewer, please click on this link to answer a few questions. We only ask that you do write a review by August 2 if you like what you read in the book.



Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2013). Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business. McGraw Hill.

Southwick, S. M. & Charney, D. S. (2012). The Science of Resilience: Implications for the Prevention and Treatment of Depression. Science 338, 79-82. DOI: 10.1126/science.1222942; (See page 81).

Reivich, K, & Shatt?, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books. (See page 164).

Photo Credit: All pictures from Microsoft Clip Art.

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Judy Krings 3 July 2013 - 5:10 am

Thanks for your openness and vulnerability. You let your character strengths shine. What a great lesson for us all. Many thanks.

Marie-Josee Shaar 3 July 2013 - 8:37 am

Yes, Margaret! Judy said it right! 😉

Jeremy McCarthy 3 July 2013 - 10:33 am

I couldn’t agree more. I was just telling someone yesterday how in my career my team would always move up to a new level every time I took a vacation for a couple weeks. When I would return, they needed me less because they were forced to break the habit of leaning on me for support in every situation. I re-learned this lesson just this past year when I experimented with pushing one of my colleagues to lead webinars or meetings when I was not available. In the past my default would have been to cancel or reschedule these if I couldn’t be there and now I realize that I was holding her back by not nudging her to step up and take the reigns.

Judy Krings 3 July 2013 - 11:37 am

I enjoyed your comments, Marie-Josee and Jeremy. Thanks.

Jeremy, you reminded me of a situation in my clinical psychology private practice about 25 years ago, well before cell phones and home computers. The days when real relaxation vacations were like a carrot on a stick to get me through very long days. Total peace. No communication. Heaven!

I had not taken a vacation day in over 6 months. My husband and I decided to go to St. Bart’s. Yummy place. But as the treasured time grew near, I had 11, yes 11, suicidal clients. The most I ever had in my career ever. Some really tough situations, too. yes, I had a partner to cover, but I felt so responsible I gave good consideration to not going. My husband thought I was nuts!

So I gulped and went. Bet you know the rest of the story. All of them did fine. Four were much improved! 7 did OK and none needed to see my partner.

When I kindly celebrated their fortitude and queried, “What happened within you that you did so well?” Several told me, “I HAD to be OK. I knew you cared about me. I needed to care about me, and it was about time I began to fend for myself!” Talk about riding that wave! I learned so much about resilience from each one of them, as they told me their success stories.

This memory makes me so very grateful to all the positive psychology researchers and bloggers like you. Resilience, best self, character strengths, and flourishing. The by-products of a life well lived. We now have statistics to lead us into more thriving. All since 1998 or so. Amazing shift to what is going right.

Thanks for the memories and positive reminiscence.

Margaret Greenberg 7 July 2013 - 5:11 pm

Hi Judy – Thank you for sharing your own personal resilience story. Oh the things we cn learn from our clients if we only take time to reflect.

PS- My apologies for not replying sooner. I’ve been on vacation since this article was posted. Call me old fashioned, but I still subscribe to what you call “real relaxation vacations”. I unplugged.

Margaret Greenberg 7 July 2013 - 5:18 pm

Hi Jeremy – the next time someone asks me how they can take their team to the “next level”, I’m going to share your story. Thanks for a great example of how letting go can build others up.

Margaret Greenberg 7 July 2013 - 5:20 pm

Thanks Marie-Josee for writing. I’m sure you have a personal resilience story from one of your well-being clients, too.

Judy Krings 9 July 2013 - 9:35 am

Thanks for your kind reply, Margaret. I am so happy you had a real vacation away from tech. Bet you revved up resilience. I am going to do the same thing, too, my first in 3 years very soon. Italy and Croatia await!


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