Building a resilient team


(Photo: Joerg Koch / Getty Images)

Resilient people don’t just survive hard times, they come through stronger, healthier, even better. The same phenomenon occurs with resilient teams. These teams learn and grow from the adversity they face. I’ve seen this mostly with IT teams on multi-year projects but I doubt there’s a function or group that wouldn’t benefit. Having a resilient group makes a significant difference when your team needs to drive something forward amidst conflicting agendas, in an uncertain environment or when large budgets are involved.

The value of a resilient team isn’t just its ability to persist despite headwinds but also in the creativity and open-mindeness used to deal with challenges. When people feel threathened they narrow their focus and options, when they feel supported, connected to a purpose and learning they widen their sights and alternatives. Get that attitude in a team and you have a strong dynamic to achieve your goals.

But how do you make a team more resilient? Trust is a fundamental requirement. People need to know that others will be responsive to them and behave ethically. You will never create resilience in a group if sharing information, thoughts or feelings exposes them to potential ridicule or allows one team member to better their position at the sharer‘s expense.

You can see trust at work in the study results of John Paul Stephens et al : resilient teams express more emotion, including both positive and negative emotions, and do so constructively. This openness and ability to be vulnerable sets the stage for learning and growth to take place. It’s also an enviornment that enables positive relationships, mitigating the negative effects stress and uncertainty can have on an indiviudal - „a burden shared, is a burden halved“. Teams can provide exceptional support systems when they are actually felt to be a team.

Like individual resilience, having a sense of purpose provides another source of inner strength for teams. A joint mission for the team, or a shared vision of how they should do their work (e.g., in terms of fairness or quality) are ways to capture this purpose. Purpose in this context is different from objective: the team’s objective might be to launch a new brand in 4 months but the purpose needs to stir their hearts, like establishing their role as the company's innovaters.

To recap, if you want more resilience in your team:

  • Be responsive to each other and act ethically
  • Promote the expression of emotions
  • Make sure both positive and negative emotions can be shared
  • React constructively
  • Focus on what can be learned from situations
  • Be a real team
  • Have a sense of purpose

A good place to start is by considering which of these bullets is most missing from your current team and addressing that.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn 13 January, 2015)

Katherine TersagoComment