October 17, 2022
General
Emily Weissang

Team Resilience: How to Help Your Team Overcome Adversity

A team that knows how to dig deep and persevere is more likely to succeed. But this vital team resilience is a skill that has to be developed over time.

There’s a reason why superhero movies are so popular, and it’s not just the special effects and explosions. 

We love to see people join forces to combine their unique skills, growing together as a team and becoming collectively stronger as they face down challenges. It the kind of story that speaks to something in our psyche.

It’s deeply satisfying to see people work together and achieve great things while experiencing adversity that tests their team resilience. And we understand instinctively that a tenacious, resilient team is more likely to succeed. But, likewise, we acknowledge the truth that such a team is not made overnight. A team might be full of outstanding individuals, but only through trials and tribulations does the team grow strong together, becoming greater than the sum of its parts.

When we see this presented on the big screen, it rings true to us. We might not relate to the ability to fly, but we do see our own lives reflected in the struggle to understand another person’s communication style, to deal with a colleague who is too stubborn to apologize, or to guess at someone’s hidden motives. The superpowers might be fictional, but the team relationships feel true to life.

But, while it may be easy to see a defined path to improved team resilience in a neatly structured “good vs. evil” adventure, in life this journey is rarely so simple. Your team might not be out to save the world, but you’ll still encounter times of challenge and adversity that require tenacity and resilience to push through.

How can you ensure that, when trying times do arise, your team has the resources to persevere? Is it even possible to coach a team to become more resilient?

Well, seeing as resilience is a trait that can be learned and developed, the answer is a resounding yes. And, in this article, we’ll look at how.

What is team resilience?

Team resilience is the ability of a team to recover quickly from challenges. In some respects, it’s a bit like elasticity. An external force might change the shape of an elastic object, but it springs back, unharmed and ready to keep going.

But that’s not to say that resilient teams are like the proverbial immovable object, stubborn and unchanging in times of crisis. Resilience is a dynamic skill that depends on the ability to bounce back from mistakes, learn, iterate, and rebuild. 

Indeed, the most resilient teams are often those who adapt quickly. They’ll absorb a shock, support each other through change, and emerge stronger and better equipped to thrive in the future.

What do resilient teams do differently?

Executive recruitment and coaching firms LHH and Ferrazzi Greenlight identified four qualities that characterize the culture of resilient teams: candor, resourcefulness, compassion, and humility.

Candor

Resilient teams have open and candid communication with each other. This is a two-way relationship where team leaders are transparent about challenges, but remain approachable so team members feel that they can share their perspectives in a safe environment.

Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness is about maximizing resources to solve problems, and resilient teams are capable of working closely together to make the most of what they have. They are not afraid to think outside the box and test their ideas to find creative answers.

Compassion and Empathy

Resilient teams cultivate healthy interpersonal relationships. They are driven by purpose and operate with kindness, so everyone can reach their potential and do their best through good and bad times.  

Humility

Resilient teams value constructive criticism. They are humble enough to admit their mistakes and reach out for support. Everyone on the team is welcome to share their feedback to help resolve issues.

How to build a more resilient team

1. Encourage a growth mindset in each team member

When you try something for the first time and you find it difficult, how do you respond?

  1. “I’m no good at this; it’s too challenging for me.”
  2. “I’m no good at this right now, because I’ve never done it before. But if I practiced, I would get better.”

Simply put, having a growth mindset is the difference between defaulting to option 2 when you come up against something you find hard, instead of feeling beat up and frustrated like option 1.

However, that’s not to downplay the challenge involved in shifting to a growth mindset. In fact, adopting a growth mindset can be a huge emotional challenge, intertwined with factors as complex as a person’s professional confidence and self-image. 

Indeed, it requires resilience to shift to a growth mindset in the first place. But a growth mindset also leads to increased resilience. When your default reaction to a struggle or a challenge is fundamentally optimistic, believing that you can overcome the issue if you have the right support or training, for instance, you are more likely to bounce back from setbacks.

For this reason, it’s super valuable to encourage your team to adopt this mentality as far as they can.

To see this happen, you’ll need to look at your team culture. In order for people to feel confident making mistakes and owning the areas where they need to improve, you need to create an environment that is open, collaborative, and committed to continuous learning and improvement. 

In addition, establishing psychological safety is essential: your team should feel comfortable asking for help, giving feedback, raising concerns, and expressing disagreement without fear of conflict and negative consequences. 

2. Have a strong and open communication

A strong communication strategy is essential in any performing team. But good communication also underpins team resilience, too. A cohesive team tackling challenges together will invariably be more able to come up with creative solutions than a collection of siloed individual workers who never bounce ideas off each other.

You have to ask yourself about what communication looks and feels like for your team. Do the tools you use make communication feel natural and pleasant, or clunky and frustrating? Are people avoiding having difficult but necessary conversations? Do certain team members have very different communication styles?

Indeed, as more and more teams spend less time in a physical office space, or even switch to remote working altogether, you need to be especially conscious of how your team communicates. It’s worth keeping in mind, also, that what works while your team is small might not scale as needed when your team grows and becomes more geographically scattered. 

Ultimately, whether your team works in-person or remote, in the same time zone or in different ones, your communication policies must focus on connectivity, updates, and good practices that highlight empathy and open communication.

3. Train and coach your team 

It’s often said that resilience is like a muscle. It can be strengthened over time with practice and commitment.

Some organizations are opting to host team resilience workshops, but seeing as resilience is such a complex idea with many contributing factors, this isn’t the only option.

Organizational mentorship programs, for instance, are a great example of coaching that can help create strong, meaningful working relationships between people, boosting their ability to operate as part of a resilient team. 

Mental health training can also transform team resilience. Through training, your team members can gain a better understanding of mental health - both theirs, and others - and learn vital concepts that will help them empathize with colleagues who are struggling with stress and other concerns. As such, it gives your team the ability to be more supportive of each other, encouraging each other through the difficulties.

Needless to say, if you manage a team, mental health training should also be on your radar, too!

4. Make sure the whole team is contributing equally

Nothing will undermine a team’s willingness to persevere through challenging times more than a sense that a couple of people are doing most of the legwork while the rest of the team just looks on.

However, ensuring an even workload distribution across the team increases feelings of fairness and camaraderie. If everyone feels equally responsible for the team’s outputs, each person will feel more invested in pushing through challenges and bringing the team to a place of success.

5. Have a clear mission and vision statements

A shared sense of motivation and purpose contributes massively to team resilience, but motivation can wane if work feels misdirected or aimless. 

As the team leader, you need to be able to communicate how each team member is contributing to something big. Getting your mission and vision nailed down will make this simpler. 

If you can clearly define and communicate your intentions, your 'why,' and future goals, this gives everyone something to hold onto - even when the going gets tough. 

Your mission and vision should not only be written, but should also be lived. They serve as a compass that aligns the team to what you stand for when faced with hardships and adversities.

Conclusion

Building resilience is a long-term goal, and it will require effort and open-mindedness from your team. It's okay not to have all the answers, but what is important is that you start the journey as soon as you can.

Ultimately, encouraging and coaching your team to develop resilience serves to benefit everyone. A resilient team, under the guidance of a resilient leader, will retain a sense of positivity even when the going gets tough.

In the end, not only will this lead to better business outcomes, but it will mean better morale - a team that can look back with pride at what they overcame, together.

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