How to build a more resilient team

The unprecedented challenges of the pandemic have tested many NFP employees to their limits. So why have some been able to bounce back and carry on while others have struggled?

The answer may be resilience – a characteristic that gives teams the capacity to survive and even thrive in the face of adversity.

Psychologists define resilience as 

the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress . . . As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”

Or more simply: resilient teams are better able to manage challenges and bounce back from stressful times or situations. 

Resilience is about flexibility – not force

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – or so the expression goes. But resilience is not the same thing as toughness.

The important skill is not strength so much as adaptability; rolling with the punches rather than taking the hit. This capability enables your team to think differently when confronted with a new problem and instead of fighting external events, to reframe the challenge and improvise.

And the good news is it’s not an innate trait. It can be developed.

Qualities of a resilient team

Resilient teams demonstrate four critical characteristicscandour, compassion, resourcefulness and humility. This means they:

  • Are honest with each other in seeking a solution that supports the greater good – even on difficult topics. 
  • Show compassion and empathy for each other, truly caring for each other during victories and failures.
  • Are resourceful. They aren’t stymied by unexpected scenarios but will keep looking for new and different ways to solve the problem.
  • Are humble and can ask for help when they need it. They don’t hide struggles and mistakes and are willing to rely on each other or simply say: ‘can you give us a hand?’ 

So what should do you if your team is fractured and suffering from a resilience deficit? Here are three practical steps you can take.

1. Define your team’s purpose

Teams that have a clearly defined purpose more easily accept challenges and uncomfortable experiences. Rather than seeing obstacles as defining their present experience, they view them as merely speed bumps on the way to a bigger goal.

Being able to focus on the bigger goal makes smaller stresses and frustrations more bearable.

A clear purpose will give your team meaning and connection to their work that will guide them through the hard times. 

Need help with clarifying what your team’s purpose is? Help your team design a purpose statement using this simple, free tool called the Team Purpose Canvas.

2. Understand what you cannot control – and focus on what you can

Teams can often become bogged down trying to fight things that are beyond their control. Then they spin on the spot – unable to move past the obstacle. 

Resilient teams are able to identify and relegate environmental and other factors that are out of their hands, which frees them up to work on the things they can control. 

Once it’s clear what you can control, experiment with different ways of working within those boundaries to learn what helps to move through stressful events or times.

You can help your team develop this skill using a tool the Regain Your Power Canvas – it’s free if you want to give it a go right now.

3. Build trust and safety

Resilience is a team effort and creating a strong network of people who are there for each other is a significant part of creating an environment that fosters resilience. This can include:

  • Show you care. Leaders can set the tone by taking a genuine interest in their team’s activities. You need to ask the right questions and also listen carefully and read between the lines of the responses you hear. 
  • Check in. How is the team’s energy? Take a temperature check at the start of each meeting and ask your team to rate their energy levels on a scale of one to five. This will give you a quick insight into unusual fluctuations from the group or individuals that need your attention. 
  • Acknowledge emotions. Our first reaction to difficult situations is generally emotional and this can cloud our perception, judgment and behaviour. Simply identifying and naming emotions can help your team to put them aside and have a more constructive conversation based on facts rather than feelings or fears. 
  • Share stories. Encourage your team to share personal stories as a way to build trust and participation. For example, ask your team to tell their life story, focusing on the highest high and the lowest low. By being vulnerable, the team creates an environment of trust, where compassion and humility are welcomed. 

Resilience involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that any team can learn and develop. But like building a muscle, increasing a team’s resilience takes time and focus.

Resilience needs to be developed and nurtured continuously at both an individual and team level. A focus on shared purpose, understanding what can be controlled, and building trust between team members can help develop and maintain a culture of resilience that will ensure your team is equipped for whatever challenges life throws at them, now or in the future.

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