Building Team Resilience
Change can be disruptive and uncomfortable, so it’s no wonder leaders often ask us how they can help their teams become more resilient. You might think the best way to get a resilient team is to select for resilient people—those who are strong or stoic or mindful, who laugh in the face of danger. But according to some of the most recent scholarly research, it’s better to think of team resilience as a dynamic property of the team as a whole. A team’s resilience depends on stress and self-reflection:
Stress means pushing a team to its limits. Given the unrelenting pace of technological change and dynamic markets, it’s not surprising most teams already feel like they’re already taxed at, if not beyond, their capabilities.
Reflection means structured questioning and analysis of past events that allows the team to say out loud what’s been on everyone’s mind, and come to a group understanding. This is how teams develop the self-awareness that is crucial to resilience.
To build resilience, therefore, you must help the team manage their stress and provide opportunities for them to reflect.
Hold regular retrospectives. The number one way to build resilience is to schedule time to reflect together on what’s been happening, what went well, and what the team can do better next time. We recommend two types of retrospectives: project retrospectives, in which you build a timeline of milestones for a given project; and team retrospectives, in which you review interpersonal dynamics and how the team works together. We’ve created guides for each; you can also get step-by-step instructions in our Team Tempo book.
Focus on what your team can control, not what they can’t. New teams tend to get stuck worrying about their collective self-efficacy: “do we have what it takes to get it done?” More mature teams get stuck on the limits of the larger system in which they operate. Either way, gently but consistently redirect the conversation to the elements that the team can influence. During a retro, for instance, the team could mark elements they can influence with a blue sticker and a red sticker for what they can’t, and then discuss how to address each.
Don’t pander to make people feel better. To develop self-awareness, teams need cheerleading to be realistic, not rah-rah. Sympathize with the difficulties they’re facing, but reiterate that you believe they have what it takes to turn their situation around.