What resilient teams do

There is no doubt that many workplaces go through periods of significant and ongoing stress. Your workplace might be in the middle of major stress at present.

Yes, there are the the day-to-day challenges - high workloads, challenging clients, and difficult personalities. But there are also major challenges like restructures, major changes initiated by Central Office or funding bodies, new computer systems, and the pressure of people being expected to do more work with less staff and resources.

In some teams, I see the pressures coming out in very human ways - increased sick leave, staff becoming quite sensitive and less tolerant, people taking shortcuts with how they speak to each other, and some people withdrawing into their work.

I also see team members avoiding those people they find difficult, people becoming quite negative and cynical about their workplace, team members developing an 'us and them' mentality between themselves and management, increased complaints about workplace bullying, and high levels of staff turnover. 

However, often in the same workplace, I see other teams that are shining lights within the gloom. What is it that is working in these teams? People often think of resilience as a state of being. I want to suggest to you that resilience is more what we do and think when faced with adversity. These 'protective factors' are also consistent with what the research says buffer teams against prolonged stress at work. Here is some of what I have noticed about resilient teams. 

Strong, but supportive leadership: In resilient teams, there tends to be a leader who has set a realistic direction but is understanding and supportive of how people are travelling. I hear such leaders say things like, 'We have no choice about this latest change from Central Office. But we are going to make the best of this. We are going to get through this together.'

Such leaders are transparent by keeping people in the loop, letting people know the rationale for such changes, and sharing as much information as they are allowed to share. But they also support people in appropriately sharing their concerns and give additional time, support and flexibility to those who need this.

Shared decision-making: Invariably, there are some decisions for which senior management are responsible and need to make. When the final decision rests with management, this needs to be made clear in advance. However, as much as possible, there needs to be some genuine two-way discussion of challenges, at least those that can be discussed publicly.

Team members need to be realistic of course. Having your say does not mean having your way. However, the more workplaces can engage people in such discussions and make decisions by consensus, this will elicit greater confidence and certainty, not to mention your team members feeling more valued and engaged. 

Helpful attitudes: Behind every helpful behaviour in teams lies a helpful thought or attitude. If we can get the right attitudes to be practised, the necessary behaviours tend to follow. Here are some of the great attitudes I see in resilient teams:

When such attitudes are evident in teams, you see behaviours like people stepping outside of their role to help out other team members, thinking more creatively, and embracing change rather than resisting it.

Yes, we are all allowed to have a whinge from time to time, but we need to limit the amount of time we spend doing so and appreciate the impact continued negativity can have on those around us.

What attitudes do you want to encourage? More importantly, what attitudes are you personally modelling? Remember that if you hold a management position, have other seniority, or simply have a strong personality, the attitudes you model will be especially important. At the very least, speak about the attitudes you love to see and reinforce people who are doing this well. 

Flexibility: Here I see people being willing to take small steps, give things a try, or experiment with change. The most resilient individuals and teams are prepared to adapt themselves to fit in with a new reality. Those who are inflexible are the ones who struggle most with change.

Yes, we do tend to like the familiar. We may also have good reasons for not wanting the status quo to change. But given a change that is inevitable, we either show flexibility by embracing the change or we stress and struggle, trying to control something that is out of our control.

A willingness to take action: Too often, the only actions I see people making are putting up with stressful situations for too long, becoming sick or increasingly miserable, lodging a formal complaint, or leaving that particular team. While there is a time and place for some of those choices, we also need to consider other actions that can be taken to feel less stressed and more in control. 

In resilient teams, I see people who are willing to take some action even though they may be uncertain of the outcome. They offer viable ideas and solutions, but accept what is out of their control. Others clarify priorities with their manager, negotiate changes to their role, or find a good time and place to sort out a difficulty with a colleague.

Although actions by individuals and teams do not guarantee change, I can guarantee that no change by anyone guarantees more of the same.

Draw on strengths: Resilient teams take full advantage of the strengths that are there in their team. What holds some teams together in the midst of major challenge is a strong belief in the importance of the work they do, their ability to laugh, or the pride they take in doing their work well.

What is already functional in your team that you can encourage or take advantage of? If you are not sure, ask them why, given the challenges, they are doing as well as what they are.

Positive, supportive relationships: We shouldn't be surprised that having good relationships at work is a protective factor against stressors both at home or work. We are social creatures after all. When people feel genuinely cared for at work, when they laugh with their colleagues, when people find time to talk, it becomes so much easier to put up with challenges.

How well is your team travelling with the above at present? An even more important question is what are you going to do to make use of these protective factors?

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