The Top Four Mistakes in Building Team Resilience

With requests for building team resilience at work on the increase, it’s important that we continue to provide strategies that work. I thought I’d share some thoughts around the common traps we can fall into…

 Mistake Number 1: Current versus future focus

When I met with a CEO some time ago around implementing a resilience program in his organisation he responded “We don’t need resilience we are still here.” Implicit in this retort is the assumption that what led the organisation to its current success, will take it to the next level. In a turbulent, inter-connected working environment where disruption through technology is increasing, this is simply blind optimism.

A core aspect of work resilience is adaptability and staying relevant in a shifting world.

This means we have to look forward and work back. Try exploring these questions with teams:

  • What does a future vision look like?
  • What are the expected challenges and how does that inform our journey and team capabilities?

Mistake Number 2: Team versus stakeholder needs

 I’ve been invited many times to work with teams who are overwhelmed by change and workload. They lament ‘to do’ lists that grow each day, despite diligence and effort and complain of change fatigue. At the other end of the spectrum I’ve also worked with teams so stuck in personal entitlement, they have forgotten why they are there.

When I work with groups like these around their resilience their plans generally focus on how to embed more self-care and social connection. While these factors are critical and are encompassed in our Resilience at Work (R@W®) models, they neglect the needs of stakeholders – the people they exist to serve.

Taking an ‘outside-in’ approach can crystalise team priorities and identify the relationships that will build success. Try asking instead:

  • Who do we exist to serve and what would they say if we were doing a good job?
  • How do we align our team to better manage our stakeholder expectations?
  • How do we optimise our resources to align with the expectation’s others have of us?
  • What do we need to build on, introduce or let go of?

Mistake Number 3: Working with individuals not the team

 If you research resilience-building programs in organisations you will see that most are focused on building personal resilience – often with a wellbeing rather than a performance orientation. The assumption made is that a group of resilient people creates a resilient team. In fact, most measures of team resilience assume it is the aggregate of individual scores. This, of course, is counter-intuitive. We know how much the team impacts on what a team member can do and that we have to balance wellbeing with work outcomes. So why then do we persist with mainly personal strategies around well-being?

In my work with teams in trouble the underlying sources of conflict, poor group dynamics and under-performance is often mis-alignment around factors that we know build our personal resilience. Common examples are different versions of purpose, values, workload or the support that should be received. In our research into team resilience and creation of the R@W Team model we have found that there are factors that teams need to invest in that are in addition to those that create personal resilience.

If we take a systemic approach to building resilience, we need to recognise that we are all accountable for our own resilience but creating an environment of collective responsibility achieves more. Try exploring:

  • What can we do together that we can’t achieve on our own?
  • How can we address the connections between us that impact on our resilience?
  • How do we create a team climate that fosters personal resilience?
  • Which of the 7 components of the R@W team are worth investing in given our future challenges?

Mistake Number 4: Blaming the person not the system

If I had a dollar for every manager who has complained about someone being resistant to change or not ‘on the bus’ I’d be writing this article from my yacht in Bermuda!

I vividly recall a comment from a union official when I first starting specializing in resilience. His belief was that resilience-building was simply a covert management agenda to make people work harder and put up with more. While I had to counter his argument at the time, part of the underlying thinking here is correct. We are all part of a system that helps create the problems we hope to solve through building resilience. Placing the sole accountability on individuals is irresponsible and will not create sustainable results.

I’ve found in our workshops that people visibly relax when we depersonalise the challenges that demand resilience– especially when they know they have been labelled as ‘change resistant’, ‘not managing pressure’ or ‘negative to work with’. Try reframing discussion by:

  • Talking about the role (function) rather than individuals
  •  Focusing on people being the ‘best they can be’ given the challenges
  •  Emphasising accountabilities in all aspects of the system.