When you think of the most amazing stories of achievements – whether it’s an entrepreneur who finally succeeds after countless failures, a scientist who produces the revolutionary compound for a life-saving medication after numerous failed drug trials, or a hockey player who overcomes a severe injury and a goal-scoring slump to advance their team in the playoffs – resilience is often identified as a driving factor that helps individuals get ahead. But very few of us work entirely alone, and how our teams push through adversity matters just as much as our individual resilience.
But how is it that teams build resiliency? The Harvard Business Review surveyed almost 2,000 NCAA coaches and worked with hundreds of team members and leaders across a wide variety of industries to ask them how they build resilient teams and ultimately why it matters. It was discovered that resilient teams have 4 common traits.
They believe they can work effectively together.
Beyond everyone being confident in their personal ability to be successful, team members collectively believe that they can work effectively together. If you remember in 2017, the New England Patriots were down by 18 points at halftime of Super Bowl LI, but had a remarkable comeback to win their fifth title. When asked about the comeback, legendary head coach, Bill Belichick, said, “We were confident that we could still make the plays that we needed to make to win.” But for teams like this, managing confidence is of the utmost importance. Too much confidence, and you run the risk of team members becoming complacent and being ignorant of signs that adversity is ahead. Too little confidence, and they may be too risk averse to make the big play.
They share a common vision of teamwork.
The most successful teams have members that are on the same page regarding their roles, responsibilities, and ways that they lean on each other during adversity. This is their collective vision or mental model of teamwork, and it helps them manage adversity effectively, predict each other’s behavior, and make quick decisions as a group on the fly. This mental model must be shared (do we all agree on what we’re individually supposed to do?) and accurate (are we all doing the right thing at the right time?) (Are we doing the right thing at the right time?) for effective results. When team members understand how each of their roles fit into the big picture, and share an accurate understanding of what must be done, they are in an excellent position to endure adversity and respond effectively and with confidence.
A good example is from pilot Sully Sullenberger and his remarkable “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in 2009. You may recall it from the Hollywood reincarnation of this incredible story, starring Tom Hanks as “Sully”. Once things went sideways, Sullenberger’s team acted swiftly. They went straight into action and didn’t stop to talk or dwell on it — there was simply no time. Everything unfolded in just three and a half minutes. “We were able to collaborate wordlessly,” Sullenberger said.
“Everything you do, you double-check and back each other up. It’s finely choreographed — it’s a thing of beauty when it’s done well.”
The common vision of teamwork from Sully’s crew saved hundreds of lives that day.
They are able to call audibles.
Courtesy of Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesSuccessful teams need to improvise or ‘call audibles’ on the fly to develop innovative ideas or ways to handle adversity. It’s a careful process of adjusting to rapidly changing conditions in real time. To do this, teams need to be able to pull from learning of past experiences and creatively construct a way to develop new and better ideas when they’re up against a setback. Falling back to the common vision of teamwork, the most resilient teams are intimately familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses and are able to utilize the requisite expertise at just the right time.
From yet another Tom Hanks Film, Apollo 13, think about the real-life adversity the astronauts faced during that experience. The crew delivered a swift and creative response when one of the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks exploded some 205,000 miles above Earth. Pulling from random objects on the shuttle, together the crew utilized their knowledge and experience to create an innovative apparatus that removed carbon dioxide from the lunar module, enabling them enough breathable air to return home.
They trust each other and feel safe.
The most resilient teams believe it’s safe to take interpersonal risks on their team, such as piping up with a creative or unusual idea without fear of facing criticism or being singled out by other team members. This is most commonly referred to as psychological safety on a team. Studies suggest that most team members only discuss ideas that are commonly understood instead of offering unique ideas, because they’re afraid of rejection or being singled out. This isn’t the case on resilient teams, where innovation is fuel and it’s only achieved by offering this security blanket of trust among team members. This feeling of safety gives team members the confidence to chime in with their ideas or opinions, strengthening the diversity of perspectives at a time when it’s sorely needed.
When to Build Resilience.
People leaders can increase their teams’ resiliency by developing these four attributes. In the HBR research, three key moments were identified to develop these attributes: before adversity strikes, during an adverse event, and after adversity has diminished.
Before adversity strikes. People leaders should build team beliefs, simplify how team members’ roles fit in the big picture, strengthen ability to audible on the fly, and develop a culture of trust and safety. This can be done through activities such as: establishing goal-oriented processes and culture, executing role-playing exercises to empathize with difficult challenges, training and cross-training their people so they’re prepared for when adversity arises, providing frameworks for crisis response that can be applied to many situations, emphasizing the importance of diverse teams and opinions, emphatically discussing how vital a culture of mutual trust and respect is within the team, emphasizing inclusivity and walking the walk with your actions, and coming down hard on actions that potentially deteriorate the team’s shared feeling of safety.
During an adverse event. People leaders should consider reminding their teams of their resilience. They should also work to provide their teams with applicable materials as much as possible, aid them in setting a direction, coach members and encourage them to boost their confidence as they’re executing their strategy, and re-positioning challenges as learning opportunities for personal growth.
After an adverse event. Reflecting and de-briefing after an adverse event is critically important. These reflecting meetings should focus on a balance of wins and losses. Leaders should encourage their team members in this open forum to raise any concerns they have about the adverse event experience. When people speak up, leaders should recognize and show appreciation for it. Leaders should also act as connectors for relationships interdepartmentally within their organization. Finally, leaders need to act as buffers against external pressures, and be resourceful in acquiring skillsets to properly prepare for future adversity.
Leaders now understand that building resilience in their teams is just as important, if not more, than employing resilient individuals. They also know team resilience is something they must carefully cultivate themselves.
The actions laid out in this post should help to make sure resilience is a widespread team attribute, rather than an uncommon one. Getting to a place of team resilience is hard word, but the payoff can be long-lasting and extremely durable for future challenges.