— September 20, 2019
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening sentence from Anna Karenina may overstate the case a bit, but there’s something to be said for the fact that successful teams share a number of key habits. Resilient teams are no exception. Organizations devote a tremendous amount of resources to building teams, but if they do not provide the tools and support for overcoming challenges, many of these teams will fail in the face of adversity.
Fortunately, there are a number of habits that seem to be common among the most resilient teams. Here are some tips that team leaders need to keep in mind.
5 Habits of Resilient Teams
They Focus on Goals
One of the characteristics of resilient teams that makes them so effective at adapting to changing circumstances and recovering from setbacks is their ongoing emphasis on specific, achievable goals. They clearly communicate their objectives both in big-picture terms and in task-oriented terms. Resilient teams understand what they are trying to accomplish, which allows them to shift course to accommodate changes when necessary. Team members are also more able to bounce back from adversity when they are intrinsically motivated, or motivated from within. Leaders must find ways to present the team’s goals in such a way that everyone is personally invested in seeing them fulfilled. This makes team members more likely to be engaged and accountable as they work toward their objectives.
They Develop Team Members
With so many teams operating in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment, it’s more important than ever for their members to possess the necessary skills to adapt to rapidly shifting circumstances and embrace new ways of thinking, which are among the defining characteristics of resilient teams. Building critical thinking abilities, emotional intelligence, active listening, and communication skills allows teams to take on new challenges, collaborate more effectively, and manage conflict in ways that lead to positive outcomes. When building creative teams, putting robust assessment and development programs in place not only helps organizations to evaluate performance and identify potential, but also demonstrates a commitment to employees that makes them less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. Even better, once a culture of resilience is established, experienced team members will be prepared to step into leadership and mentoring roles.
They Reframe Challenges
It’s easy to get bogged down in negativity when teams experience setbacks or other disappointments. A key skill of resilient leaders is their ability to draw positive lessons from mistakes or failures, which allows them to reframe their approach to existing and future challenges. Successful resilient teams not only diagnose problems and evaluate where changes need to be made, but they’re also able to rethink their approach to challenges in ways that help them to maintain positive momentum. Impediments can be framed as opportunities instead of seeing them as obstacles, which promotes the kind of creative thinking that results in innovative solutions.
They Emphasize Well-Being
Stress and burnout present major threats to any team, but they don’t always get the attention they deserve. Organizational incentives tend to reward productivity above all else, which often results in employees working longer and harder at the cost of their health. This imbalance eventually results in lower morale, disengagement, and, finally, high rates of turnover. On an individual level, burnout tends to manifest in the form of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency, all of which make it extremely difficult for someone to adapt to changing situations or recover from disappointing setbacks. Resilient teams understand these risks and make efforts to prioritize the emotional and physical well-being of team members. This could include cycling workloads, organizing structured team debriefings to clear up ambiguity, or conducting after-action interviews with individual team members to allow them to reflect on events. By building resilient teams with a supportive culture that is sensitive to everyone’s well-being, team members are better able to work through difficult situations in a positive fashion.
They Create Psychological Safety and Trust
Resilient teams need to be able to draw upon the knowledge and creativity of their members in order to overcome challenges. If team members don’t feel comfortable sharing their expertise and ideas, however, it can be difficult to build trust and secure buy-in when it comes to setting goals and delivering on expectations. Successful resilient teams create a safe space for raising concerns, asking questions, discussing mistakes, and sharing ideas that may not be fully formulated. If team members are afraid there will be negative repercussions for making mistakes or being honest in their opinions, they are less likely to take risks or share information that may be crucial to the team’s overall success. Teams that fail to create this sense of safety and trust become very brittle in the face of adversity because team members are more worried about protecting themselves than contributing to the team’s success.
Successful resilient teams are so much more than the sum of their parts. When building resilient teams, leaders must deliberately cultivate an open and honest culture based upon a foundation of trust and good communication. This allows team members to collaborate more effectively in the face of changing circumstances and grapple with disappointing setbacks without becoming disengaged.