Over the course of the last year and a half or so (coming close to two years), companies and teams have faced numerous challenges. From shifting to new types of work styles, including remote work, to dealing with changing guidelines and recommendations, there has been no end to the many ways that teams have had to adapt and change in order to find a new path forward.
While we’re not completely out of the woods yet, and while there may yet be aftershocks that we will be dealing with for some time, we’ve reached a place where we can at least catch our breath and reflect a bit. It might also be a good time to look towards the future and think about what new events and transitions are on the horizon.
A few months back we posted a few blog posts about the concept of “resilience“. If you recall, resilience was being talked about seemingly everywhere, from political science to economics to the environment. And resilience refers to the ability to “weather the storm”, so to speak, in terms of being able to meet challenges, adapt to them and grow stronger because of them.
I want to revisit this topic of resilience now because I think it’s important to think about as teams look forward to what’s next. There’s a lot of talk about “going back to normal”, but I really believe that there is no going back to the way things were. We’re already in a “new normal” and we have to adapt to the way things are now. We should also use the experiences that we’ve gone through to learn lessons about how to meet future challenges and crises.
This time I want to pull out a bit and extract from those earlier pieces some practical lessons that can help make your teams more resilient. My ultimate goal is that teams can use this guide now to make themselves more resilient so that they will be capable of meeting whatever challenges come next as a team.
1. Learn from mistakes
As we always emphasize in our team building activities, making mistakes does not mean you have completely failed. You have to try first and learn from your mistakes in order to succeed later on. Resilient teams learn from their mistakes. Over time, all these lessons from past mistakes add up and allow them to adapt well to change and new circumstances.
You can practice this on your own team by encouraging experimentation and trusting in your team members’ abilities. When they make mistakes, view it as a learning experience and opportunity to point out ways of doing things differently, rather than as a sign of failure. Adopting a mindset where team members are encouraged to try even if they may make mistakes is a good way to make teams more capable of adapting to meet challenges, as well as creating a more psychologically safe environment.
2. Encourage debate
Managed conflict is the hallmark of a trusting and psychologically safe team environment, both of which are core aspects of resilient teams. Teams that are able to have passionate debates without letting them get out of control are teams that implicitly trust each other to not let arguments get too personal. These are also teams that are comfortable engaging with multiple different ideas and opinions, which can help them adapt and evolve during crises.
Encouraging this kind of productive debate means communicating as a team and making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and be heard, and that they feel that their opinions will be valued. If someone is silent, seek out their opinion specifically, even if that means talking to them in private. If your team all agrees on every issue, warning bells should be sounding–it probably means that either team members don’t feel like they can voice their opinion or don’t care enough to.
This is not to say that consensus or agreement is necessarily bad. However, consensus should come after some discussion, after everyone’s ideas have been shared. Even if you don’t agree with someone’s ideas or don’t think they matter now, you never know when they might be useful in a certain situation, or what kind of new ideas can grow out of them.
3. Be aware of shortcomings
We all have limitations, and so do teams. But teams that are honest about their limitations and shortfalls are generally in a better position to meet challenges because they are more prepared to do so. They have a clear picture of what could go wrong based on these limitations.
There’s a phrase, “Be aware of what you don’t know”. It means knowing what your blindspots are, what information gaps you have, what knowledge you could be lacking. Having awareness of these things can lead to a sense of curiosity–a desire to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. It can also help you imagine where potential problems could arise from and what your options are. In this way, knowing your shortcomings can lead your team to find new ideas and know how to think through problems during times of crisis.
4. Stay flexible
Here I mean flexibility in terms of quickly moving to adapt to new changes, as well as being comfortable adopting new ideas. Obviously, encouraging debates and the flow of new ideas on your team (see above) can help with this. Another aspect of flexibility is team structure. If your structure limits the ability of team members to act with some sense of independence, then when your team faces a crisis you won’t be able to trust that your team members will be able to cope.
However, flexibility is also about how your team relates to the outside world as well. Does your team engage with new ideas and new methods? Does your team relate well to outsiders? Does your team have a network of clients or resources that it can rely on for support? How flexible your team is a central part of its ability to stay resilient.
5. Maintain team unity
Team unity is a critical aspect of being resilient as a team. As a counterweight to flexibility and adaptation in the face of change, team unity is your rock and support that keeps you from straying too far away from its core values and identity. We’ve talked a lot about team unity in other blog posts, but here I want to focus on two primary aspects of team unity: goals and relationships.
A team’s goals are important for providing direction and vision for the team. Properly communicated goals allow team members to get on the same page with the rest of their team members easily when it comes to finding and completing projects.
Therefore, making sure your team’s goals are clearly communicated and understanded by all your team members will ensure that during a crisis, they can easily work to find solutions while still conforming to the same overall vision. Of course, that might also mean that you have to adjust your goals during times of crisis. Reassessing goals should not lead to a complete loss of identity or dissolution of team unity, as long as you communicate these changes and bring everyone on board.
Relationships are like the glue that holds all the pieces of your team together.
In order to maintain team unity on a team, concentrate on building strong relationships. Teams are ultimately made up of the people who are on it, and so paying attention and respect to those relationships can help build up firewalls for when challenges occur.
Most importantly, teams need to spend quality time building those relationships. Of course, on any team relationships will naturally and spontaneously form. However, teams do need to work hard to strengthen those relationships and ensure that the overall team is coalescing well and without friction or divisions that can contribute to undermining resilience.
6. Have fun together
I know we say this in all of our blog posts, but in terms of resilience it is especially relevant. Having fun together as a team naturally strengthens relationships and allows for more connective tissue to form. It also leads to more trust between team members, which can lead to more debates and ideas.
But a more simple reason is that having it together is simply more enjoyable. A resilient team is one where team members actually want to be a part of it and are invested in its success. Team members are more likely to want to stick around when they enjoy spending time together.
7. Practice Makes Perfect
The last thing to note is that becoming more resilient is a continual process. Teams need to consistently practice these steps and look at different ways to improve. That’s why we recommend scheduling regular team building sessions, which can help your team focus on areas that need improvement and learn how to do so in a low-stakes environment. Consistent and regular team building can therefore help your team stay resilient and prepared for whatever happens..
Invite Japan is committed to helping teams become and stay resilient as we head into an unknown future. We have a number of programs and packages targeting different aspects of teamwork and team resilience, including activities, workshops and online events. Contact us for more information!