Since the pandemic started, and especially in the last few months, I’ve seen the term “resilience” pop up everywhere. In newspapers, magazines, online, on podcasts. Apple’s Tim Cook even mentioned it in one of his earnings calls. It’s also been used across many different fields, too– health, epidemiology, politics, international relations economics, psychology, climate science, urban planning–and yes, even team building.
There’s a reason “resilience” is gaining so much traction. Right now we are all going through massive convulsions and changes in our lives and in our societies. As we will see, resilience is the term that many have coalesced around in this moment, as a way of thinking through and responding to its particular challenges.
In this blog post, I’m going to discuss what resilience means, why I think so many have latched onto it, and how resilience can be a powerful concept for thinking about your team during this particular moment. Think of this post as an introduction to a term that I think is going to become a major theme in the months to come.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to respond to a crisis adequately, adapt to the changing situations caused by it, and move forward again once it is over. You can already see that resilience is tied to crisis and difficulty, and in fact, it is nearly impossible to define it without using those words or something like them.
This is an important point. Resilience is not about wishing away crises or imagining that one won’t happen. Rather, it is about preparing for and learning how to adapt to them.
Another important aspect is the connection to the cyclicality of crises. If we think about a crisis like a storm, then there is the moment the storm hits and its immediate and shocking impact, the duration of the storm that you have to “weather through”, and the aftermath of the storm when you have to pick up the pieces (we could even add another step at the beginning, which is noticing a storm is coming and preparing for it).
Resilience is key in each of these stages of crisis. I think it is especially relevant in the last stage, which is often the time when people forget or want to quickly move on. We often forget that crises can lead to lasting damage, or cause pain that needs to be dealt with, sometimes with help from others. Or we forget that crises can be powerful motivators for beneficial change too, as long as there is a process of real reflection and a will to improve.
In both these cases, thinking about resilience can be helpful, again because resilience is tied to responding to crises head on and not backing away from the difficult work and tasks that need to be done in order to do so.
Why are we talking about resilience?
If resilience is connected to crisis, then obviously right now we are dealing with a huge one. The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike any that most of us have experienced before. And so naturally, people are considering how to proceed, how to move forward after, and how to better prepare ourselves for these types of situations in the future.
However, there is more to this I think. The pandemic has affected so much of our daily lives, as well as how businesses operate, and the ways that governments act. It has also accelerated a lot of changes that were starting to occur before the pandemic, adding to the sense of unease and instability. And its long-term duration has also produced a certain sense of anxiety and strain.
All of this combined is leading to a major rethinking across every level of society. We are being forced at every turn to make decisions about what went wrong, what we could be doing better, and how things could be different. In other words, we are searching for ways to become more resilient.
Two Examples: Supply Chains and SDGs
Let’s look at some non-pandemic related examples to see how people are starting to think more about resilience. Hopefully these will illustrate the concept of resilience more clearly as well.
The first is related to supply chains. For the past number of decades, many companies (and countries) have used access to cheap labor and production abroad, as well as advanced global transportation networks and technology to create “lean supply chains”. This strategy means they could supply goods to consumers quickly and “on-demand”, without keeping any excess stock that might be wasted. Any slack in the supply chain that might cause interruptions could be outsourced to other companies.
The problem is that this strategy relies on a lot of moving parts in a lot of different countries that all have to be coordinated and in sync. This is fine when there is no major crisis. But as we saw last year, and are continuing to see, this system was not resilient to any type of major crisis.
The pandemic, along with climate crises and labor shortages, has seriously affected global supply and shipping chains (an ill-timed boat jam along the Suez Canal earlier this year also demonstrated the limits of lean supply chains). Many are criticizing the lean supply chain strategy going forward, and advocating for a more resilient one that can respond well to global supply chain disruptions so that we aren’t stuck with a computer chip shortage again.
The other example is climate change and SDGs, which we have talked about a lot in the past month. With all the climate disasters and inclement weather that have been happening recently (fires, floods, hurricanes, extreme heat) many have been using the language of resilience and highlighting its importance to sustainability.
Resilience in the context of climate change and sustainability means thinking about ways of adapting to climate change, and rebuilding our cities and societies so that they can respond to climate crises and help keep people as safe as possible. Since it is likely that we won’t be able to roll back the damage that has already been done, the key issue is no longer about “fighting” climate change, but rather of learning to adapt and live with it, and make sure it doesn’t get any worse.
This might seem like a pessimistic approach at first. But actually, “resilience” as a strategy is more realistic. We can’t always have everything we want, and we can’t always make the world be what we want it to be. What we can do is adapt as well as possible, learn from our experience, and grow from there. There’s a certain humility in this way of thinking as well, that in some ways brings hope a little closer to us and makes it more possible to conceive and realize.
Connection to team building
We will delve into resilience and team building more in future blog posts. However, I’m going to lay out the framework for thinking about resilience in connection to teams and team building here right now.
One of the main reasons that resilience can be useful for teams is that it gets them to think clearly about what happens when things go wrong. We’d all like to think that everything will be fine and dandy forever, but crises and difficulties, both large and small, both personal and public, happen all the time. Teams need to get used to thinking about how to deal with them, adapt to them, and learn from them, so that when a crisis hits, teams can act.
In this way, preparation is key. Resilience doesn’t just appear because a crisis lands. It has to be encouraged beforehand. In the context of teams, resilience means communication, coordination, and systems that allow team members to be independent but also feel connected to their team. All of this requires practice and work in advance.
Team building helps test teams’ communication skills, and teamwork, builds stronger relationships, and encourages team unity. It can also help teams become more psychologically safe by making team members more open and honest with each other. All of which prepares teams to be more resilient.
That is why it is so important to implement a well-thought-out and recurring team building strategy. With so much happening now, it is important that teams build stronger connections and think together about adapting to the changes that are taking place, and thinking about what they want their future to look like.
At Invite Japan, we have a variety of programs that are geared towards strengthening communication, connection, and team unity. With both online and face-to-face activities, we are dedicated to providing you with a program that will fit your needs, whether you are hybrid, at the office, or at a retreat.