Resilience Part 2: What Makes a Resilient Team?

In a blog post last month we introduced the concept of resilience. While it’s become a buzzword that is popping up everywhere, it has particular resonances and applications to team building, especially right now. In fact, as we argued, resilience has become such a popular buzzword precisely because of what’s going on in the world. 

To briefly recap, resilience means being able to adapt to difficult situations and face challenges resolutely. It requires some amount of preparation and conscious effort, as well as an awareness of what you don’t know to some extent, and what you are not sure of so that you can plan possible contingencies. 

Many teams, including governments and large organizations, are turning to resilience because of the uncertainty occurring throughout the world–in people’s personal lives, the environment, global supply chains, world politics, etc. This seems to be an age of transition and change, and the best way to deal with such a period is by trying to become as resilient as possible.

In this blog post we will continue our discussion of the topic and go into what makes teams resilient. By looking at the features of resilience, we can have a better understanding of how to build and maintain your team’s resilience through team building and other good preparatory habits. 

Cycles of resilience

In our previous blog post on this topic, we touched on the cycle of crisis, and how resilience allows teams to “ride” the cycle, so to speak, and come out stronger on the other end. The OECD (which is also concerned now about resilience among developing economies) has a very neat and tidy way of looking at how resilience can help in a crisis:

•It prevents the build-up of potential vulnerabilities

•It prepares groups to absorb shocks when they occur (also related to adaptability)

•It gives groups an ability to engineer a swift rebound

Factors that make teams resilient

But what factors or characteristics actually allow a team to do this? Below, we’ve identified five different aspects of teams that are critical to forming and maintaining greater resilience. 

1. Strong sense of team identity

This is the most important aspect and underlies a lot of what makes teams and individuals resilient: knowing yourself and what you are doing. Who are you working for? Who are you trying to help? What is your central ethos or motivating philosophy? What do you hope to build?

This might seem obvious to many of you but it’s important to reaffirm this sense of self and sense of team identity, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. This is also crucial in forming team unity as well. When teams lose their primary focus, or can’t seem to figure out what it is anymore, that is a serious sign that they may not last for long during a crisis. 

Of course there may seem to be some tension between having a strong team identity and being able to adapt. As we shall see later on though, having a strong sense of purpose and identity can help you adapt more, by creating a stable foundation that you can always rely  on and come back to.   

2. Psychological Safety 

We’ve talked about psychological safety a lot before (we even have a team building workshop dedicated to it) and for good reason. Psychological safety encompasses so many useful and beneficial team building components–communication, trust, conflict management, decision-making and more–that it should be a key concept for every team. And of course, it is particularly relevant to our discussion about resilience. 

Psychological safety makes the case that team work environments can be molded to improve overall team openness and therefore productivity. Teams whose members feel more comfortable sharing their opinions, their concerns and their feelings with each other will have better teamwork skills overall and will be better at coming up with new ideas too. Conflict is not avoided, but rather managed so that criticisms can be raised and new ideas brought to the fore without any sense of fear or retribution. 

Teams that are psychologically safe are more resilient, in that they already have a strong sense of trust and consideration for individual members. They also have systems in place that allow them to handle internal conflict and disagreements–something that is definitely needed when a crisis hits.   

3. Autonomy

Autonomy can be understood as a sense of independence and the freedom to act flexibly according to the situation (as distinct from the actual ability to act flexibly and adapt, which we will discuss below). A greater sense of autonomy on teams gives individuals the power to act and to think through decisions on their own as well as with the rest of the group. This creates a stronger and more resilient team overall.

We see the power of autonomy when it comes to team building with remote work. Remote work requires a sense of autonomy, so that team members can accomplish tasks and projects without as much guidance from their managers or the rest of the team. Of course, there needs to be a strong sense of unity and trust present on the team for this to happen. So counterintuitively, autonomy and unity go hand-in-hand and can reinforce each other.

We tend to think of autonomy as being related to the individual, but it can also be viewed collectively as well. An autonomous team is one that feels that it has the power to get the job done on its own, despite its limitations. Teams can be held back by many factors outside of their control, such as corporate regulations and cultures, their size, their lack of money, and even pandemics. But autonomous teams are able to find the leeway within their limitations and work together accordingly in order to succeed. 

4. Improvisation/adaptation

The crux of resilience is being able to deal with changing situations and crises, sometimes rapidly. Teams that can do this are usually good at improvising and adapting. But this doesn’t always come naturally to teams, so practicing the art of improvisation and exercising those muscles may be helpful (Invite Japan also has a team building workshop based on improvisation). 

Improvising necessarily requires experimentation, patience, and a lot of trust. This means that teams that can successfully improvise and adapt usually have one if not all of the characteristics mentioned above. But I think most of all, having a strong sense of identity is key. When you know yourself–what you are capable of and what your purpose is–you are more able and willing to try different things without fearing that you will lose or betray yourself in the process.

To use our company as an example, when the pandemic hit we were forced to make a lot of hard decisions together about the future of our company. We knew that we couldn’t maintain our escape game facility under the pandemic situation and so we decided to pivot to online team building, and to become fully remote. 

We improvised a lot in the beginning, sometimes failing in the process. There was a lot of fear at almost completely overhauling the way we had operated before. But we kept trying out new ideas and concepts, and ended up creating a successful new online game (we are still constantly getting better at online team building and incorporating what we learned into the development of our next online game). 

However, ultimately we trusted each other. We knew what we had to do, and we knew what our central purpose as a company is: to help provide teams with high quality puzzle-solving team building activities that will help make their relationships stronger.

5. Resourcefulness

Autonomy and improvisation are both central to resilience. Both are about teams being to deal with crises using their own internal resources. Resourcefulness is also related to this in terms of being able to find these resources within your team that maybe you never thought of before. This could be a members’ talents, an idea that had been discarded, or a method that had been out of use for years.

But there is also something to be said for knowing when you need help from outside. Sometimes teams need to be able to look beyond their own team or even their own company when it comes time to deal with a crisis. Perhaps it’s some specialist knowledge, bringing in new clients or team members, or looking for new opportunities. In general I think that resourcefulness requires a lot of self-awareness, and the humility to admit what you don’t know or don’t have yet. This type of attitude also helps teams deal with crises since it makes them less rigid and focused on their past successes alone. 

Conclusion: A note on optimism 

The above characteristics will hopefully make your team more aware about resilience and help them fill in any gaps that may be missing. Even if your team has all of these characteristics already, there are always ways to strengthen them, which is why having regular team building sessions is so important. 

While I tried to focus this list on more practical or tangible characteristics, there were also a few “emotional” characteristics that I came across while doing research. One of these is “optimism”. I don’t want to dismiss emotions as unimportant, and certainly you can make a strong case that emotions are quite important when it comes to resilience and staying level-headed in a crisis. However, I think that by adopting the characteristics above, a team will naturally become more optimistic.  

Emotions can be very hard to control or plan, especially optimism. Nor do I think they should be controlled. Actions, however, are within our control and can influence our emotional states. 

When teams have a sense of purpose, when team members are able to trust and open up to each other, when teams feel like they are in control of situations and that they will be able to adapt to changes that come together–those teams will tend to be more optimistic and look forward to the future (or at least, not be quite so afraid of it). And even when challenges do arrive, they will know that they have it within themselves to survive and thrive.

Let Invite Japan help your team become more resilient! Our variety of programs and activities are geared towards strengthening the characteristics mentioned in this post, as well as giving your team a space to have fun, let go, and be themselves. Contact us today for more information!

Photo by Gabe Hobbs on Unsplash

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