Companies devote an enormous amount of time and effort to building the best teams. But if a team can’t overcome setbacks and challenges, those resources might be wasted.
"It’s an area more managers should be considering as they build their teams," says Richard Citrin, PhD, founder of the talent and leadership development consultancy Citrin Consulting, and author of The Resilience Advantage: Stop Managing Stress and Find Your Resilience.
You can make your teams better able to deal with setbacks and challenges, Citrin says, and many of the strategies that work in building personal resilience also work for teams. Here are seven tips to keep in mind.
It’s difficult to build resilient teams if the people on them are afraid to express themselves or make mistakes, says Len Glick, professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University. Creating psychological safety is done by allowing team members to make mistakes or disagree without negative repercussions. When team members feel safe, they’re more likely to take calculated risks and be honest about their opinions—even when they’re unpopular—which can lead to fixing small problems before they become big problems, Glick says.
"They raise alternative points of view, talk about feelings, express emotions, and have fewer ‘undiscussables.’ All of these actions help the team to deal with change and setbacks," he adds.
Having clear, achievable goals is another hallmark of resilient teams, because then everyone knows their roles and objectives, Glick says. They may have a basic understanding of the big-picture view, but when it comes to the specific actions and outcomes expected, the fuzzier the details are, the less resilient the team is likely to be because of the uncertainty, he says. When he works with teams, he often has each team member write the goals of the team on an index card. Comparing the answers often leads to some surprising revelations about how clear the team is about its goals.
Team members typically grow more comfortable with each other over time, so keeping turnover low is important for enhancing resilience, Glick says. It’s also an indicator that the team leaders are committed to the members, which contributes to loyalty and a motivation to contribute to the best interest of the team, he adds.
Your team is going to watch you for cues about how to behave. When you walk your talk, they’re going to feel much more comfortable letting you lead, says Kate Zabriskie, president of the talent development firm Business Training Works.. Your team is going to pick up on whatever behavior you model, whether it’s leading with a cool head and treating everyone fairly or exacting revenge on the person who makes an uncomfortable mistake, she says.
"[Team members] will tend to adopt the behaviors. If you take somebody down who’s made a mistake, what have you taught everybody else? Don’t try. Don’t engage. Then, they check out," she says.
Whether it’s a stressful work situation, personnel issue, or mistake, deal with it, Citrin says. The worst thing you can do is pretend it doesn’t exist. "Managers are afraid to talk about workload or time constraints because they are afraid people will just complain or worse. Managers can show courage bringing these issues up with the team and then discuss ideas like workload planning, which then sets the stage for reality-based priority setting," he says.
Just like resilient people are able to look for the lessons or positives to come out of a situation, resilient teams can reframe negative situations to see what can be changed to make outcomes better, Zabriskie says. It’s great that you learned something, but what are you going to do about it? That’s the key to effective reframing in a team setting, she says.
With such a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment in many companies, teams need to learn to be agile as part of their resiliency tool kit, Citrin says. Helping members develop critical thinking ability, self-awareness, and strong communication skills will help them be better tuned in to the situation they’re facing, the needs of other team members, and how to pivot for better success.