Resilience: the ability of a person, system or organisation to respond to or recover readily from a crisis or disruptive process.

Resilience is something that is often talked about at an individual level, whereby a person adapts and learns to change or respond accordingly to external events, albeit work-focused or personal experience.

Most businesses, at one time or another, will face challenges. These could affect the whole enterprise or a specific department or team, but it is how the organisation absorbs, copes, recovers and learns from the experience that will shape current and future success as a unit.

People don’t work in isolation; in fact, most work gets done in teams and most of us are part of at least one professional team, if not more, highlighting the need to focus on team level resilience.  Personal resilience is important for individual wellbeing and in-role performance, however, team resilience is a distinctly different component of developing effective organisations and is a critical prerequisite for high-performing teams.

A resilient team or team resilience?

A resilient team may be defined as being made up of individuals who all demonstrate high levels of personal resilience, but that’s not what we’re looking at when we talk about team resilience; this is about shifting the focus to the team as the single unit of measure and where the factors of resilience are different.

Team resilience is about the unit of a team and its ability to respond to and recover in crisis or disruption, navigating problems and learning to improve performance.  To be clear, this is more than just ‘surviving’ or ‘soldiering on’ as a unit.  It is about actively utilising the dynamic capabilities of the team to embrace the opportunities that challenges present.

Sport is a great example of team resilience in action and how the sum of the parts make the whole. In particular, Manchester United. Having won the league in 92/93 and the league/cup double in 93/94, the team had a bad year in 1994-95. They lost Eric Cantona through long-term suspension and the premier league crown to Blackburn.

They also let key players, Mark Hughes, Andre Kanchelskis and Paul Ince leave the club before starting the 95-96 season – with no new major signings. And, despite having been 12 points behind Newcastle at the top of the table at Christmas, went on to win the league and FA cup that season with, to coin Alan Hansen, ‘kids’.

How did that happen?  Identity, belief, relationships across the squad and the club and a clear, disciplined coaching process. In short, team resilience.

The importance of team resilience

Any business that relies on teamwork for the development of products or services and operational execution should be striving to develop high-performing teams.  High-performing teams and organisations add value beyond the sum of their individual parts and create exceptional work that is hard to imitate.

It is one thing creating these teams, but it is another to ensure they can survive and have the flexibility and creativity to deal with adversity. It takes a dedicated effort to build such teams, so it is important that leaders pay attention to developing team resilience to ensure they stay intact and maintain performance levels.

The Team Resilience model

At Blackmore Four, we’re currently working on a Team Resilience model to help identify key components or ingredients required to make a resilient team.  This model includes:

  1. Team identity

For a team to be resilient, members must fundamentally view themselves as one unit.  Rather like the musketeers – “one for all and all for one” – the members of the team need to have common objectives that they fully understand and totally believe in.  For the team to weather whatever storm it may face, there needs to be a genuine commitment from all members to want to pursue solutions collectively.

When individuals begin measuring their success beyond their own performance and considering it in the context of the team, a clear identity begins to form along with the bonds that will create resilience.

  1. Collective efficacy

Similar to team identity, collective efficacy is made more relevant with greater levels of interdependence required for the team to reach desired levels of performance.  Understanding and appreciating the role everybody has to play helps cement the purpose of the team, but also builds confidence in the group’s ability.

Team resilience requires shared belief in the collective capabilities of the team to achieve desired levels of performance together.  This shared belief will be a primary driver of group behaviour in normal times, but in times of crisis or disruption is put under the spotlight, and when stress tested is when shared confidence in the team is at greatest risk.  This is about confidence in and across the team as a whole to achieve the determined outcomes.

  1. Relationships

Resilient teams are built on the foundations of strong relationships, which go beyond one-to-one connections.  Team dynamics are developed through ‘one-to-many’ relationships across the total size of a team.  For a team to be adaptable and show strength when faced with disruption, team members must know how each other functions best, taking time to understand preferred working styles or natural behaviours and have a respect – importantly, a need – for each other’s skills and/or knowledge.

Through this, team members are able to trust in each other, meaning that when challenges do arise, they are more likely to share the challenge, ask for help, collaborate in developing solutions and be accepting of inevitable mistakes.

  1. Team process and discipline

Resilient teams have clear, shared goals. They know where they are heading and what the plan is to reach their destination. They also have the ability to review progress, evaluate and course correct if necessary.  The team system of planning, monitoring and objectively evaluating performance is the final piece of our resilience jigsaw.  In the absence of team discipline on this, relationships are strained as members second guess progress and question each other, eroding relationships and collective efficacy.

When teams are comfortable with how they, as a unit, hold themselves accountable for performance outcomes, it also becomes easier to adapt and innovate when inevitably performance does go off track.  Thoughts, suggestions or creative ideas are welcome to the table – without judgement – to help the team refocus and succeed.

In summary

Team resilience is an invaluable asset to any business, especially in the current challenging environment where no one can confidently predict what the future holds.  Developing team resilience ensures the team is functioning in a healthy way and can sustain collaboration and innovation, adapting to adverse or unpredictable circumstances as a unit, stronger than the sum of its component parts.