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Resilient Teams are the Key to Success in Uncertain Times


Resilience is the watchword of our era, in business, and in life. Being able to pivot on a dime has never been more important. And resilient leaders are the key to creating resilient teams.

One hallmark of resilient leadership is emotional intelligence, another term that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years. Emotional intelligence means focusing on more than just a mission. Successful small business leaders understand how their team members feel—and how their words and behaviors impact team effectiveness. When you lead with empathy, you cultivate a strong culture that can bend with the winds of change and flow with uncertainty.

In Unbreakable: Building and Leading Resilient Teams, Bradley Kirkman and Adam Stoverink make the case that professional teams must demonstrate resilience to rebound from setbacks. In the face of volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous business environments, emotional intelligence comes into play.

Kirkman says, “If I had to share one piece of advice, I’d tell leaders that they need to create teams where individuals can be open and honest… If people can trust one another, they’ll feel safe and confident, be more likely to improvise, and be able to do the right thing at the right time when adversity strikes.”

Real-Life Team Resilience

Sports coaches understand how to build resilient teams; it’s the bedrock of what they do. The same holds true in emergency response teams. Front-line workers in government agencies such as FEMA need to stay adaptive in order to manage events as they occur. We all saw that during the COVID-19 pandemic medical personnel reinvented resilience on a daily basis.

Kirkman and Stoverink have worked with hundreds of team leaders across a variety of industries to learn what makes teams resilient. This background forms the basis for their innovative approach to teamwork and leadership.

They discovered that truly resilient teams embody four core traits:

1. Team Confidence

One notable example of a team that embodied team confidence was the 2004 Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team. Before the 2004 season, the Red Sox had not won a World Series championship in 86 years. This created a sense of doubt and negativity among the team and its fans. However, the team’s new general manager built a roster of talented players. He instilled a sense of confidence and belief in the team’s abilities.

Throughout the season, the team faced numerous challenges and setbacks. But, despite the odds stacked against them, they remained resilient and maintained their confidence. They rallied together, focused on their strengths, and executed their game plan. This unwavering belief in themselves and their teammates allowed them to make a historic comeback, winning four consecutive games to advance to the World Series.

2. Teamwork Roadmaps

The successful landing of the Mars Rover in 2020 serves as a prime example of a team that fully embraced teamwork roadmaps. The mission involved collaboration between NASA, international partners, and various scientific and engineering teams. Each team had specific roles and responsibilities, all working towards a shared objective.

Their roadmap outlined the sequence of events, from the launch of the spacecraft to the precise entry, descent, and landing on the Martian surface. The teams followed the roadmap meticulously, ensuring that each step was executed flawlessly. By having a clearly defined roadmap, the teams were able to effectively communicate, synchronize their efforts, and anticipate potential challenges along the way. This level of coordination and collaboration ultimately led to the successful landing of the rover, showcasing the power of teamwork roadmaps in achieving complex goals.

3. Capacity to Improvise

During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of engineers and experts demonstrated a remarkable capacity to improvise in the face of a challenging and unprecedented situation. The spill resulted from an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, causing a massive oil leak that threatened the environment and coastal communities.

As the crisis unfolded, the team faced numerous challenges and uncertainties. They formulated innovative solutions on the spot to contain the oil leak and reduce the environmental damage. This required them to think outside the box, adapt quickly to changing circumstances, and leverage their expertise to develop unconventional strategies. Their ability to improvise and find creative solutions in real-time proved crucial in decreasing the overall impact of the disaster and ultimately capping the well.

4. Psychological Safety

Google’s People Analytics team provides a compelling example of how psychological safety can foster innovation and collaboration. This team’s mission was to use data and analytics to improve Google’s employee experience. To achieve this, they needed an environment where team members felt safe to take risks, share ideas, and provide honest feedback. The team’s leader emphasized the importance of psychological safety by creating a culture that encouraged open communication and promoted a non-judgmental atmosphere.

As a result of psychological safety within the team, individuals felt empowered to experiment with new approaches and take calculated risks. This led to innovative solutions and insights that significantly contributed to Google’s understanding of employee engagement and well-being.

Building Your Unbreakable Team

What will a resilient team look like for your business? It can be broken down into three stages: Readiness, Response, and Recovery. As you can see from these real-world examples, resilient teams succeed because they are prepared. Resilient leadership has created a culture of resilience in the workers they support.

Second, in a crisis, resilient teams are able to respond with a coordinated, cooperative approach born of trust, belief, and a mental model of how to work together.

Third, after the crisis, resilient teams debrief and continue to adapt.

Here’s your playbook:

  • Prepare. Adversity will strike; the only question is when. So just as we prepare for earthquakes and floods (or ought to!), resilience readiness must be intentional. Take the four core team resilience traits as a template to build a culture of confidence, trust, purpose, and the ability to improvise. Create hypothetical situations in which to role-play unique solutions. Discuss outcomes and build strong inclusivity for novel ideas.
  • Act. When it’s game on with an unexpected challenge, coach your team to tap their resiliency training. Set the tone and direction. Support each team member in knowing they have the tools and knowledge to create and deliver the best possible outcome.
  • Evaluate. When the crisis has passed, assess how well the team did, and what could be improved for the future. Look at both successes and failures with an objective eye. Applaud what worked and encourage your team to discuss what might be changed.

A resilient team that can save the day under duress starts with a resilient leader. Cultivate your own inner resilience first. Now you’re the ideal model for building a team that can adapt to any circumstance and improvise an achievable solution.




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