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How to build a resilient team – where to start

Leading & managing change 29th April 2020

Complete the form to download the toolkit that accompanies this video

About the speaker

Caroline is a partner in Rubica and Director of Culture and Engagement. She focuses on creating the mindsets, behaviour shifts and cultural change needed for organisations to work well and succeed sustainably, whilst also involving and engaging colleagues in the collective delivery of an organisation’s aims in line with its purpose. Learn more about Caroline here.


00.24 5 ways to build a resilient team

In this video we will address some common performance issues that are cropping up for our clients in the face of changing or disrupted markets, seemingly ongoing and never ending complexity and uncertainty, a sense that workloads are burdensome, impossible to achieve and quite often there are competing priorities where everything seems equally important all at the same time.

What that may look like in terms of teams – some of the things you might recognise are: team’s feeling a bit stuck, or paralysed; or maybe chasing their tails; or all going off in different directions perhaps and not making forward progress; limited focus where everybody has got different things on the agenda and they all seem to be going off in different directions; and potentially a lack of support with the team – where some team members feel like they are shouldering all of the effort, and that effort isn’t evenly distributed across the strengths of the team. And we can all probably think of examples of that.

This video is going to help you to start to overcome some of those challenges if you have experienced them and look for ways to build what we call team resilience.

Team resilience is different from individual or personal resilience, and we’ll explore that in a little more in a moment. But we are going to cover what team resilience is, so that you can very practically start applying some of the techniques and some ideas to help build it in your team and ensure you get that sense of shared ownership, well distributed effort within the team and ultimately sustained performance in your team over a period of time regardless of what pressure your team may be under. So, let’s start with a quick look at what team resilience is.

02.07 The definition of a resilient team

So, we are going to start with some definitions of resilience. Normally when we talk about resilience, we are referring to personal resilience. So, the resilience that we have as individuals.

Personal resilience is defined as our own ability to adapt, move forward and bounce back irrespective of pace and pressure. So, can we as individuals keep going even when times are tough, and can we recover well when there are set backs?

The content of this session is around team resilience. And this is our collective ability to together continuously improve behaviours and processes which can help us manage pace pressure and change.

Finally, there is organisational resilience and this is where a whole system can withstand and adapt to changes in the environment and still function.

We can think about these 3 types of resilience with an analogy, which is the human body. So, if we think about personal resilience as the ability of cells to function well. Team resilience is how well those cells work together to ensure that the organs in our body function as well as they can. And fundamentally organisations can have the function as the whole body.

The important thing to remember is these are three different things, that require three different behaviours and are supported in three different ways. They are not the same thing.

04.12 The 4 building blocks for building a resilient team

The first team resilience building block is ‘Clarity’. This is about really understanding the why, how and when of what we want to achieve. Do we all have the same understanding? Are we all laser focused on what it is that the team needs to get done and what is most important?

The second team resilience building block is ‘Support’. So, we take shared ownership for structuring our support mechanisms to effectively manage pace and pressure as a team. We look out for each other, and we make sure we pick up the slack for our teammates when they are challenged and equally we expect that they pick up the slack for us. We look after and support each other.

The third team resilience building block is ‘Experiment’. So, we challenge our assumptions of what we do and how we go about our work to deliver what we have committed to. We don’t just accept the status quo or reduce to helpless passivity. Instead, we try new things and we are constantly looking for ways to help us respond better to the pressures that we face as a team.

The final team resilience building block is ‘Active Ownership’. This is about all of us in the team, taking accountability for making sure we can respond well and that we don’t get sunk under the pressures that normal work life presents us every day.

05.54 The performance pressure curve

The Performance Pressure Curve – taken from Nixon in 1979 (with a number of iterations that are also available) – is a well-known model that shows the relationship between pressure and performance. Essentially what this is showing us is that there is a sweet spot – there is a place where our performance in response to a level of pressure gives us optimum productivity. And that zone is the green zone – the ‘Stretch’ zone. Ideally, we as individuals want to be in the stretch zone as much as possible. It is when we feel that we are in flow, when we feel we are getting challenged but it is manageable challenge and we feel that sense of ‘we can do anything’. We are able to get things done and do it in a manageable way.

For team resilience, we want as many of our team as possible to be in that stretch zone for as much as the time as possible. But we need to appreciate as a team and as individuals that it is not realistic for us to believe that we can all be in stretch all of the time. Instead, to have great team resilience, we want about 60-65% of the team to be in stretch at any one time. And that allows for some of our team members to fall back into the ‘Comfort’ zone some of the time where they can replenish and restore their energy ready to step back into stetch and let someone else step into comfort.

A good analogy here for the team is cyclists. So, cycle racers, Olympic cyclists will work as a team. Some of the cyclists will go at the front. They will take the brunt of the work, with others tucking in behind so they benefit from that slipstream. And then every so often that front rider will peel off, will move further back down the pack and allow someone else to take the lead for a while and go into that stretch zone. And that is what we are looking to achieve with team resilience – a team that is able to respond to each other’s needs and step into stretch for a lot of the time, but give people the chance to step back into comfort so they can replenish and restore their energy.

08.30 How to build a more resilient team from today

So that is an introduction to theory behind team resilience, and the downloadable guide at the end of this video will give you some tangible, practical tips that you can start to apply straight away if you want to enhance team resilience in your own team.

One of the most powerful of those team resilience tips, and in fact one of the simplest to apply is to start building awareness and understanding around the team’s response to pressure. So, we talked about the performance pressure curve, and it is this tool that can be a very easy way in for having that conversation.

Everyone’s responses to pressure is different. And we all have different things that make us feel under pressure. Having a conversation about that collectively as a team does two things: one, it helps build understanding and appreciation of the different things that might be triggering that sense of pressure within the team; but secondly it reinforces that response to pressure and the ability to maintain team performance (even when pressure is applied) is the collective accountability of the whole team. It is a shared responsibility and not just owned by the manager of the team. And that means that everybody’s experience, understanding and expertise can be brought to bear in responding effectively to that pressure.

So, have a conversation at your next team meeting. Perhaps use the performance pressure curve as a way into that conversation. Discuss with the team how they respond to pressure and what is causing pressure at the moment and perhaps identify one action that the team can take collectively to start helping them to respond to pressure more effectively and maintain that performance.

If you want to find out more about that conversation download the guide at the end where you will also find some other quick start tips that will help you get started with building team resilience.

Free guide

5 ways to build a resilient team