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How to handle pressure at work – building a team response

Leading & managing change 03rd September 2020

This video explores ways to build formal support mechanisms within a team so they can support one another to best manage pressure and change at work.

Free toolkit

Building a team response to better manage pressure and change


About the speaker

Miranda has spent 20 years immersing herself in organisational change. During this time she has delivered significant change projects that have helped transform organisations.

Miranda co-founded Rubica, has an MSc in Organisational Change from Ashridge Business School and is skilled in organisation design and development. She is also a qualified coach, and leads many of our organisational change programmes – from strategic development right through to activation.

Find out more about Miranda


00.00 Enabling a team to better manage pace, pressure and change

Hello. I’m Miranda, I’m Director of Organisational Change at Rubica.

Rubica is an organisational change consultancy, and we work across cultures, capabilities and change.

Today I’m going to be talking about teams, team performance and how teams develop a resilience to help them cope with pace, pressure and change.

00.24 Common team performance challenges

Today is a start of a series of videos that we are going to be doing to help teams and leaders understand how to support their performance.

The first video today is on team resilience and how we sustain performance during period of pace, pressure and change. We have a series of tools to support you, the first is a free tool that is downloadable at the end of this video, and there are more that are accessible via our website (www.rubica.co.uk).

Going into our database of all the teams that we’ve worked with over the last 5 years, we’ve identified the key challenges that teams face during period of pace, pressure and change.

The first is how they anticipate and adapt to critical priorities and constantly spending time and looking at what they are focusing on.

The second is how do they speed up decision making processes to ensure they are making quality decisions in a timely way, in line with the needs of the business.

The third is how do they support each other to importantly stay in a healthy challenge zone, not feeling overwhelmed or under strain and burdened by the pace of pressure.

01.45 Team resilience myths to bust

Before we start getting into the key building blocks for team resilience, I want to bust 3 myths that we often hear in relation to this topic.

The first myth is that highly resilient teams are simply made up of a group of highly resilient individuals.

This isn’t the case. Team resilience and how we build the habits around team resilience is actually very different from how we build personal resilience habits. They have separate, different ways of being developed and we are going to go into that in a minute.

Secondly, the other myth that we need to bust is that high performers are less likely to experience pressure, stress and strain than other members of the team.

Actually, our data shows that high performers are more likely to experience stress and strain because they tend to take ownership of complex projects at pace.

The third myth to bust, which is really important for collective ownership is that because resilience and team resilience in particular is a cultural attribute, we sometimes assume in organisations that resilience is something that my organisation, or my manager or my leader is going to give to me.

This isn’t the case. Highly resilient teams can only be built if we all take shared ownership of how we are going to develop our resilience.

03.31 Team resilience building blocks

So team resilience is about developing habits that help you build these 4 critical building blocks that I’m about to go through.

The tools that are downloadable at the end of the video will help you further develop your habits around these four building blocks.

The first building block is clarity. So, how clear are you and your team, not just focusing on your goals but on your priorities. Our databank shows that teams tend to look at priorities in quite a static way throughout the year. Where actually resilient teams tend to anticipate changing priorities and look at how to attend to them in a more fluid way.

The second building block is support. So again we meet a lot of teams who informally support each other – they have great camaraderie, they are able to talk to each other during coffee breaks, but what they don’t have are formal support mechanisms that help them operate effectively during periods of pressure and change. One of the tools that we’ll come on to will support that.

The third building block is experimentation. We find that teams who don’t tend to clarity and formal support, rarely score highly on how they experiment on not only what work is done, but more importantly how they go about it. And only teams who can move on to challenging their inefficiencies, such as decision making (as mentioned earlier) are able to get to the level of innovation that they want to operate effectively – not only now, but builds up the future opportunity for them too.

The fourth building block is what I’ve already referred to – how the team learn to take collective responsibility for all those habits around all those building blocks, rather than assuming that it is something that is going to be given to them. We all need to own resilience.

05.46 How a team can support one another during pace, pressure and change

Over the years we’ve run hundreds of workshops with teams on team resilience. They tell us that one of the most helpful tools that we bring to those workshops is the performance pressure curve.

It is a very simple tool. Essentially we have performance on one axis and pressure on the other, and you can see that there are various zones that we can put ourselves within in relation to pressure and performance.

The most helpful zone for a team to be in is the ‘stretch’ zone. This is where we are feeling challenged but healthily so – we feel on top of the challenge but quite excited by it and it is when we are most likely to give our discretionary effort, which is why it is the high performance zone.

Unfortunately if pace and pressure and change continues without any chance of renewal, a proportion of us will fall into ‘strain’. It is inevitable that some member of the team will be in ‘strain’ at any given time. Typically we would say we would like at least 65% of the team in ‘stretch’ – that optimal performance zone. Then maybe 10%, maximum 15% to be in strain. The secret is for teams to know how many are in strain at any given time, and to have a formal agreement on how they are going to support each other during that period of time, and how to ensure team members get out of that zone for a sense of renewal.

What happens is when we are in ‘strain’ our performance slips, particularly our ability to make quality decisions at speed because we are tired. We also forget things – forget to send emails, forget to communicate to other stakeholders, or simply find out that we are not communicating with the patience or necessarily the support that is needed that will help teams cope when they face change and pressure.

What we really want to avoid is team members spending too long in strain and then going into ‘overwhelmed’. When people are ‘overwhelmed’ they need help urgently and any organisation does have a duty of care to these employees because by then they are probably suffering physical symptoms of stress and strain.

Conversely on occasion some team members are actually in the ‘comfort’ zone.  In this situation people are not challenged and not particularly engaged, and also because of that they are no longer offering the discretionary effort that is needed to keep us in ‘stretch’ which is where we are most likely to be giving our discretionary effort.

So, we recommend using the performance pressure curve to have open and honest conversations about where the team are currently in relation to performance and pressure. Are they in ‘stretch’ or are they in ‘strain’? Is anyone actually able to say that they are ‘overwhelmed’? If so, these are team members that need immediate support.

This tool is downloadable straight after this video (https://www.rubica.co.uk/downloadable-team-performance-toolkit/) and we really recommend that you use it with your teams to have structured conversations around performance, pressure and pace, and particularly support team members who are feeling under strain.

09.12 Tools to support you

As I’ve said this is the first of a series of videos to help you and your team develop team resilience. But if you want to do something right now, click on the link after this video (https://www.rubica.co.uk/downloadable-team-performance-toolkit/) and it will take you to one of the downloadable toolkits.

However, if you want to explore the opportunity to understand your teams resilience further, just email me (miranda@rubica.co.uk) and we will come back and help you as much as we can.

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