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Sustaining and boosting team resilience virtually

Virtual working is set to be the new norm, and so we need to make sure that we have created ways of working that allow us to:

  • Make decisions effectively and move work forward, even when working remotely
  • Sustain energy and feel supported, able to collaborate and innovate
  • Respond positively and quickly to shifting priorities
  • Stay focused and make progress on the things that matter most
  • Avoid disruption and work at pace in order to deliver what we need to

Informed by insights from running resilience programmes in high performing teams, this video shares proven and practical ways to sustain and boost team resilience when working virtually.

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Our 'Improve Your Team Resilience Calls' explore ways to effectively boost your team's resilience right now.

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About the presenter

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


Transcript: How to sustain and boost team resilience virtually

0:16 Introduction to this team resilience webinar

I’m Miranda Wheatley Price and I’m Director of Organisational Change here at Rubica, an organisational change consultancy. We work with teams and organisations to support cultures, capabilities and performance particularly during periods of pressure and change.

I have 20 years of experience working with teams to build their resilience. So, based on that today I’m going to be sharing some proven and practical ways for you to boost your team’s resilience when you aren’t working face-to-face, which for the majority of us is now. And really helping you to support your teams to move forward even during this period of significant disruption.

1:07 The opportunity for managers in building their team’s resilience

So, resilience is a great opportunity for line managers. It’s a fantastic framework. And the reason why it’s so popular, and I’m so passionate about it, is because it really supports not only our mind set and our engagement during periods of change and disruption but it also gives us some very practical processes to work with to help our team’s continuously improve.

So today’s agenda. I’m going to give a quick refresh on what builds team and organisation resilience. I want to give you some insight into common challenges that we’ve recognised from our own work with teams, and where we would recommend you focus your effort as a line manager. It’s a very practical framework as I’ve already said, so we’re going to give you three easy to use tools that you can use right now with your team’s when working virtually.

1:58 Team resilience myths

Three myths I want to bust up front is firstly that resilient teams are made up of a group of highly resilient individuals. Actually, that’s not true. Truly resilient teams have a different series of fundamentals versus building personal resilience, which we’re about to go into in a minute. Secondly, and this is really important for line managers – high performers manage pressure better than others.

Actually, our data shows that high performers are more likely to go into strain than other members of your team. This is because we tend to give high performers additional responsibilities that are often more complex. So, they are more likely to experience pressure. The third myth is for all you line managers on the call. You’ll be delighted to know that we want to bust the myth that team resilience is your responsibility. Actually. It’s a collective responsibility of your team. And the Rubica resilience framework helps you really build that collective ownership about how you can grow and develop during periods of pressure and disruption.

3:13 The common challenges associated to building a team’s resilience

So what are the common challenges?

So as I said, multiple teams over the years have completed the Rubica resilience program and our diagnostic and I think this is really an interesting insight for all of us and I particularly want to highlight at this stage that a lot of the teams who do go through our resilience program are high performing teams and a significant proportion of them are at management or leader level. You can see that irrespective of this fact actually only 48% of them agree that they can anticipate priorities changing and are well prepared to adapt. So that’s very relevant for today. Only a third of them agree that the speed of decision making feels right and only a third find it easy to move work forward in their organisation. Just under half of them feel they can spend the time they want on work that is important to their role. I just wanted to emphasise that these are not junior teams who are reporting on this data.

So, if you overlay those challenges with the number one challenges for remote working. What do we have? Looking at this report – the remote work report, you can see that the top three challenges for teams working remotely – which is pretty much all of us now – is first and foremost communication, and then morale, social opportunities, and loneliness and isolation and setting boundaries.

I think it’s quite funny that actually technical issues which we complain about the most are actually only at 2%. So, what are the implications of this period of disruption that we’re currently facing in terms of all of us having to work virtually?

The first is how do we support teams to carry on feeling that they belong and feel energized to work, move forward at pace and really achieve the quarterly objectives that we have in place for Q2 and Q3? How do we make important decisions together when we’re not face-to-face, and be prepared to experiment not just what we do but really importantly how we go about it, and creatively problem solved when there are fewer natural opportunities to collaborate?

So, team resilience is a really good framework and really what it stands for is our collective ability to continuously improve our behaviours and our processes to support our ability, our resilience muscle to successfully manage work at pace irrespective of change and pressure. So, it’s a highly relevant methodology to use with your team’s today.

6:03 The building blocks of team resilience

So, by now, you’re probably wondering okay, how do I get on with it? So in this next section, I’m going to take you through some of the fundamental building blocks and benefits of team resilience.

So, what’s really important that any line manager really understands is the difference between personal and team and organisational resilience. They’ve got quite different building blocks.

I’ve already mentioned it, but I would like to emphasize it again that team resilience  is a collective responsibility, where as personal resilience that responsibility is really held for us as individuals. The biggest influences for team and organisational resilience are actually a culture of trust and transparency – actually attending to our resilience and not assuming it as a team is really important. And team managers are highly influential in bringing those open and transparent discussions to teams, which is obviously why we’ve invited line managers on our webinar today.

The foundation of personal resilience is around emotional intelligence, but for teams it’s really that focus on using practical processes to drive team behaviours that engage and support productivity during periods of pressure.

And the impact of team resilience is really on our engagement, commitment, productivity and discretionary effort irrespective of the going feeling tough. And by doing that collectively we build morale and continue to develop teams – even when we feel that the world has gone on pause.

The fundamentals of building team resilience is quite different from personal resilience. And in the next section, we’re going to take a deeper dive into these but it’s essentially around clarity, formal mechanisms of support and experimentation. So if we do that, what is the implication what is the team opportunity of taking on team resilience and developing it as a muscle?

The team opportunity is best depicted through the performance pressure curve. This is an incredibly helpful tool for resilient teams. And it’s a really good one to practice – we’ll come on to that a little bit later when we look at support mechanisms. But essentially you can look at the level of pressure teams are feeling versus their level of performance.

It’s a really easy visual, but I’m going to take you through it because it’s worth being able to explain it to teams clearly. The first is actually where we’re not feeling particularly energised and we’re not feeling particularly focused – teams tend to feel either bored or relaxed or potentially even comfortable. But when we are in those first three zones our performance isn’t actually as productive or as focused as we need it to be. The optimal zone we need our teams to be in is stretch – best described when we’re feeling quite excited and we’ve got a degree of healthy challenge. We don’t feel quite on top of it, but we’re reasonably confident that with hard work and effort and collaboration we will get there. This is when we’re optimally productive and I would say for any line manager that we need at any given time a minimum of 60% of your team to be operating in the stretch zone. That is where your influence is at its most productive.

How do we keep the majority of your team in this green zone?  It is inevitable that some of us will be in strain at any given time, but the secret for any line manager is to be having open and transparent discussions about how many of you are in the strain zone at any given time. And we really don’t want people sat in strain for too long. Actually it’s really about monitoring how many people are in strain and for how long – preventing people going into the overwhelm zone. This is where it leads to health problems and burnout and really any line manager has a duty of care to really support people who are overwhelmed very very quickly. So this is the opportunity for teams is how to keep the majority of us in stretch through using the tools that we’re going to come onto later.

So what about organisationally? So this is a division of an organisation we worked with over a year ago. And what we did here is overlaid their engagement scores with their performance pressure curve scores and you can see that on the x-axis. We’re looking at the engagement and on the y-axis we’re looking at their ability to manage pressure and put themselves in stretch.

So it’s quite easy to see that what we want is to optimise Group 1. So, this snapshot in time shows that 36% of the team actually perceive themselves to be committed engaged and stretched with a healthy challenge. So organisationally this is where people are highly productive and giving the discretionary effort that we need. So, what we need to focus on as managers and leaders is how do we move group 2 group 3 into group 1?

Group 2 are equally committed but some put themselves in the strain zone so we can’t get the level of performance that we need from this group to be given a discretionary effort. So what we need to do is support group 2 to feel more supported, to come out of strain and move into one. Looking at group 3 they’ve got a reasonable management pressure, but they’re not particularly engaged.

So for this group, we probably need to anchor them a bit more in the why, the vision and the purpose of what they’re trying to achieve as a team in order to really improve their morale, engagement and focus on the objective. In this group four weren’t a priority at this particular time – line managers decided to focus on group three and two. Obviously with group four we need to improve their engagement but also their management of pressure.

12:19 Ways to build team resilience virtually

So this all sounds great, but how do we go about it?

So I want to take a deeper dive into the four building blocks of team resilience. The first of these as mentioned is Clarity. When we talk about Clarity, we understand the why, how and when of what we want to achieve. And I want to point out that in teams, when I refer to the team data that I shared earlier, a lot of the teams that we work with already perceive themselves to be really clear on the team goals and priorities.

But where they start slipping is when priorities change very quickly and that is why we cannot assume that we have the level of clarity that we need currently in this period of significant disruption.

So I really want to push that point home – don’t assume that even leaders or managers or high performing teams are clear on where they need to pivot to right at this moment in time, because even when we don’t have that level of disruption, high performing teams are still reporting back that they’re struggling to adapt to changing priorities.

Secondly Support. So when I put support here as the second building block, we’re talking about formal support mechanisms. Camaraderie and getting on well together are not enough to support us to work virtually through this period of disruption. What we need to do is proactively use tools as a line manager to build transparency on how we’re going to manage this disruption, how we’re going to manage any pressures of working virtually, and keep pace with the work and the results that we want to achieve.

Thirdly, I think it’s really important to note that people who are in strain that’s actually a stage when our minds are more closed down to experimenting or less open to ideas. And what we want to do is to feel less anxious and more appeased. We want to focus on doing the things that we’ve always done in the way that we’ve always wanted to do them,  or the way we always do them.

But actually now is the time to open your minds and challenge your assumptions of what we do and how we go about our work to deliver what we’ve committed to. And today is a really good example of that where we’ve moving team resilience programme to a virtual opportunity.

Last but certainly not least, is how we build collective ownership of this team resilience muscle, rather than assuming it’s something that you’re going to lead yourself as a line manager.

We’ve already shared from our Rubica database what the challenges are. But these are actually the highest scoring team strengths from teams who have completed the Rubica resilience program. You can see they’re quite encouraging that they’re confident that they’ll overcome the challenges they face. I wonder what that score would be now.

I’ve already said that they see that they’ve got a clear understanding about what the team goals are and can easily list the team’s priorities. And they believe they can be open and honest with each other already. But what’s really interesting is irrespective of these team’s strengths and these team scores, what is their perception of pressure? How do they actually feel? And you can see even from these high performing teams who have gone through the Rubica resilience program, at the start of the program only just over half of them put themselves in stretch that optimal zone.

With 25% of them believing that they are actually in strain and 6% overwhelmed and 15% comfortable. So you can easily see even high performing teams who’ve got those strengths, only half of them are putting themselves in their optimal zone. So really for me that is a  really clear message – that even if you perceive your teams to be high performing, highly supportive, really clear don’t assume it and start to proactively work on your resilience.

16:40 Tools to build team resilience

So, the application. It’s a really practical framework, and there are multiple tools that you can use in resilience to build processes and the behaviours that you want to support your team to be clearer on priorities, particularly changing ones. Formally supporting each other and begin to experiment and build that collective ownership.

But, we only have 45 minutes today so I’m going to pick three easy-to-use tools, some of the most popular ones, that you can use right now.

What I’m going to do is offer one of those tools for each of these building blocks as a takeaway.

And the first one I wanted to say, well this isn’t actually a tool, but it is a bit of insight. I wanted to pause on this moment because this is a really useful piece of insight that we often talk about here at Rubica with the teams that we work with. Certainly, in terms of this time and need to prioritise and create focus, our number one tip would be to increase the governance that you have around prioritisation. And I actually think this report from McKinsey really highlights the reason why.

So McKinsey did a survey in to organisations that consider themselves agile a couple of years ago with over a thousand organisations. And this is the high-level outputs from that report. Essentially agile organisations have a balance between stabilising practices and innovative practices, and we would say bearing in mind that disruption is so high at the moment, as a line manager it’s critical that you attend to your stabilising practices. And really what does that mean? That means that you need to give actionable strategic guidance, which is why increasing your governance around prioritisation is really important. Anchoring people back to your shared vision, your purpose and the why – why are you doing this? Why are you focusing on what you’re choosing to focus on? And we need to do that because we need teams be action-oriented and really focused, even though now the majority of them are working at home in quite an isolated way. This is because we need teams be accountable for themselves and taking ownership of the results that they committed to at the beginning of the year to continue to be fit for purpose. But at the same time, the belief that we’re doing this together in a cohesive community. So from our perspective using clarity and an increased governance around prioritisation is critical to stabilise focus in today’s world.

My number one tip here is don’t over complicate this we run hundreds and hundreds of workshops virtually and face-to-face month in month out. And our number one tip is use the simple stuff. If you over complicate the process when people are feeling frazzled and disorientated, you’re not going to get the quick win that you could get. Never be afraid to use a really simple matrix – get the team to pick what they’d like that to be. We recommended one that’s easy to implement virtually and one that you can use just with a 10 to 15 minute team call where you can talk through priority one and two for the week and what do deprioritise right now.

That’s a quick win. But I would also like to offer some guidance from Holacracy, which most of you might have heard of, but really it’s a team management system that really relies less on managerial hierarchies and more on the ownership of the team. This is ideal for prioritisation but also collective ownership. This takes longer to contract with the team, but we would say it’s actually worth it.

Essentially, what we are suggesting to line managers is that you contract with your team to agree some guiding principles around your changing priorities. And be really clear on what the opportunities are, but also the trade-offs. In all our work on resilience in organisational change, we’ve noticed that leaders and managers often forget to be really clear on what the trade-offs are. We can talk quite openly about positives and benefits, but we’re less clear and a little bit murky around what are we actually agreeing that we’re going to trade off? So, we’d encourage your principles to really accommodate that. These are some examples of guiding principles that teams tend to talk through: we’re going to currently focus our effort on X over Z. Now that doesn’t mean to say is that X is bad and Z is good.

It just basically means that you believe that the impact of X at this given time, may be more valuable than the impact of Z. And know in relation to that decision on emphasis how you can describe to others what are our real positives? If you’re going out of your actionable team environment and going into a matrix team environment, can you explain why you’re focusing your efforts over X and Z, by describing to others the real positives to this and importantly the trade-offs that you’ve agreed as a team. And that’s your litmus test. If you can’t go to another team and describe that, you need to go back and re-contract.

We would really encourage prioritisation and accountability by defining your current projects as outcomes, and really avoiding milestones of ‘by when’, ‘I will get this to you by Monday’, ‘I will this to you by Tuesday’, but actually aim for urgency and pace by ‘the next action right now’. So by working virtually we want people to still feel pace and urgency. So do that by stipulating what we do right now versus ‘oh I’ll do that in two weeks time’.

And essentially we need to plan in sprint’s versus waterfall and saying okay, this is a project outcome we want to achieve in the next week or the next two weeks or the next four. But get people to focus more on outcomes in sprints and actions now versus traditional more waterfall planning.

So I want to move now on to support I’ve already said it’s critical that line managers don’t assume that team camaraderie that you already have, that is informally built is enough to get you through this period of disruption. Particularly when the bulk of our teams are working at home or potentially feeling a little bit isolated versus the office environment.

So we really would encourage you to start using tools right now to build transparency through this disruption pressure and pace. There’s two ways that you could do that right now. The first is don’t be shy, book in team coffee. We go for coffee together when we meet in the office, so go for coffee together virtually. Most managers that I know who are working on team resilience have already formally booked in team coffee every day. Obviously, the start of the day is ideal because people can talk about what they’re working on, or how they’re feeling that particular day.

The second is to do your team check-in in a more formal way. I’ve already talked a lot about the pressure curve. I would really heartily recommend that you use the pressure curve to ask people where they feel the level of pressure is for them right now. I’d encourage every line manager on the call to be vulnerable at this period of time because actually if you can’t talk transparently about where you’re feeling your level of pressure and performance is at the moment, then don’t expect your team to either.

This is a fantastic opportunity to role model vulnerability and to build a trust and transparency that we need during this period of disruption. So, I would heartily recommend that you bring this diagram up on your screens and you ask people to describe how they feel, but first of all putting yourself first. If people are reluctant to speak that’s your first data point – something we always do in resilience workshops. So we asked teams in the first half an hour to say where they feel they are right now on the pressure curve. And if half the team are reluctant to come forward we know there’s some work to be done on trust and transparency.

So earlier on in the webinar, I talked about experimentation and talked about when we’re in strain and when we’re feeling pressure or when we’re feeling a little disorientated. It’s when our minds are least open to challenging our assumptions on what we do and how we go about our work. In addition to that our Rubica database shows us that experimentation is a team resilience muscle that is the hardest to build and even high performing teams need to spend more time on it.

So challenging our assumptions what we do and how we go about it. I think we can learn a lot from David Rock here on choose your focus model. Typically when we’re going through this period of disruption and change, we as a team tend to focus on the problems the drama – there’s enough of that going on at the moment and also the details. We tend to sink there, but actually when we want people to be innovative and think differently and really challenge our assumptions, we need to be looking more at the vision and their planning. So, having the courage as a manager to go back to your vision to really anchor people on what you’re seeking to achieve for this year is time well spent. In addition to taking the time to plan rather than sinking into the detail of what we need to do right now, focus first on the vision and the planning and get there first.

It’s harder to pick up tools you can use right now, but going through all of our toolkits. I actually think the radial solution-focused planning tool is probably your best opportunity at the moment. Essentially we tend to look at problems and plan around problems. What this does is helps people, helps teams put themselves more into a reward and future focused state. It’s a really simple poster to use you can use it virtually – it’s very easy to do. You ask the team to convert the pressure or the problem into a goal and place it into the centre.

What’s the reframe that we can all commit to in terms of being an outcome focused goal? We all know about bite-size chunks, so what we then need to do is actually vocalise all the blocks that we perceive in relation to that goal. This helps people feel relaxed because actually what they’re doing is able to voice their concern and the perceived blocks, they may be holding but don’t know how to vocalise.

What we then need is a solution focused mindset, but actually looking at solutions for each individual block is much easier than looking for solutions versus the overarching problem. So you’ll find people and more able to think of solutions versus bite size blocks then if you skip that step. So I’d heartily recommend even if a team only does three or four blocks, it’s a really good practice to push you into a solution-focused planning mode.

Finally, last but not least collective ownership. This is so so important, for any team manager.

I really really heartily recommend that you work to build your collective responsibility right now. If I think about the leaders that I’ve spoken to over the last few days – it’s quite a few – what I’ve noticed is a lot of leaders are going more into functional leadership or actually more serving leadership, where they really want to proactively and understandably support people who are feeling really disorientated.

And a little bit unsure of what to do during this period of disruption. So it’s easy for us to go into tell mode or even to actively seek to actually check in all the time on how people are doing. But what we don’t want to do is increase our management dependency during this period of time, we need to be already working towards team interdependence – so the lines between them really strengthen to enable that collective ownership of pressure, pace and results.

So I heartily recommend that you look at how you’re creating robust links not only in amongst your team, but also with matrix teams too. So of all the teams that we worked with who are already having to work virtually due to geographical constraints etc. we put together what are our top tips for increasing collective ownership in virtual meetings. And I’d actually really ask you to be quite bold about this.

And really it’s about encouraging team participation in quite a formal way. One of the ways to do this in virtual meetings is set a clear expectation for participation at key decision points that you have in your team meeting. Use the agenda and slides to overtly signal when you’re expecting teams to collaborate around a decision.

Secondly list everyone’s name on a slide with a space to document their input during the virtual meeting.

That really heightens the accountability of people contributing because they can see their name and a space next to it very very clearly. If you also type up their input of what they’re offering it encourages team members to ensure that the input that they’re offering is quite robust and valuable versus a half-formed opinion that they feel comfortable just to verbalize in a virtual environment. I think it’s also important to support different styles and encourage a real robust input by offering moments of reflection.

I think we need to break up meetings virtually more often. Maybe half an hour into meeting or even 45 minutes in, if you’ve got a critical decision coming up, ask everyone to take a five-minute break go away and reflect on the question that you’ve got and come back and be prepared to offer their input. Again, to heighten those moments of accountability and robust and valuable contribution. And finally it goes back to role-modelling transparency again – if you’re not getting the participation you need you need more support you’ve got to ask the team for more energy and collaboration to ask them to take shared responsibility for supporting you to collaborate around the vision the planning and the problems and the challenges that you may have.

So, what next for team managers? There is actually quite a lot to go through in the 45 minutes that we’ve got and I really hope we’ve chosen some very pertinent tools. However, resilience is a practice. It’s a muscle that we all need to practice with our teams and because of that we’ve taken our training workshop for managers and teams and put it into a 2-hour virtual training workshop. There’s two running, there is quite a high demand. The first is on Thursday the 26th of March and the second is on Friday 3rd April.

32:40 Additional ways to build team resilience

During this workshop we will be helping you look at how you maintain the energy of your team – particularly to unpick some of those difficult things about the speed of decision making during a virtual working world.

However, if you’re on the webinar and you belong to an organisation where there’s 5, 10 or even 20 of you, however many there are, and you are seeking to be more resilient as a team, you may want a private workshop. This is something that we do, so we can run the same workshop for your virtually, but really try to address some of the particular challenges that you may have for your organisation and in your teams.

And in the meantime, thank you for everyone for coming on. It’s really great to be talking about resilience during this period of time. I hope that this will improve your confidence and capability and that it’s given you a clear sign posting for where to go next.

Thank you everybody.

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Our 'Improve Your Team Resilience Calls' explore ways to effectively boost your team's resilience right now.

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