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Creating resilient teams through leadership and communication (PART 1)

Posted by on in Performance Management
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As I’ve travelled around Australia this year, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked by   middle and senior managers (with varying degrees of desperation) is: ‘How can we build more resilient teams?’

It’s a good question and in response here is the first of a 2-part blog specifically focusing on how to build and maintain resilient teams. 

This year I have worked with organisations that have undergone significant organisational change processes, economic downturns, leadership changes, major IT implementations and even rapid expansion. 

Each factor has had a significant impact on the workplace and has put teams under pressure.

Undoubtedly, teams with low resilience can cost organisations many thousands of dollars in lost revenue through missed opportunities, more frequent and serious errors, increased sick leave and greater staff turnover.  

Sometimes poor team resilience causes internal divisions and personal resentments that go on for weeks, months or even years. Not surprisingly, the quality, creativity and timeliness of the team’s output suffers and the negative cycle continues in a downward spiral.

So what can you do to create or strengthen team resilience?

Here’s some practical ideas that can help:

LEAD

1. Start with your own resilience.  

Be self-aware of your own level of resilience. Understand your triggers and proactively monitor how well your own strategies are working. Identify and develop positive habits that will support you during challenging periods.

2. Role-model the positive behaviours you want to see in others.  

You set the standard of behaviour for your team, so demonstrate your ability to keep your own emotional responses to challenges under control at work. Use positive communication and demonstrate problem solving techniques that are optimistic and constructive. Role model flexibility and agility in decision making and show pride and accountability in your work. Don’t just talk about it. Do it. Show you team that you don’t just bounce back – you bounce forward!

3. Encourage flexibility and autonomy wherever possibleso your team members feel moreempowered.  

Times of change can make people feel like they have lost control over their future,so devolve decision-making wherever you can*. Show your team that you trust them, have faith in their abilities and want them to be resourceful so they can grow and succeed. Encourage team and individual problem-solving to enhance their self-confidence, accountability and job satisfaction.

4. Recognise and reward people who experiment and show initiative.  

If a team member tries something new and fails, be supportive. Ask them what they learned from the experience and what they’d do differently next time. Don’t underestimate the power of these opportunities to build trust.

COMMUNICATE

5. Help your team members adapt to change, by actively listening.

Engage in honest and open discussion with team members, individually and as a group. Invest time really listening to your team during tough times. Focus on your verbal and non verbal communication.

6. Use positive language and humour (where appropriate) to build team cohesion. Discourage negative language, snap judgements and black-and-whitethinking patterns.  

Challenge undermining behaviours such as defensiveness, gossip, eye-rolling or finger-pointing.  Develop the confidence to have those difficult conversations with team members who undermine individual or team resilience.  Ignoring or turning a blind eye to destructive communication habits is very dangerous!  

7. Meet with your team often.  

Be visible and present! Team members need and want to hear from their leader when they are facing uncertainty or adversity. Clarify roles, priorities and goals of the team. In times of significant organisational change or upheaval, calmly share whatever new and relevant information you can, as soon as you can. Ditch the management-speak. There’s no need to  ‘drill down’, ‘climb the strategic staircase’ or ‘cascade relevant information’ – just talk in plain English.  

8. Deal with issues as they arise.

Resilient teams work collaboratively and are characterised by mutual trust and support. They are not afraid to admit weaknesses and mistakes and ask for help when they need it. Encourage team members to talk through any current or emerging issues before they start to catastrophise and snowball matters to impossible levels.

9. Acknowledge even the small achievements of team members and look for opportunities to acknowledge progress. 

Remember to say ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’. Everyone needs to feel valued and that their work has meaning and purpose, no matter how junior their role or seemingly mundane their task. Remind all team members, individually and together, how their work helps the organisation, community and/or customers.

* Research undertaken by Blessing and White and published in A Study of Voluntary Effort in the Work Force (1996) found that old-fashioned ‘command and control’ work environments don’t encourage people to think for themselves and create ‘learned helplessness’ in staff.  Ten years later, another study of 320 small businesses conducted by researchers at Cornell University found that businesses that gave their staff autonomy grew four times faster than those that didn’t. Source: http://www.workingatmcmaster.ca/med/document/facilitating-resilience-in-the-workplace-1-37.pdf

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