How to build resilience in your team


Building resilient teams is critical if organisations are to perform at their peak and meet the challenges of constant change. Unfortunately, however, so much of working life serves to undermine resilience.

Added on 30 January 2014 by Erika Lucas

How to build resilience in your team

Building resilient teams is critical if organisations are to perform at their peak and meet the challenges of constant change. Unfortunately, however, so much of working life serves to undermine resilience. People get worn down by shifting goal posts, unrealistic targets and uncertainty about what’s expected of them. They become exhausted and demotivated by unsupportive managers, difficult colleagues and the small everyday things (the printer doesn’t work, the computer screen keeps freezing) that conspire to derail their day.

It’s very easy for teams to get into a negative spiral, but the good news is there is something you can do about it. So what are the factors that typically drain the energy of teams and what practical actions can managers take to keep levels of well-being topped up and ensure their teams are strengthened rather than worn down by working through tough challenges together?

Managers who want to keep their teams strong and upbeat need to pay attention to the following six factors – all of which count amongst the most common sources of stress and discontent, but which can also be positive challenge pressures that serve to build the team’s resilience.

1. Work Demands

In a difficult economic climate we are all being asked to achieve more with less. Higher sales targets, tighter deadlines and an increased volume of work in general now characterise many people’s working day. Of course not all pressure is bad and many people thrive on working in a busy environment where they are given stretching assignments. The challenge for managers, however, is to make sure a healthy level of pressure and challenge doesn’t tip over into unmanageable workloads which make people feel anxious and defeated. It’s important to recognise that pressure means different things to different people. What seems like an achievable sales target for one may feel out of reach for another. What’s happening in people’s lives outside work may also affect their ability to cope with pressure. The key is to communicate openly and regularly about what’s expected, to provide support where needed and to help people prioritise so they can perform at their best and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

2. Sense of Control

Feeling that we have little power to influence decisions or events – especially those which could have a direct and negative impact on us – is one of the main triggers for pressure turning into stress. It’s difficult for people to manage pressure effectively if they are not in possession of the facts, so making sure people have a clear idea of what is happening or being planned is important, as is allowing them to have their say. Of course it’s not feasible to consult everyone on everything, but try to involve your team as much as possible in planning, decision-making and problem-solving. Make sure you routinely ask less assertive members of the team what they think and take care not to dominate discussions. Keeping people informed and giving them a voice will improve morale and reduce stress in the short-term, but it will also help the team build resilience over the longer-term by encouraging them to engage more actively with others, stretch themselves and generate new ideas.

3. Change

Change is a fact of our working lives and also one of the top causes of stress. Worrying about how a restructuring will affect them, for example, or whether their job is secure will drain people’s energy and make it difficult for them to focus on the job at hand. Managers who want to enhance resilience in their teams at times of change need to find ways to involve and engage people in the process. People are more likely to feel positive about change and even be energised and excited about it if they feel they are involved in creating the way forward. One approach that can help build resilience in turbulent times is Appreciative Inquiry. The process encourages people to shift their thinking from focusing on what is lacking or going wrong towards what is working well and how they can build on it to create new opportunities.

4. Resources and communication

Issues such as infrequent feedback, inadequate training and out-of-date technology or equipment are all negative pressures that combine to push the team over the top into burn-out. Managers have a key role to play not just in keeping the team informed but also ensuring they are equipped to do the job being asked of them. Don’t let niggling problems with equipment persist and make providing the technology that makes people’s lives easier a budget priority. Investing in the team’s development is important too so make positive performance conversations an integral part of your management practice and ensure any development that is promised gets delivered.

5. Work relationships

People’s relationships with their colleagues and their managers define how they feel about work. Lack of support, aggressive management styles and other people taking credit for your achievements are the kind of issues that can make people feel demoralised and generally unhappy at work. So it’s important for leaders to devote time to actively creating positive relationships within the team. The best teams work together in a way that is constructive and collaborative but also stimulating and challenging. Managers also need to be aware of the impact their own management style may have on the team. Sometimes during times of pressure we can over-use our strengths with an unintended negative impact on the team. If your response to pressure, for example, is to take more control, then it might be perceived that you are taking control away from the team.

6. Pay, benefits and other general conditions

As a team leader you may not have control over how much people get paid, but you can do your best to provide them with an interesting and stimulating role. Dull repetitive work can make people feel trapped with no opportunity to develop their skills or achieve something worthwhile. So think about how you can help people develop their roles so they can play to their strengths. Stretching development assignments, for example, can give people a boost and help them build their skills. Or you might consider involving them in a cross-departmental project so they can build relationships with colleagues from other areas of the business and feel they are making a valuable contribution.

In general look out for what lifts people’s spirits and think about how you can make it happen more often. What can you do to make sure challenges are stretching but positive and achievable? There is no magic formula, but often even quite small actions can make a big difference.

You might also like to read ‘Building Resilience for Success: A resource for Managers and Organisations’ Published by Palgrave MacMillan and written by Cary Cooper, Jill Flint-Taylor and Michael Pearn.