Building Resilient Teams



“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”- Bill Gates

Lately, resilience has become a hot topic in sectors as diverse as international development to education to psychology. Personal resilience is credited with helping individuals overcome life’s hardships and challenges. The Mayo Clinic even maintains a website on building personal resilience. Resilience, however, is not only an individual trait. Groups can demonstrate this quality, too. As a leader, you might already have a high level of resilience — you adapt to changes and overcome unexpected problems in a healthy and balanced way. So what about the team you lead, or the team in which you participate? Is it also as buoyant in the face of challenge or is it brittle and easily discouraged?

Your team needs to be resilient, too. Inevitably, something will go wrong on any team effort. The project hits an unexpected technical snag. The team suffers a setback entirely out of its control. Perhaps the team leader is suddenly called away for personal or professional reasons. We would all rather not think about it, but the next big challenge for our teams could be just around the corner. No matter how savvy, smart, and cooperative your team, challenges can shake up any rhythm, discourage those involved, and derail progress. Resilience is the secret to learning from mistakes and growing stronger after a major challenge. Building resilience starts with team culture.

People respond to challenges in many ways. It is hard to guess how your team will respond — as individuals or as a group — to a sudden, unexpected challenge. Build up a sense of community among team members. Hold team lunches and celebrate birthdays. A great way to help people feel included is to celebrate birthdays by month — all November birthdays at once, for example. Off-sites, group training, and other team activities can also help build a common base of experiences. The more connected your team members feel to the team, the more confident they will feel turning to the group during a time of crisis.

No matter how organized and well-planned your approach, the time could come when you will not be in a position to give your team your full attention. An unexpected demand in your professional or personal life could put you out of commission for several days or longer. It’s important to empower your team to function in your absence. If you can, groom multiple successors, who exhibit leadership qualities. Make sure they are able to lead at least for a temporary basis. Even if you never need to rely on your successor, the team will be confident that there will be continuity in leadership no matter what happens.

Inevitably, your team members will fail or have other shortcomings. When a team member overcomes a challenge in the work environment, as an individual, praise his or her resilience. Show your team that overcoming obstacles is a desired quality and one that gets notice. Encourage the discouraged teammate who struggles to solve a technical problem by praising the fact that he or she keep trying.

When is the best time to build resilience? Every day. Like most things, resilience builds with practice. Turn everyday challenges and failures into teaching moments. When an issue arises, resource team members to deal with it, and then task them to deliver. Resist the temptation to fix everything yourself. When a team member faces problem, help them think through a resilient response with open-ended questions like: “What could we do differently next time?” and “What is the next step?” In big and small ways, demonstrate that failure and setbacks are never the final word.

Have you experienced a resilient team? Chime in below, in the comments section.

Crystal Winston is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Adrienne Nelson-Reynolds

Say that! I work on being a resilient worker and I am also sharing (and nurturing) these qualities with others. Excellent post!

Julie Scholer

Resilience is vital! There is so much change happening in our work and in our personal lives. Building resilience in our team is like building the foundation of a house to withstand the storms. It is the right thing to do for our teams and team members.

Sandy Davis

One thing I find valuable for my own resilience, and effective for my team, is to take a breath every so often (especially when feeling daunted by a big hurdle), and reflect on how far you’ve come. “We’re already 70% through this big project – remember how huge it felt when we started?” or “It’s so cool, how many skills we’ve built since this time last year – we have a much better capacity to react to urgent requests!” It’s a way to let go of doubt and self-criticism for a minute and honor the fruits of our daily efforts, and an affirmation of our capability to face the next crisis.