Apr 28, 2023

The False Myths About Resilient Teams

Written by Mariateresa Romeo

Resilience is not only an individual quality and skill everyone develops by facing personal challenges and adversities. It is also one of the fundamental aspects determining high-performing teams.

The term resilience (from the Latin verb resilire, which literally means to rebound or recoil) is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands (from APA Dictionary of Psychology).

It is crucial to grow and stand out in workplaces and entrepreneurial settings. However, it is also one of the main characteristics of a team and still one of the most critical aspects of teamwork to develop.
Teams are resilient when they extensively demonstrate to work productively in challenging times, they are flexible to adapt to changes, their members can support each other to manage the emotional burden of stressful situations, and their confidence in themselves as individuals and as a team lead them to quickly adapt to changes and identify innovative solutions to unexpected problems.

Study results published by the Harward Business Review show that resilient teams stand out for the following characteristics:

  1. They believe they can effectively complete tasks together, beyond the individuals’ confidence in their skills and ability.
  2. They share a common mental teamwork model, meaning they are on the same page regarding roles, responsibilities, and how they operate in their routine and challenging situations.
  3. They can improvise and develop new ideas to handle adversities by leveraging past experiences to generate new solutions.
  4. They trust one another and feel safe to openly voice their ideas and opinions without fearing being criticized or singled out by the other members.

Reading about the behaviors and features of resilient teams makes us wonder if and to what extent they can be found in our organizations. Working in the corporate world, I often encountered false myths and misconceptions about team resilience. Leaders tend to interpret some teams’ behaviors and dynamics as signs of resilience while they are far away from it. The following are some examples.

Overworking is not the “new normal”

Teams working long hours and exceeding their capacity and strength for their duties for extended periods are misinterpreted as proof of resilience, enthusiasm, and devotion. On the contrary, working beyond the standard capacity and more than the regular working hours should be restricted only to unexpected and challenging events. The team members, aware of the extraordinary situation, will be inclined to give their best to perform effectively and adequately manage the stress, but only if it happens in exceptional circumstances and for a certain period of time.
It cannot become a regular practice. The team should be able to get back to the standard capacity as soon as the problem is solved.
If your team is constantly overworked, you have a problem to solve, not something to be proud of. Reinforcements and encouragement will not be enough to prevent your team from experiencing burnout, de-motivation, and tension.

Resilient teams do not avoid conflicts

As we said above, one of the characteristics of working in a resilient team is the possibility to speak freely. However, one of the false myths related to team resilience and, more generally, team building is the lack of conflicts. Leaders think that the proof of their team’s boundness and strength is avoiding disagreements, arguments, and emotional outbursts when facing challenging situations.
Of course, keeping focused and avoiding unhelpful conversations is essential to get out of adversities quickly. However, it is worth mentioning that the ability to manage and solve conflicts is also considered a resilient team behavior.

Resilience is much more than withstanding adverse conditions

So many people mistakenly think that resilience means being strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough handling. This statement covers only one of the aspects of resilience: being resilient also means being flexible and capable of preventing and adapting to the changes in the team’s environment, not only adversities or difficulties.
When developing a team’s resilience, leaders mainly focus on their ability to behave appropriately in a crisis or challenging situation. They neglect to coach their team to develop flexible thinking and get used to continuously reshaping and adjusting roles and activities based on internal (e.g., teams’ objectives and needs) or external changes (organizational changes, market changes, etc.).
It is not a coincidence that the most resilient teams are also innovative and don’t need to be triggered by an unexpected event to generate new and creative solutions.

The fundamental activity to cultivate your team’s resilience is defining the behaviors you want the team to develop, considering the specific context, values, and goals, without relying on generic statements or limiting your interventions to improve problem-solving.

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