In the work we do with leadership teams we often come across teams who are overworked. The impact of this is more than tiredness and inefficiency. It actually affects the character and personality of those in the workplace. People who might usually be optimistic become pessimistic.
We've even heard leaders talk about 'racing to average.' This describes the treadmill effect of working hard to only move forward slowly. It's a downward spiral that has a massive cost to business.
A recent study by Medibank revealed that workplace stress is costing the Australian economy over 14 billion dollars a year. Stress related absenteeism is costing Australian employers 10 billion dollars a year. And the average worker loses 3.2 working days through workplace stress each year. What the social cost of this might be we can only imagine.
Developing team resilience is thus a key strategy for leaders at any level of business. We discussed it on this week's podcast. We also have a Team Resilience Assessment to help leaders measure and improve resilience within the team.
The assessment can be used at any time but is especially useful when you're about to go through a big change program or some expected shifts. If you're starting to notice there are signs of stress creeping in to the team it could also be used then.
In any case, it's helpful to know the 7 elements of a resilient team.
1 - Persistent under difficult circumstances
Difficult circumstances are inevitable in business. They can arise through a planned change program, or an unplanned change such as the sudden departure of a key team member. They can arise through tight deadlines, poor planning, or under performance of stakeholders inside and outside of the team.
How the team responds to these circumstances is a measure of their resilience. Do they push through and maintain a positive frame of mind? Or do they become dysfunctional and dial down their performance?
We had an example recently where a client was running a business simulation program with 16 different teams. It wasn't a business as usual task and there was a technology learning curve that was part of the ride.
Some teams did what was necessary. If they hit a road block, they asked the questions they needed to ask to get the job done. Some teams weren't so persistent. While we don't know all the circumstances, the road blocks became an excuse to not take part.
How would you rate your team when it comes to persistence?
2 - Optimistic with a forward looking perspective
While optimism is a personality trait, a team can learn it with a bit of focus and a genuine willingness. Optimism shows in the words and body language we use.
A team with an optimistic outlook will focus on the outcomes they are after when a problem arises. This is a better approach than to dwell on the causes of the problem.
If the team isn't inherently optimistic, it's up to the leader to set the tone. You may aspire to be optimistic but don't make assumptions that you are. Even if you think you're an optimistic leader, look for evidence that that's the case.
Notice the language that you use. Notice if you leave the team in high spirits. And if necessary, ask your colleagues or members of your team if they'd describe you as optimistic.
3 - Positively adapts to changing situations and responds to setbacks effectively
We covered persistence earlier but you need more than persistence. You actually need to be effective. This is how you avoid 'racing to average.'
You may be working on a project or process that has a critical path. What happens if an external factor interrupts that critical path?
For example, you may be due to go through performance development reviews with your team. During this time you would usually set their objectives for the coming period. But you may also be waiting for the senior leadership team to set their objectives for the coming period.
The team objectives are dependent on the the senior leaders objectives. While you could delay the review process until the senior leaders get their act together, this could be unsettling for the team.
So how could you adapt? You could start the review process with the team on the understanding that you will complete it in two parts. Looking at past performance in the first part and setting objectives in the second part.
Sometimes the critical path has detours so be ready to take a detour when needed.
4 - A high level of self-awareness among team members
Self-awareness is a critical quality to foster on the individual level. To foster it as a team is incredibly powerful.
Noticing when you are under stress for example, gives you an opportunity to respond rather than to react. The response might be to take time out and go for a walk, to meditate or to discuss the issue with someone else on the team.
It's when we're under stress that it's hardest to maintain self-awareness though. But if the team has an agreement in place to 'look out for each other' then self-awareness has a whole new dimension.
As a leader, it's imperative that you let team members know that it's okay to be human and they don't have to put a brave face on all the time. With an attitude of caring, team members can check in with each other without feeling they have to be defensive or pretend they are okay when they are not.
This doesn't always mean you always have to find a solution to an issue. Sometimes we need to notice we're under stress and that's enough to trigger a mental reset. It's when problems go unacknowledged and fester that they get out of hand.
5 - Self regulates temperament and is supportive and encouraging
This follows on from the self-awareness element. But it's more concerned with the response to situations than the awareness of them.
The business environment often fosters competitiveness, even within teams. Members might be vying for the attention of their leader or positioning themselves for a promotion. While competition can be positive, if it's at the expense of support or encouragement, then it's counter-productive.
Where possible, try to find a common language where team members can communicate without judgement.
For example, the team may have an agreement in place that they rank their perception of stress levels or engagement on a scale of one to ten. This is a way of holding people to account without making them 'wrong.'
If the team is familiar with the Life Styles Inventory (or LSI), they could use the colours of LSI to reference their observations of defensive or oppositional behaviour; 'I'm observing a lot of red in this meeting. Let's start shifting it to blue.'
Or you could have agreed words that indicate it's time for those involved to 'check in' to see if they are in a reactive or responsive mode.
6 - Takes active steps to work on their well-being
How are you fostering well-being in your team? The scope here is vast.
There are obvious steps to this. These include encouraging team members to eat well, to take their lunch break outside or to take regular breaks away from their desk. But we encourage leaders to step this up and factor in emotional well being as well.
One of our favourite examples was a leader we were working with who sat the team down every second week to watch and discuss a Ted Talk. He'd put on a small snack and then the team would engage and share what they learned in the talk and how they could apply it.
In another example, we worked with a team that handed out pedometers to all the team members and set a group challenge to see how many steps they could cover.
These are the sorts of activities that you can hand off to team members to lead.
7 - Has shared values and purpose
Values are something that you hold as important and a purpose is clarity about what you do, for whom, and why.
When we are clear about our values then it becomes natural to align our efforts and to be effective.
And while values can be very personal and vary greatly, finding common values can be powerful in aligning the efforts of the team.
In some cases, the organisation may have already articulated the values of the business or a mission as a whole. The team may or may not adopt these or they may choose to create their own mission and set of internal values.
What matters most is that they are common to all on the team. We have a values card sort exercise on our website that you can use to explore the values for your team.
These values and the agreed purpose can be the basis for your performance conversations or a reference for team meetings. They can form the core of the team culture.
While team resilience isn't rocket science, it does take effort. But if you foster the 7 elements of a resilient team outlined above, your team will be in fine shape.
Developing team resilience is a key strategy for leaders at any level of business.