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Written and published by Miranda Wheatley Price
Director of Organisational Change

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A teams’ resilience will determine how well it performs during times or pressure and change. A team that can sustain performance when the going gets tough, is a team that is high performing and will maximise success. 

This guide shares 3 building blocks that will enable you and your team to bolster its resilience and in turn its performance. 

Rubica’s top tips for building team resilience

This guide is centred on Rubica’s key building blocks for resilience:  reinforcing clarity, building a support team and the ability to experiment with what we do and how we go about it.

1. Reinforcing clarity

Described as one of the key characteristics needed for organisational health. Resilient teams are clear on not just what they want to achieve but why they want to do it and how they are going to go about it.

2. Proactively support

Resilience is dependent on us being interdependent; by relying on others as well as our own abilities and integrating our effort, we can maximise the potential of the whole group to achieving common collective goals.

3. Experiment and challenge

Not just what you are doing but how you go about it. The connection between coping through creative problem solving and resilience is well established.

Your team’s resilience is an essential factor in its performance during times of pressure and change. This set of tips can be used on its own to provide you with ideas or ideally in conjunction with Rubica Resilience Diagnostic report to build greater levels of resilience and in turn better productivity...

Go for stretch

The performance - pressure curve is a key indicator of how the team are performing under pressure. Aim to support a minimum of 65% of the team to get into the ‘stretch zone’ which is where we perform at our optimum. It’s a great place to build our resilience as it provides stretch goals which challenge us to grow and develop whilst retaining a healthy degree of tension and edge.

Performance Pressure Curve

The curve illustrates that as the level of pressure increases, the performance level also increases, to the point of healthy tension or ‘Stretch’. As stress begins to be perceived as excessive or overwhelming, the person reaches a fatigue point wherein the performance levels starts to decline into strain or overwhelmed.

How can we better manage performance?

1. Identify the strengths within team then challenge on how they can be better utilised. Contract on 1 or 2 areas where the utilisation of strengths is easily possible. Being acutely aware of how well we are using our strengths in our day to day work is a well-known positive psychology tip in addition to improving work productivity and building talent potential quickly.

2. Actively support each other when we see colleagues slipping into strain. Resilient teams are able to recognise when they are crossing over into the strain zone by being aware of indicators within this zone; these include anxiety, poor judgement, isolation and fatigue.

  • Use the Performance - Pressure curve to explore indicators within each zone, have transparent conversations with your colleagues on where you are spending the majority of your time and how aware you all are of the symptoms within each zone.
  • Identify what pressures are driving strain and pick one quick win and one more demanding pressure to tackle as a team. Typical work place pressures include: work demands and inefficient processes, lack of control over our work, relationships with direct and indirect colleagues, lack of skill and capability to do the task in hand and management practices.

3. Contracting as a team is vitally important – what’s working, what isn’t? For example, is your manager accessible enough and for the right reasons? When is their guidance the most valuable and why? How do you make decisions that are relevant for your role and when do you know to hand them to either your manager or another colleague? 

4. Practice RACI (responsibility assignment matrix) to encourage a diligent yet speedy decision making process across the team. Helping get everyone clear on their role in each of the team’s priorities and projects is crucial to helping to reduce frustration strain and stress.

Tip No. 1 – Reinforce Clarity & Focus

Clarity on goals, priorities and roles is the 1st building block of resilient and high performing teams. It will support the team especially when performing under pressure. If you did nothing else but continually reinforced clarity within your team environment, it would significantly improve performance and productivity.

1. Build a yearly and quarterly plan that clearly defines goals to anchor the team and keep focus. Re-assess at least quarterly whether these still stand. Optimally goals are regularly referred to within a regular team checking in process (weekly or monthly). Be prepared to reflect and change goals when there are significant shifts in the internal or external environment.

2. At least monthly, define and adapt your top priorities in relation to these goals. Assign roles for each priority and agree your measures of success.

3.  Try and include measures which clearly describe what the team will be hearing, seeing and feeling if you achieve that priority. This drives motivation, momentum and positive proactivity. Put formal or informal rewards and recognition schemes in place for the achievement of priorities. If the pace of change increases, shift your priority setting and adaptation to weekly.

4. Proactively streamline priorities during periods of intense pressure to avoid strain. To do this consider using a prioritisation task tool such as the Covey Urgency & Important Matrix:

Covey Matrix

From here, collaborate and agree what is urgent important, what can wait and what is directly linked to team goals. 

  • What can be reassigned to others either within or outside the team?
  • How can you all genuinely adapt and prioritise (something many of us find hard to do alone).

Tip No. 2 – Proactively support each other

Resilient people don’t go it alone. Resilient teams get on together and proactively support each other to get work done. The team support culture keeps people from slipping out of stretch and losing productivity. Support is the 2nd building block for resilient and high performing teams. Build formal and informal support mechanisms within your team environment to help manage pressure points.

1. Make a note of what you and your colleagues are doing which builds the support you currently feel. Try and identify when it’s a process or a behaviour. This is an awareness exercise – simply by being more conscious of what we are doing and why it works for the team, means you will do more of it - how could you make sure this is maintained? 

2. You probably already have some aspects within your team culture that help people feel supported. However, by building in more formal support mechanisms you will significantly improve how you get work done particularly under pressure. Formal support mechanisms include:

  • Ring-fencing time in team meetings to talk about work pressures, the impact of these and how the team can support each other above and beyond what they are already doing.
  • The manager’s role is to follow these up and check that commitments are being delivered; these processes build trust and transparency within the team.

3. Start by building more transparency within your one to one discussions with your team colleagues. These conversations are vital in building trust and transparency. Why not ask each other where you are currently on the pressure and performance curve? Try and drill down into what aspect of your work demand you are finding the toughest; then identify if it’s a skill or process gap. Explore ways in which you could all feel better supported and contract on this; ensure you take shared accountability to build resilience by all taking ownership within the contracting.

4. Seek to have the same transparent conversations within the team environment, at least once a quarter. Remember to always share your own perspective – vulnerability can be very powerful and helps build a transparent culture. Within these meetings, start exploring the diversity of the team – we often approach work demands differently and seeing the same issue through another perspective provides ideas and supports us to shift our own mind set. It is also important to acknowledge that what works for one person or situation may not work for another; a diversity of approach provides a wealth of options and ideas for us to broaden our responses and therefore resilience to work pressure.

5. Build optimism and team belief in overcoming challenges at team meetings. Ensure you all get the opportunity to share 1 or 2 of your most challenging goals, the associated priorities and what you have achieved in relation to these. Take time to acknowledge small wins, because it generates momentum towards goals. The old story is you can’t eat an elephant in one gulp; biting off small chunks works and builds belief that progression is possible.

Tip No. 3 – Experiment & Challenge

Experimentation is the 3rd building block for resilient and high performing teams. Most importantly this involves challenging each other on what and how things are done to improve work efficiencies.

1. Pick inefficiencies that are within the remit of the team to experiment on. With an inefficiency in mind, ask each other, is it what we are choosing to do or how we are going about it that causes the inefficiency? Brainstorm ideas on what, how and where this work is best done. Encourage creativity to build energy and fun into what can seem tedious. Pick obvious solutions balanced with tenuous ideas which are worth piloting. Agree for members of the team to trial it and report back.

2. Recognise and reward workable solutions that have been piloted successfully. Then set a team incentive to replicate the new way of working to encourage a new habit and get the team to hold each other to account. With new habits that meet an organisational block challenge yourself – is this within my remit to influence? What about my manager or my manager’s manager? Would it increase organisational productivity and resilience if I took it a level higher? If the answer is yes, make it part of your objective setting or your personal development plan. 

3. Ensure you put aside time at team meetings to reflect on how things are done. Draw simple process charts on flip charts, and gather round and challenge steps of the process - get detailed and specific if needs be. Encourage each other to take responsibility and stretch your sense of control by assigning processes to small groups to challenge. Initially put in place some brainstorming rules - no ‘but’s for the first 10 minutes to encourage the sharing of ideas. Facilitate with care by making sure each member of the team has an opportunity to speak. Get each small group to present back and then call a vote on what is the most achievable in the shortest period of time. Use the presenting team to contract with the group and measure the success. Resilience needs to be owned by the whole team!

Improve strengths too

We are programmed into focusing on our improvement areas yet research shows that we are more likely to make a change if it’s based on something we already know.

1. According to Duhhig, in his bestselling book on ‘The Power of Habit’, new habits are more likely to 'stick' if they are already familiar to us. Although this seems obvious, we have a tendency to ‘performance manage’ change i.e. target needs - improvement areas without paying attention to accelerating strengths. Improving where we are already strong is the basis of quick wins and a rapid way to make a notable difference in performance. Teams are more likely improve a process, or demonstrate a behaviour with consistency if it’s already happening, even in a very limited way.

2. How can you improve on your resilient behaviours and processes that are already in place? Consider the formal and informal processes that generate this strength and what behaviours you as a team can adopt to apply these processes within your everyday work.

For example, if you and your colleagues already state you are clear on priorities, take time to explore what it is within the environment that supports that clarity. Is it a formal or informal process? Formal would be regular ‘contracting’ and agreements on priorities whereas informal may well be simple ad hoc conversations. Neither are right or wrong but both processes coupled together are very powerful. It’s about how we then consciously and unconsciously adapt our behaviour by directing our effort towards achieving these priorities that makes the difference to our performance.

In summary, there are 5 key principles to keep in mind.

1. The best performance zone for all of us is when we are stretched.

2. We slip into strain easily – be aware of the triggers, indicators and ways to help each other get out of it.

3. Clarity on goals, priorities and roles cannot be underestimated. They need continually re-enforcing and communicating; this will act as a powerful leverage point.

4. Formal support mechanisms are needed for resilience; go beyond getting on well together. This can be one of the hardest elements to discuss and other team members may be the cause of pressure for others.

5. Take time and effort to challenge what, who and how things are done in order to tackle work inefficiencies. Writing or mapping out the steps you use to do activities can be a good way to help increase the challenge and idea generation for removing inefficiency.

Rubica is a change management consultancy.
Learn more about our people and culture change work here.

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1.     Lencioni, P. (2012) The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (J-B Lencioni Series, Josseyy-Bass.

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4.     Bridget Grenville-Cleave (2012). Positive Psychology, a Practical Guide. Icon Books, UK

5.     Duhigg, C (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life & Business. Random House. GB