Creating resilient teams: how to support teams through a crisis

While you can pay special attention to your team’s wellbeing during a crisis, one thing that’s a big help for people navigating tough situations is resilience.

Resilience isn’t developed overnight. It’s also not necessarily something that carries over from home to work-life either. You can see someone as very resilient, but watch them fall apart as a work crisis hits.

But resilience is important. Apart from the benefits it brings to individuals, it helps employees to cope with stressful situations, and it means that the recovery period is a little easier.

How can leaders help to create resilient employees and teams?

1. Have a clear, shared, vision

In his 2009 book, Drive, Daniel Pink examines three core elements that bolster human drive. One of these is having a clear purpose. On an individual and an organisational level.

Employees want to know what goals the business has. They want to see leaders say the right things, but back them up with action. They prefer to work somewhere that has policies they agree with.

In 2019 Glassdoor found that 77% of survey respondents considered the company’s purpose before applying for a job.

According to Raconteur, research by Betterup also found that 90% of people they asked were “willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work”. (Of course, this opinion is likely to change if the economy starts to really struggle, but the basic principle will still hold true – that most people have a strong desire to do meaningful work for a company with a purpose they can be proud of.)

When employees know what the company’s vision is – and they support it – it’s much easier to defend the brand with conviction (and to feel good about working for the business in general).

2. Have inclusive values, communicated with clarity

People need to feel comfortable being their genuine selves at work without fear of judgement, ridicule or harassment. (Although, it doesn’t mean that leaders should pressure people to share every facet of their lives, thoughts, emotions and health struggles with the team.)

It’s not enough to have these values in a document or on a website. They need to be lived to have an effect. The workplace should be a place that actively supports and embraces a diversity of people and experiences.

It bolsters resilience by helping to create employees and teams that know they are supported and understood at a human level (rather than as a line on a balance sheet).

3. Develop a culture of trust, collaboration and communication

People won’t be resilient at work if they don’t trust their coworkers or leaders. Communication styles are often a significant barrier to developing genuine trust. Tools like the colour communication test and DiSC training can help to highlight areas where communication styles clash and help us understand why we struggle to communicate with some people.

Another significant part of this is how much autonomy we have at work. Micromanagement and excessive tracking of people’s time and activities shows people that their managers – or the exec team – doesn’t trust them.

In Drive, Daniel Pink breaks autonomy down into four areas: tasks, time, technique and team.

  • Tasks – most of us work in areas where projects have deadlines. However, once an employee knows the deadline of the work they need to do, they should be free to choose how and when to work on it.
  • Time – Pink says: “Without sovereignty over our time, it’s nearly impossible to have autonomy over our lives.” Businesses are moving away from focusing on the time people put in, and on the results they achieve instead. It’s hard to be resilient when we don’t have control over our days.
  • Technique – resilient and driven employees are encouraged to use their best judgement at work. Unless there’s a regulatory reason, making people follow scripts and processes to the letter can make it hard for them to know how to respond when they’re faced with a new situation and they’re under pressure.
  • Team – our need to collaborate can clash with autonomy, so this needs to be balanced.

Pink defines the final pillar of human drive as mastery. While we start our roles needing to religiously follow instructions and procedures, over time, we develop mastery over our core skills and specialisms.

Mastery is confidence in your abilities and the continual improvement of your skills. It’s never reaching perfection. Great leaders understand this and reward people for their good work while understanding that even their best employees will still make mistakes. Positive feedback and support creates and reinforces trust.

4. Support employee’ mental and physical health

It’s crucial that leaders understand the unique circumstances of their employees. Leaders may find it easy to deal with certain situations or events, but not all employees will have the same reaction.

Leaders can help their teams by setting reasonable expectations and allowing flexible schedules for all.

Research has shown that flexibility has a positive effect on our wellbeing. McKinsey conducted a survey asking 800 US-based employees about employee experience during the pandemic. It found that people who were working remotely were “more engaged and had a stronger sense of wellbeing than those in non-remote jobs with little flexibility”.

Even if the business conducts resilience training and prides itself on having a robust team, there will be people who struggle with physical and mental health at times. It’s important to remember that resilience isn’t about robotic perfectionism, but about falling down and having the strength and support to pull yourself back to your feet.

Crisis training has always been important, but right now, it’s essential. If a crisis hits your business, at a time when the entire world is already in a prolonged crisis, the people on your team need to be resilient to cope with it.

By continually supporting employees and teams, leaders are ensuring that they’re in good condition to face a crisis if it hits.

According to McKinsey, the scientific community is revaluating the flight or fight theory. They theorise that in times of crisis, people respond via flight and affiliation. In other words, we run from danger and seek security with people, groups and situations that feel secure and familiar. McKinsey argues that, by helping employees try to make sense of the crisis unfolding around them, leaders can increase the affiliation (engagement, loyalty and positive sentiment) that people have for the team and business as a whole.

Supporting your employees may be one of the most effective crisis management strategies you can implement.

Featured photo by Jordan Madrid on Unsplash

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