What Makes Teams Resilient


In our conversations about work topics like productivity, effectiveness, role or technology, and innovation are top of mind. We are much less comfortable drilling down deep into the most difficult and uncomfortable moments in our careers, getting honest, and holding ourselves accountable to moving forward after a setback.

If we were to ask—what makes a good life? We would likely not talk about the usual suspects. It is not about fame, wealth, or popularity. Even as a culture of personality and the siren call of social widgets and apps beckon us daily into showmanship, the recipe for a good life comes down to simple things like social connections in real life, the having close relationships, and their quality.

When we are in relationships where we feel part of things, have a good dialogue with each other, and we feel we can count on others we thrive. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Little Prince “it is the time you spend on your rose that makes your rose so important.”

At work, we're increasingly called to make decisions and execute as part of a team. What makes us unique in our individual roles is also what can potentially make us strong contributors to our group and with it to the whole organization.

What happens when we face a conflict, a crisis, or a fall in an organization? Maybe we missed a big project deadline, or we're in a financial bind. How do we proceed so that part of the outcome is a more resilient team?

In Rising Strong, Dr Brené Brown says, “we make failure seem fashionable without acknowledging the inherent desperation, shame, and dismay.” What we need – and lack – is “a critical mass of [awesome people] who are willing to dare, fall, feel their way through tough emotion, and rise again” instead of just glossing over the pain or stuffing it down deep or taking it out on other people.

She and her team have found a series of questions that are helpful in getting a team from stuck to rumbling, which is the process of reexamining our stories, diving deeper to mine for truths, including errors in our own first retelling of the failure tale, as a path to getting up again:

  1. how do we engage in this process with an open heart and an open mind?
  2. what emotions are people experiencing?
  3. how do we listen with empathy?
  4. what do we need to get curious about?
  5. what are the stories that people are making up?
  6. what do our SFDs tell us about our relationships? about our communication? about leadership? about the culture? about what's working and what's not working?
  7. where do we need to rumble? what lines of inquiry do we need to open to better understand what's really happening and to reality-check our conspiracies and confabulations?
  8. what's the delta between those first SFDs and the new information we're gathering in the rumble?
  9. what are the key learnings?
  10. how do we act on the key learnings?
  11. how do we integrate the key learnings into the culture and leverage them as we work on new strategies?

As an example of what it would look like when integrated in the organization's culture, at The Daring Way, the company Dr. Brown leads, they use five guiding principles:

  • respect—for self, for others, for story, and for the process
  • rumble—on ideas, on strategy, on decisions, on creativity, on falls, on conflicts, on misunderstandings, on disappointments, on hurt feelings, on failures
  • rally—together to own our decisions, own our successes, own our falls, own and integrate our key learnings into our culture and strategies, and practice gratitude
  • recover—with family, friends, rest, and play
  • reach out—to each other and the community with empathy, compassion, and love

These principles have kept the company from cratering during crises and have contributed to making its team more resilient.

We should have strategies and metrics in place, translate those into projects and plans, understand roles and domains, create rhythms and tools, as well as policies and processes to guide us.

But it is the quality of the relationships between team members, the ability to rise up together after setbacks, to help each other through individual strengths and collective interaction that creates commitment to collective impact and makes good on it.