Tough times don't last, but tough companies do...
Technology is changing everything about our everyday personal and working life at an exponential rate. Within the scope of our economy and business, many of these changes allow for greater opportunity and efficiency to be realised, but they also open the door for greater risks (e.g. cyber-security concerns, automation/disruption of entire industries, more competition entering the market, etc.) and on a scale we have not yet had to deal with.
To maintain or improve competitive advantage in times such as these, companies are not only having to develop a greater level of resilience both in their approach to policy and risk mitigation, but also with respect to their human capital. To continue to thrive in the technological revolution, businesses must also be made up of teams with a high level of collective resilience.
Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or a sudden change in circumstance. Given this day and age now dictates such change is the new norm, companies now seek to hire a high proportion of highly resilient individuals, believing that if they put them on the same team, the company as a whole will also naturally be more resilient and in-turn more capable of overcoming obstacles, discovering innovation and embracing failure; as well as be more prepared to take on calculated risks to realise further growth, opportunity and overall competitive advantage.
While this seems to make sense on the surface level, how we deal with adversity and change as individuals—as opposed to a collective—in a team environment, can be entirely different.
To use the above school of thought in a sporting context, it would be like saying that we could put a team of accomplished athletes together, all from completely different disciplines, and expect that because they are all great athletes in their own right, that they would be able to win a gold medal in a sport they've never trained in together before. Gold might be a possible outcome if they had sufficient time to train in their new discipline, and as a team, but without this training opportunity even the supremely fit and highly skilled would be unlikely to succeed.
So it would seem that having a team made up of highly resilient individuals doesn't necessarily mean your team will have the necessary wear-with-all to go the distance.
Collective resilience forms when the tether of a team unit has been trialled and tested, only then can this skill become a learned behaviour, enabling a team to master the ability to operate under difficult or unexpected circumstances.
So, how does a company go about building its 'collective resilience'?
Resilience is like a muscle, it needs to be trained to grow in strength, skill, flexibility and endurance. Teams who have built a high level of collective resilience have most often been exposed to a number of situations together that, over time, have helped them successfully train this muscle.
Businesses, however, don't necessarily need to expose their teams to 'do or die' situations for this muscle to have opportunity enough to be trained. The colour palette of circumstance requiring teams to face adversity or unexpected change has many shades, but in every scenario there are three key elements of shared experience which enable teams to thrive.
Without the right team culture, any challenge that comes along will be met with roadblocks, including: dissension, lack of accountability, miscommunication, distrust, panic, playing the blame game, bias, exclusion, secrecy, alienation toward leadership, etc.
When these kinds of destructive team dynamics emerge in challenging situations, they have the ability to amplify any fractures that already exist in company culture and displace staff at an accelerated rate. This oftentimes leads to an exacerbation of the existing challenge, or additional fires that need to be addressed. Not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.
This is why it is so important teams adopt ritual based activities as an everyday aspect of their work/life flow.
Team rituals give a sense of purpose, value and meaning to its members, and are usually repeated enactments of a very specific type of engagement. Team members have accepted that this level of interaction will form part of their regular work/life flow, and more importantly, want to participate in it!
Team rituals allow trust, open communication, collaboration and a sense of belonging—all crucial elements in a team with high collective resilience. A sure-fire way for you to know when you have created a ritual-based team culture is when your team starts referring to each other as "tight-knit" or "like a family."
However, rituals don't happen by accident, and require concerted effort by all team members for them to be successful. Components of effective team rituals include:
2. Collective Challenge
Usually, teams faced with a challenge whom also have a strong ritual-based team culture will naturally gravitate away from counterproductive measures in dealing with a crisis, and instead approach the challenge collaboratively, focusing on each individual member's strengths. This in turn allows more collective resilience as a team.
Teams, however, have no way of knowing just how strong their collective resilience really is until they have tried to jump over a few of these hurdles together. Sounds scary, but what's scarier is for teams to wait until a crisis hits to test out the strength of their resilience muscles.
Instead of waiting around, seek out positive ways you can emulate challenges for your team. Hack-a-thons, sports teams, fitness challenges, and scenario-based team building activities are all good choices.
Participating in these simulated experiences gives them a safe space to practice—where stakes are relatively low—making sound decisions and communicating as a team under pressure. It also clues the team in to one another's strengths and weaknesses, and allows for the opportunity to engage in rational, supportive responses; all of which are critical skills a team needs if and when the proverbial really does hit the fan.
3. Collective Sacrifice
The definition of sacrifice is to give up (something valued) for the sake of other considerations. This is the final ingredient present in situations that allow collective resilience to thrive.
Nothing pulls a group of people together like the experience of shared sacrifice—or suffering. It is well documented that many survivors of shared experiences involving sacrifice or suffering create lifelong bonds, and in those moments of hardship perform extraordinary feats of bravery, compassion and selflessness for one another. In many instances, these survivors were complete strangers beforehand. The depth of empathy, understanding and compassion experienced in these trying times bonds them in ways no other type of experience can.
Whilst it is highly unlikely your team will face a life changing or traumatic event, they will face moments where the hours are long, the stakes are high, and they feel physical, emotional and mental fatigue. Sometimes, the sacrifices individuals have to make are unavoidable. But, if you're supported by a strong ritual-based team culture, more often than not your team will choose to face these challenges as they arise together, in spite of sacrifice. Teams will emerging stronger, more capable, more in-sync, more aligned, more empathetic, more confident and, yes, far more resilient.
A couple take-home thoughts
Every team, no matter their resilience level, is capable of generating a high level of 'collective resilience' if given the right developmental environment.
If you welcome opportunities to connect with your team. If you engage in rituals that build trust, collaboration, open communication and belonging. If you approach each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow, and view sacrifices made in these circumstances as a rite of passage—your team will arise stronger than ever, well-equipped to realise your company's full competitive advantage in these ever-changing times of technological change.