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Resilient teams are stronger teams

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Resilience helps us bounce back

Resilience is the ability to adapt well to change and quickly recover from setbacks. As most of us have experienced, we're living in a world that's constantly changing, resulting in moments of ambiguity and unpredictable challenges—just think global pandemic.

Resilience is what gives people the strength and emotional fortitude to cope with such demanding situations. At the core of similar qualities like "grit" or "mental toughness," resilience is something we tap into to overcome challenges, big or small, in any given moment.

It moves us from surviving to thriving

Gallup reports that workers' daily stress is at a record high, "increasing from 38% in 2019 to 43% in 2020," and even higher in the US and Canada, at 57%. Virtual work, changing priorities and reorganizations are just a few of the workplace stressors we might face. All of which can leave us feeling drained, frustrated, and unable to stay focused.

Developing resilience not only helps us get through tough times, but also improves our health, performance, and overall happiness. Harvard Health Publishing reports that resilience is "associated with longevity, lower rates of depression, and greater satisfaction with life."

Resilience is a muscle we can build

The good news is that resilience is something we can learn. Like building a muscle, resilience needs to be worked on in order to get stronger. And when we flex this muscle it helps us manage our energy, tackle stress and avoid burnout.

Resilience does not mean avoiding failure

Having high resilience doesn't mean avoiding difficult and demanding situations all together. In fact, building resilience often comes from experiencing failures, setbacks and even stress. When we encounter difficult situations, we can use them as an opportunity to flex our resilience muscle and practice new strategies, ultimately improving our ability to address future challenges. Resilient people aren't necessarily any better at avoiding challenges, but they do respond to them differently than people with low resilience.

We can use multiple strategies to build resilience

Although many models exist to help us build resilience, one of the most practical is the Center for Creative Leadership's (CCLs) Comprehensive Resilience (CORE) Framework. They break resilience into four areas. Physical, mental, emotional and social.


CCL describes each area as such:

  • "Physical resilience is the body's capacity to respond to stressors with strength and stamina, as well as recover from injury.
  • Mental resilience is the ability to maintain or regain cognitive capacities that risk degradation and to allow creativity to emerge.
  • Emotional resilience centers on understanding, appreciating, and regulating emotions, and consciously choosing feelings and responses, rather than simply automatically reacting to the environment.
  • Social resilience reflects an individual's capacity to work with others to endure and recover from stressors."

In the CCL's model, they point out that the areas are not independent, but rather overlapping. This allows for a more holistic approach when practicing resilience actions and behaviors.

Here are some examples of activities that build resilience:

  • Eating well
  • Exercising
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Taking timeouts or meditating
  • Reframing threats as challenges
  • Paying attention to negative self-talk
  • Asking reflective questions
  • Expressing gratitude for yourself and others
  • Connecting regularly with a social network (in person or virtually)

Building resilience is a personal journey

We all have different backgrounds and skills, so the strategies we each use to develop resilience will also be specific to our own needs and comfort levels. In Time Magazine's article, "The Science of Bouncing Back" Dr. Dennis Charney, author of the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges, says, "For resilience, there's not one prescription that works. You have to find what works for you." This is especially important to consider for leaders looking to create more resilient teams.

Resilient teams are just as important as resilient individuals

While individual resilience is built independently, team resiliency can be cultivated by leadership.

Leaders set the tone

Resilience is a celebrated and admired leadership trait—and one we see brought to life in many of our favorite fictional heroes. Whether it's T'Challa from Black Panther continuously bouncing back from even the most difficult setbacks or Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games learning from past challenges to conquer new ones, resilient leaders have a big impact on the performance and well-being of those around them.

This is especially true in the face of crises. Remote working and social distancing have pushed many to their limits and tested our resilience. The Center for Creative Leadership reminds us that "in difficult times, your people are looking to you for emotional strength and courage as you remain positive and look for new opportunities. They're looking for you to set the direction and light the path."

Team resilience comes with perks

When leaders exhibit high levels of resilience, it not only has tangible benefits to team performance, but also provides a model of behavior that creates new cultural norms. When a team has high resilience they are able to:

  • Improvise
  • Respond quickly to change
  • Take greater risks
  • Create new solutions
  • Believe in their abilities
  • Demonstrate greater resistance to stress

Team's with high resilience, especially the ability to better manage stress, also experience higher engagement. As we've learned from Gallup, teams who score in the top 20% in engagement see 59% less employee turnover. On the flipside, HRD reports that "employees with poor resilience are 55% less engaged at work."

We all have the capacity to be resilient

While resilience can seem difficult to find in some situations, we all have natural instincts we call on when forced to respond to a challenge. Building resilience as a team starts with understanding how we each personally respond, and then learning how others respond so we can leverage everyone's combined abilities to adapt.

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