Is it our capacity to endure? To bounce back from failure? Is it positivity in the face of adversity?
All too often, the discourse around resilience focuses on toxic positivity: hanging on, ‘toughing it out’ and being seen to be coping, even if we end up running on pure adrenaline.
Or we look internally, assuming that there is some kind of grit and determination we must find deep within ourselves at times of adversity. If we can’t find it within, it must be a personal failing.
But according to research cited in HBR, “resilience is not purely an individual characteristic, but is also heavily enabled by strong relationships and networks”.
People in our support systems can bolster our resilience by offering empathy, providing a sounding board, shifting our perspective or simply reminding us that we are not alone in facing the challenge.
In short, resilience is not something we need to find deep down inside ourselves: connecting with others – and finding value in those connections – can make us more resilient in our most challenging times.
In a professional context, having a reliable and responsive network is not just about advancing your career, but also cultivating and maintaining meaningful connections with colleagues which sustain your emotional wellbeing in times of stress and difficulty.
We might have different needs to help bolster resilience. These might change depending on the particular challenge we face. But collectively, says Harvard Business Review, “the relationships we develop are a toolbox that we can turn to in our most difficult times”.
“Resilience is a system’s capacity to maintain its shape as it changes its shape.” – Chris Dalton, Henley Business School
A resilient system can maintain diversity and flexibility. It can remain open to the influence of the outside world, but it is also cohesive enough to handle disturbances and adapt to the new without losing its own identity or integrity.
Team members are able to share the load, avail themselves of different perspectives and draw on additional resources when needed, resulting in more resilient individuals feeding into the resilience of the team as a whole.
But for all of this to work successfully, people need to understand the resources available to them and to be able to call on those resources effectively.
In practice, this means a mutual understanding of one another’s strengths and weaknesses, shared objectives, and a culture which enables team members to support one another in adversity.
According to research, there are a number of relational sources of resilience which can be of benefit to us when faced with a challenge or difficulty.
In a professional context, it’s often easier to work with like-minded people, but this can deprive us of learning opportunities.
When we are lacking a particular kind of connection that could build resilience, we need to broaden our network and seek it out.
Understanding the strengths present in the team gives its members a head-start in times of adversity. Teams who can draw on their resources quickly and effectively ground themselves when facing difficulties.
An empathetic team member can allow us to express and release negative emotions. Those with Teamworker strengths are well placed here.
When things aren’t going well, talking about what isn’t working can lead the way to thinking about how best to fix it.
We might be tempted to dismiss other contributions that don’t appear to be adding anything when the going is good.
But when the team – or its members – are facing a crisis, that diversity enables the team (and its members) to maintain shape, even as the team changes and adapts to new challenges.
During a recent workshop, a strong Resource Investigator told me that he had recently been surprised by the team’s Monitor Evaluator (ME), who had always been the one to apply the brakes and advise caution.
When sales were going well, the ME would point out that it was only one month – one data point. But then when sales dropped and the team was despondent, the ME was the voice of reason once more. “It’s only one data point,” she said again.
Whilst she was not usually the team’s cheerleader, she was a source of resilience for individuals and the team in this particular context, because her perspective was one of balance – treating success and failure both as impostors.
A crisis often entails increased conflict. Not only are the stakes higher, but we don’t take the time to communicate as we might otherwise do.
In a general sense, if team members have a handle on how people might respond in a crisis, this removes the element of surprise and prevents them having to deal with, and process, diverse reactions in the moment.
More particularly, those with Co-ordinator strengths are often adept at handling ‘people politics’. They are skilled at using individual strengths and encouraging people to pull together, in pursuit of a shared purpose or objective.
Sometimes, in times of difficulty, teams don’t have the time for lengthy discussions to build consensus: they need someone to call the shots and ensure that work is done.
That’s where the Shaper comes in. Shapers enjoy challenging environments and overcoming obstacles. They can call on the team’s Implementers to execute tasks efficiently.
When it comes to delegation, a team that knows the behavioural strengths available to it has a shorthand for allocating work effectively, clarifying meaning and reducing the chances of misunderstandings which might otherwise cost valuable time and resources.
Whilst Resource Investigators and Shapers are likely to thrive in a fast-paced environment, Teamworkers and Completer Finishers might struggle – with the pressure and the workload respectively.
Being forearmed with this knowledge enables the team to put strategies in place to deal with work surges – in other words, to build resilience.
Sometimes all that is needed is a new approach to a complex problem. The more diverse the team’s pool of strengths, the greater its chances of navigating crises successfully.
As Albert Einstein famously said, “The thinking that got us to where we are is not the thinking that will get us to where we want to be.”
When the team is stuck with the same thinking, a strong Plant is often the one to suggest a creative solution which hasn’t occurred to anyone before.
Resilience is not a solo endurance test.
Building a network around us – and knowing the sources of resilience within that network is key to fostering individual and team resilience in the face of adversity.
A resilient team might not always look the same in terms of its membership. It could be that people swap in and out as needed.
But a resilient team always maintains its shape – its purpose, ethos and engagement – because each member knows how they – and others – contribute to the whole.
Are you ready to build your network and discover your strengths – and the strengths already present in your team?
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