Why do some collaborations endure drastic change and others fall apart? I have been fascinated by the nature of successful collaborations well before choosing organization development as my profession. As a team sports athlete I learned that successful collaborations were not happenstance. As a specialist in organizational change, team and leadership development, I now know: Successful teams are resilient, they can weather the inevitable difficulties of project and organizational life. Teams that learn ways to stick together through moments of frustration, uncertainty, conflict and confusion come through these challenges with greater commitment and clarity of purpose. In previous blogs I describe characteristics of the change process and our natural urge to escape the inherent uncomfortable moments. Resilient teams persevere through hardship, bouncing back and retaining their essential purpose while reorganizing to be more effective for the future.
There are six characteristics of resilient teams. To foster these characteristics, the team leader and team members must be willing to uphold the following six norms through thick and thin:
- Focus on the Positive – Foster excessive optimism even in adversity. Barbara Fredrickson’s research on positivity vindicates Pollyanna: Positive emotions do not merely signal flourishing, they also produce it. Fredrickson found that positive emotions – like joy, serenity and gratitude – expand our thinking flexibility, increasing our options for responsive behavior. When facing new challenges, our ability to let go of old patterns is essential to finding new ways forward.
Pollyannas and social chairman step up! The workplace needs your humor, happiness and positive focus. Be the one to bring in doughnuts to celebrate team success or a member’s joyful life event. Begin your meetings by asking: What went well this week? What latest accomplishment are we most proud of? What are we looking forward to in the coming week? By focusing on the positive progress, you initiate a new habit of growth thinking
- Focus on Strengths – Discover your team members’ individual strengths before adversity strikes. Team members bring unique talents, interests and motivations to every collaboration. A resilient team uncovers and leverages these strengths to achieve their goals. Since growth happens where we focus our attention, when we wholeheartedly inquire into that which works well and that which others do well, we reinforce and grow a positive core, individually and as a group. This knowledge also helps teams navigate the inevitable difficult moments.
Sherlock Holmes meet Pollyanna: Make it your business to discover your and your colleagues’ strengths. At your next team meeting, ask each team member: what do you enjoy bringing to the team’s endeavours? How can you contribute more of that? By holding conversations to learn of each member’s unique talents, you foster mutual knowledge and respect for the individual’s role within the group.
- Focus on Learning – View learning as part of the success quotient. The latest neuroscience research shows that our brain maintains a high plasticity throughout life; our abilities are malleable and not fixed. According to Carol Dweck, people who believe their abilities are developed through effort and experience see change as a challenge to be tackled, not as a threat to avoid. Because of this attitude, even during stressful situations resilient teams continue to learn and grow over time. They refocus their thinking from “We’re not good at that” to “We’re not good at that, yet.”
An old dog learning new tricks is possible! Next time your team hits disappointment, failure or negative feedback, see it as a natural part of the learning process. Be the one to ask: What valuable learning did we gain from this experience? What progress did we make? What can we learn from others in a similar situation? What might we do differently next time?
- Focus on Interdependence – Members of resilient teams depend on each other to achieve big goals. Why be in a collaboration if you can get the job done independently? This means team members each bring unique strengths to the collaboration, but it also implies fostering the relationship between individuals. Resilient teams maintain an equitable exchange between members over time that fosters trust, loyalty and respect..
Before you sense shrinking commitment from your team members, find out what’s in it for each of them by asking: What value are you hoping to get of this collaboration? Do you have the opportunity to give your best every day? If not, then what do you need from this collaboration so that your aims are met?
- Focus on Purpose – By holding clarity of purpose, ordinary people accomplish great things. When the purpose is not clear or grand enough to hold the aspirations of all members, teams do not sustain high performance. Conflict and differing opinions spark the question: What is the point of doing this? By reminding the team of the long-term reasons underlying the shorter-term projects, members feel part of the whole, and endure the process for the greater purpose. Resilient teams also look outside the group membership to build alliances for even greater success, and these partnerships can serve as reminders to the group’s role in the larger picture.
Do not wait for your team to lose forward momentum. Ask questions that link the team’s activity to the larger picture and purpose: What is meaningful about the tasks we have set for ourselves? What is the purpose of our efforts? What are the benefits for our customers and clients when we achieve our goal?
- Focus on Personal Ownership – Encourage your team to take individual responsibility and group action to overcome challenges. Resilient teams are comprised of resilient individuals – people who respond to difficult situations by taking action to overcome the challenges rather than avoiding responsibility. My mentor, Christopher Avery teaches that personal power comes not when we operate from shame or blame but from a place of owning our responses to life’s difficulties. He shows that “taking personal responsibility is a step-wise process of refusing to act on a series of irresponsible thoughts that your mind offers up.” When we see ourselves as agents of our lives, we are fully responsible.
Next time your team is at a standstill, ask: What part of the situation do you own? How will you respond to this situation from a position of personal responsibility and not from blame or obligation?
Resilient teams foster and build habits to reinforce these six characteristics. Is your team resilient? Will your team stick together during change? Will you choose to take responsibility to build greater resiliency in yourself and your team? At your next meeting, be the one to step up.