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  • Writer's pictureFelicity Baker

How to Create Resilient Teams

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

As we emerge into a new post-pandemic world, many of us have taken some knocks. In fact, around half of Britons say that their mental health has deteriorated as a result of coronavirus. In this blog we discuss how to create resilient teams that will survive the next challenges that COVID brings.

The scale of the problem

53% of people surveyed in the YouGov Personality Study 2020 said that their experience of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK has harmed their mental health.

The worst affected were 25-39 year olds, with 60% reporting a negative impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on their mental health. However, only 44% of those aged 60 and older had experienced a negative impact.

With so many working-age adults affected, what has been the impact on work?

Impact on working lives

The CIPD Good Work Index aims to ‘make work a force for good for everyone’. Their annual UK Working Lives Survey provides valuable data on job quality. This can be used to inform the actions of workers, employers and policy makers to improve wellbeing at work.

Over the last three years, this survey data has highlighted a downward trend in health and wellbeing. The CIPD are predicting that this trend will worsen as a consequence of the pandemic. In a recent snapshot of 1001 workers they found:

  1. An increase in job insecurity. 22% said it was likely they would lose their job in the next twelve months

  2. A worsening of pre-existing mental health problems

  3. 52 % of those with a mental health condition say the pandemic has contributed to or worsened their condition

On the basis of this data, CIPD make the following workplace recommendations:

  1. Reducing workload pressure

  2. Providing greater autonomy for workers to decide when and where they work

  3. Upskilling managers to engage in supportive and sensitive discussions about wellbeing

  4. Promoting wellbeing resources and counselling

The case for resilience

Resilience refers to our ability to cope with the normal stress of life and to bounce back from new threats and challenges. It is a set of skills or strategies that can be learned. These skills improve our ability to manage challenge both in the moment and over the longer term.  Greater resilience is linked to improved mental health and wellbeing.

The evidence from a recent study surveying more than 4,000 adults during the pandemic in the UK shows:

  1. 87% of people experiencing stress reported using at least one coping strategy

  2. People reported a wide range of strategies that have helped them cope. These included going for a walk, spending time in green spaces and staying connected with others

  3. Some people resorted to potentially harmful ways of coping that put their mental and physical health at greater risk. These included increased alcohol consumption, substance misuse and over-eating

  4. Resilience was high at the beginning of the pandemic, with 73% reporting that they were coping well or very well. This gradually declined to 64% between April and August 2020

  5. Young people between 18-24 experienced a decline in their ability to cope as restrictions continued

Within the workplace, knowing how to create resilient teams will be key to maintaining a mentally healthy workforce.

Resilient teams

Research shows that the strength of resilient teams is that they pull together when faced with challenge and demand. Furthermore, in elite sport team resilience has been defined as:

‘a dynamic, psychosocial process which protects a group of individuals from the potential negative effect of the stressors they collectively encounter. It comprises of processes whereby team members use their individual and collective resources to positively adapt when experiencing adversity.’

Ensuring strong social connections between team members is central in how to create resilient teams. The high levels of trust and team cohesion mean they are stronger together. Each team member is valued for their skills and contribution. And together resilient teams share responsibility for the common good.

The sense of trust and safety inherent in resilient teams allows for greater task and social reflexivity. This creates opportunities for innovation and creativity, enabling resilient teams to adapt to changing circumstances. As they do so they develop new skills and confidence to bounce back and thrive. And this sets up a virtuous circle contributing to high task effectiveness, long term viability and good team member wellbeing.

How to create resilient teams

An independent review of thriving at work commissioned by the UK government highlighted the need for more supportive workplaces. Furthermore, resilience research shows how external resources play an important role in enhancing an individual’s internal resources.

The key to creating the conditions needed for resilient teams is resilient leadership. This is a style of leadership that builds trust and psychological safety, manages threat and supports staff through change.

Akin to Compassionate Leadership, resilient leadership draws on a collective and inclusive approach. Leaders are authentic and open, show humility, are optimistic and supportive of staff. They have self-compassion and are able to manage their own responses to threat in order to support others effectively.

Build trust and safety

Resilient leaders build trust and belonging within their teams by facilitating strong interpersonal relationships between team members. By both using and encouraging prosocial behaviours, resilient leaders ensure inclusivity and mutual appreciation. They regularly review team communication and prioritise empathy. They build opportunities for interpersonal connection and regularly celebrate successes.

Manage threat

Resilient leaders recognise and understand sources of threat that can impact team functioning and wellbeing. These threats may be internal or external to the team, they may be everyday or extraordinary threats. Either way, resilient leaders have their ear to the ground to spot potential threats early on.

Resilient teams are reflexive. They are able to be open and honest about mistakes and failures and this allows the team to manage these threats effectively. Reflexivity is only possible within a culture of trust and safety, where team members have a sense of psychological safety, In a more competitive environment, with a more directive leadership style, staff do not feel able to contribute. They are less creative and are more likely to hide mistakes. This undermines the resilience of the team, as problems go undetected and the potential for learning and growth is limited.

Navigate change

Finally, resilient leaders are able to recognise the varying impact of change on team members. Understanding the process of adaptation to change helps leaders and team members to support each other more effectively. Pulling together to weather the storm facilitates a sense of cohesion and belonging. Doing so helps to calm the individual threat response and grow team confidence and resilience.


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