Building Team Resilience, Part 1

Sep 27, 2019 | By Jess Christopher

In every workplace at some point you'll experience moments when things aren't going to plan, mistakes are made, and the stress is on to get back on track. These moments can either make or break a project, so knowing how to come out on top with your team is a skill necessary to be successful, which brings us to the topic of resilience.

For years the scientific community has looked at how elite competitive sport teams perform at their best under high pressure, overcome loss streaks and emerge stronger for it in order to bring that knowledge to the everyday workplace, so that we all can see improvement. Whether you’re a manager, a boss or a team member, you stand to gain something by understanding resilience and how it can impact a team’s performance.

Now, resilience is defined as the ever-changing way in which a team leverages individual and shared resources to overcome stressors and positively adapt. Research has found that resilience is associated with team productivity, efficacy – the belief you can control what happens to you – and influences team outcomes and performance.

Elite sport is a fantastic field to study such a concept, as professional players are under high mental and physical stress, endure setbacks frequently due to injuries and losses, and are in the public eye, so the pressure is on to represent their team positively and most importantly work together cohesively and with implicit trust in order to beat out their competitors. They’re the gold standard for effective teamwork under stress.

In 2015, Paul Morgan and his colleagues underwent a study on team resilience in sport using narrative analyses of the autobiographies of eight members of the 2003 England rugby union World Cup winning team. Their goal was to find out exactly what builds resilience in a team, in order to inform and develop strategies for the workplace. They were able to narrow down a number of psychosocial processes of particular relevance to building resilience and achieving team success that were utilised by the team and coaches:


Transformational Leadership

Leaders of teams employing inspirational, personal, and emotional approaches with team members during stressors, adapting to what is needed at the time.


Shared team leadership

Distributing team leadership to enhance wider accountability during stressors, ensuring everyone knows their role.


Team learning

Acquiring and acting on new knowledge following setbacks, seeing them as an opportunity to inform how to improve.


Social identity

Building a strong, distinctive team identity to bolster team members during stressors.


Positive emotions

Promoting humour and banter during difficult situations, reminding everyone of the fun in the job.


Mutual trust

The belief that it is safe to be completely honest with feedback, communicating feelings or opinions, and admitting mistakes without repercussion between the team and coaches/managers. 


Shared mental model

A common understanding of actions taken and to be taken. Being on the same page and believing collectively that that is where the team needs to be.


Now that may seem like a lot to understand, but worry not, by the time you’re done reading this you should be clear on what to do, and why to it.

Now, for the most part your goals set for improving your team’s resilience can be broken into five focus areas:

  1. Inspire, motivate and challenge team members to achieve performance excellence
  2. Develop a team-regulatory system based on ownership and responsibility
  3. Cultivate a team identity and a togetherness on a selfless culture
  4. Expose the team to challenging training and unexpected/difficult situations
  5. Promoting enjoyment and keeping a positive outlook during stressors

Now if you want to learn more about how to act one these points, keep reading on to part 2.