At Fierce, we define “resilience” as the ability to navigate and bounce forward from traumatic situations and everyday stress.
It is often identified as a key factor in one’s individual success. But none of us works entirely alone, so how our teams persevere matters as much as how individually resilient we are. And on top of that, an increasing number of us are a part of teams where some, if not all, of our team members are decentralized and/or remote.
I’ve worked much of my career with geographically dispersed teams, where team members are working remotely. Sure, it presents some challenges: balancing time zones, asynchronous communication, not meeting face-to-face, cultural differences – and more. Yet, one of the most successful teams I’ve ever been on was fully remote, with no two people in the same location. So what made that team so successful? Our team’s resiliency.
Team resilience is the capacity of a group of people to respond to change and disruption in a flexible and innovative manner. In the face of adversity, resilient teams maintain their work productivity while minimizing the emotional toll on their members. Like individuals, resilient teams are adaptable.
Resilient teams develop strong relationships with one another, building and maintaining high levels of trust. They work collaboratively, inclusively, with innovation to solve problems and address any obstacles they encounter. Team members respond dynamically to challenges, such as misunderstandings, major problems with technology, and performance or time pressure. They reflect deeply on their experience and focus on learning from their mistakes.
According to the HBR, resilient teams have four things in common:
- They trust one another and feel safe.
- They believe they can effectively complete tasks together.
- They share a common mental model of teamwork.
- They are able to improvise.
Of course, all of this is true for virtual teams as well.
Yet resilient teams don’t just happen automatically.
Resilient teams are just as important to businesses as resilient individuals. While individual resilience is built independently, team resiliency must be carefully cultivated by leadership. Resilient teams need to be nurtured by managers who help each team member foster this ability.
As leaders, how do we build resilience?
Just like with individuals, a resilient team must reflect the 3C’s – Challenge, Control, and Commitment. Resilient teams approach their work (and any setbacks) as tackling challenges. They focus on what they can control and where they can have an impact. They must be aligned and fully committed to clear goals.
- Challenge: is the belief that stress is a normal part of living. When we accept that change is part of life, we approach problems with curiosity and a willingness to learn. When we re-frame a stressor or an obstacle as a challenge and an opportunity to grow, rather than a paralyzing event, we feel energized and motivated by stress.
- Control: is the desire to continue to have an influence on the outcomes going on around you, no matter how difficult it becomes. So many things are outside of our control. Instead of worrying about the things we cannot change, we focus our energy where we can have an impact, and therefore feel empowered and confident to progress forward.
- Commitment: refers to our resolution to commit to a course of action and follow it through to a conclusion, regardless of what obstacles may arise. In addition, it is important to remain involved with events and people around you when things get tough, rather than isolating yourself or shutting everyone out.
Regardless of where your team members are located, as a leader, you can follow these:
7 steps to build your team’s resilience:
1. Create opportunities for interaction, beyond just work-related tasks.
Due to the lack of face-to-face interaction in virtual teams, it can be more difficult to assess the personal situation and the social context of the other team members. On a virtual team, it’s easy to feel isolated, and research continues to emphasize the importance of “belonging” and its impact on employee engagement. Since we don’t see our team members in the office on a regular basis, we may not always know what is going on in their day-to-day lives, so it is crucial to find ways to stay in touch regularly.
- Allot time and create opportunities for your team to interact socially, either by video meetings, in chat, or even by phone.
- Encourage 1:1s with team members, to give them the space to talk about things outside of work that’s happening in their lives.
My previous employer had monthly social team meetings, nicknamed the “Cooler” (after the water cooler), where we talked about our lives outside of work. We often took turns answering fun questions or playing games. We even did a virtual escape room for our holiday celebration!
My brother’s company has a Slack channel dedicated to “Dad jokes.” People chime in all the time, regardless of whether or not they’re even a dad, because who doesn’t love a good dad joke?
I once had a monthly walking phone meeting with a colleague in a different state. We would walk our dogs “together” during the workday while sharing some of the more personal aspects of our lives. This allowed me to step away from my desk, get some exercise, and connect more deeply with my coworker.
2. Display compassion and emphasize personal well-being.
The most important thing to keep in mind as a manager is to be consistently checking in with, and taking the pulse of, how the team is feeling over any given week. It’s especially important to demonstrate that you genuinely care about your team as not just employees but people. Stress and burnout happen in even the most positive and engaged workers.
- Check in with your team members frequently; make the time to find out what is going on in their lives outside of work and what is important to them.
- Encourage staff to take a vacation or mental health days and to prioritize their physical and mental health. This includes truly switching off during non-working hours (i.e., NOT being available 24/7). Be sure to model these behaviors for your team!
- If possible, offer or remind employees of benefits available that encourage them to take care of themselves, like a wellness stipend or paying for a meditation app.
When one of my family members got sick, one of my previous employers sent me a Door Dash gift certificate so I didn’t have to think about dinner for a couple of nights. It was a relatively simple gesture, but it demonstrated such compassion and empathy for my situation; I felt cared about as a person, not just as an employee.
A few months into a new job, I reluctantly requested some time off, as my husband and I hadn’t been away together for years. Instead of being met with the resistance I was expecting, my manager said, “That sounds amazing! Good for you!” This allowed me the time I desperately needed to rejuvenate and give my best back to my team upon my return.
Another one of my previous employers gave every employee a $500 wellness stipend to spend on anything “wellness related,” which covered anything from a gym membership to sports equipment to massages, and even an Apple watch!
3. Promote psychological safety.
Make the team environment a safe place to take risks, share different perspectives, and ask questions. These all encourage a resilient mindset.
When unsuccessful experiences are viewed as learning opportunities—rather than mistakes or failures—it builds resilience. Challenges, setbacks, and failures are a part of life, and your remote team will undoubtedly experience some. What matters, though, is how your team handles them and moves on.
- Encourage your team to talk openly about the challenges and issues they face. Develop a team “norm” to seek out advice and assistance from others and work together to find a solution.
- Create a trusting, open culture that reframes failures as learning opportunities. Resilient teams find the positive in the negative. Instead of dwelling on what didn’t work, they learn from it to improve the next time around.
On a recent team I belonged to, our philosophy was that we all owned problems jointly, even if the mistake was made by one of us (which was usually the case). We all had each other’s backs and trusted one another to help craft solutions.
Rather than pointing fingers or placing blame, we believed we all owned the client relationship. As a result, we didn’t feel ostracized or shamed for making a mistake, and we openly and willingly shared our mistakes and learnings with the team about what went wrong, how to fix it, and how to avoid it in the future. We worked collectively to prove our value to the customer. This was a team that truly trusted one another and had each other’s back.
4. Keep Employees Informed.
“Communication and transparency are rocket fuel for resilience. While the dissemination of information is important within any team, it’s vital to the success of a remote workforce. When people are scattered in different places, it’s harder to share information in casual ways (e.g., in the hallway or break room). And when updates are not timely, or it feels like information is being withheld, it can create a sense of distrust among the team.
- Share newsworthy information and updates as you learn about them. Waiting until the “right time” can make staff feel disconnected, uninformed, and like they don’t matter to the company’s success. Equip your team with current and frequent information, letting them know what is in their control and how they can contribute.
- You don’t need to have all the answers – in times of ambiguity, answers are often discovered in real time. However, when left to their imaginations, employees will typically make up stories that are worse than reality. Sometimes it’s okay to say you don’t have the answer – that’s being transparent.
My friend works for a high-tech company with employees spread across the globe. They recently experienced a major layoff. Due to employment laws in different countries, many people who were impacted hadn’t been informed at the same time as those in the U.S.
As a manager with direct reports in some of these other countries, she acknowledged openly and honestly to her team that there was a layoff in process, and that there was a true possibility they could be impacted.
She was open and forthright, sharing directly with each one in a private 1:1 that she didn’t know any more than they did. It didn’t alleviate the worry or concern of her team members, but as a leader, she demonstrated full transparency of what she knew about the situation and assured her team she would continue to share more information when she could.
5. Talk less; listen more.
One of the most useful management skills for building resilience is listening. Too many leaders try to talk their employees out of what they’re feeling in challenging situations – reassuring them prematurely or convincing them why they shouldn’t be upset. This approach can backfire, making team members feel misunderstood or resentful.
- Take a deep breath and simply listen to your people in tough situations. When you do this, you’re demonstrating that you respect and care about them, which almost immediately makes them feel less overwhelmed and more hopeful. And quite often, being listened to helps calm people enough that they can start to see a way through the situation.
- Listening also gives you a lot of important information about what’s hard for them in the situation and how you might
If I could pick just one thing that leaders tell me they want to improve, it’s their ability to actively listen. We have a natural tendency to listen with the intent to respond, rather than truly understand what the other person is saying. Often there is more than what’s on the surface, and by truly listening, we can get to the root cause of issues or concerns.
In our Foundations course, one core objective of a Fierce conversation is to provoke our learning. How can I be different after this conversation? What am I missing? How is your reality different than my reality? Rather than waiting for your opportunity to speak, actively listen to what the other person is saying. Let them fully express their ideas and give them the space to go deeper. You’ll gain their respect and trust. And you just might learn something!
6. Model adaptability
Be Flexible. Resilience isn’t as much about grit as it is the ability to bounce forward after adversity, so leaders and their teams must be able to shift quickly. Resilient teams adapt to external challenges, course-correcting when necessary, and working together to prepare for whatever comes next. Change is inevitable. How we face constant change and complexity will determine our success.
- Set an example for team members by maintaining a sense of optimism in the face of challenges, and keep your team aligned and on track toward goals.
- Ensure that the team is able to resolve problems as they happen. Whether it’s dealing with a difficult colleague, miscommunication between two coworkers, or mistakes resulting from taking risks, resilient remote teams deal with their issues immediately and always keep the best interest of those involved, as well as the company, in mind.
No double the pandemic changed the way we all approached our work and personal lives. Until March of 2020, at Fierce, most of our trainings were delivered in person. We did offer some virtual sessions, but the vast majority of our courses were delivered face-to-face.
Talk about having to adapt! Our leaders quickly recognized that to stay in business, we would have to quickly adjust our approach and create a full suite of programs and materials that could be delivered virtually. Thankfully, we did just that!
7. Help others reframe.
The core of resilience is a mindset, so anything you can do to help your team foster more solution-oriented thinking will be beneficial. Helping others manage their self-talk by listening carefully to the negative things being said, summarizing to make sure you’ve understood them, and then asking them how they might think about the situation differently.
To reframe one’s mindset, try using these four steps: Stop, Reflect, Recalibrate, and Choose:
- Stop: means disrupting the negative thought cycle and creating a new path for energy to flow.
- Reflecting: is about recognizing there might be more to the story and we might have the story wrong or incomplete.
- Recalibration: is about tapping into your inner resources, reassessing, and then adjusting your approach.
- Resiliency: is about choosing the path that serves you best and where you have control of the situation.
I was let go from a company early in the pandemic. It not only caught me completely off-guard, but it broke my heart. I loved my team, believed in the mission of the company, and most of all, I loved the work. It took some time, admittedly, but I had a good friend and mentor who helped me reframe my thinking. I had to stop telling myself that I was a failure and that my identity was way more than this job. I had to reflect on the situation, recognizing that it was a business decision; it wasn’t personal (our entire department was let go).
Did it feel personal? Sure. But was it? No. I then had to look at the situation and think about it as an unplanned opportunity, and this could mean some new doors would open for me. And they did! I was able to choose my next steps – including focusing on my family for a few months before taking some time to jump into my next role.
Team resilience naturally builds from individual resilience.
Both are necessary and become particularly important when team members are dispersed. As a leader, take some time to reflect on the ways in which you support the individual resilience among your team members, as well as how your team collectively demonstrates its resilience. What other tips might you incorporate to help build resilience in your workforce? Leave your comments below.