Collective resilience within teams
We rely on those around us to form part of our resilience. The groups in which we operate provide us with social support and a context for how our own ability to cope can be measured. Which is why we need to support our teams’ resilience as they transition into new ways of working.
Teams are having to adapt to these changes, within a social environment will is now more isolated and has fewer opportunities to measure in person what is ‘normal’ against their colleagues. But there are actions we can take to bolster their wellbeing and resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is our personal capacity to recover from events around us. However, it’s much more complex than what we can do on our own. Our ability to cope comes from our external surroundings. It depends upon the context in which the adversity or event takes place, what the situation is, and how we measure ourselves against others.
Resilience is not something we either do or do not possess.
The US Army performed studies into resilience which looked at which personality traits could withstand certain situations. Yet when you look at this in more detail, resilience is a process rather than a trait.
As Susie Ballantyne, doctoral researcher in psychology and member of the MCH collective explains: “You will see people who are very good in the line of fire. You might have an amazing helicopter pilot who can go in and evacuate casualties. They can deal with high stress and high tempo environments. But when they return home, and they’re back into the role of parent, suddenly they’re looking after the children and dealing with family life. They find it difficult and can’t cope.”
Influence of external forces
Once we understand that resilience is a process that is dependent on the context and situation we are in, we can then look at how actions within that context can influence resilience.
For example, if a group of people start working from home at exactly the same time, they can then learn together how that working world looks. They can compare notes on how they have found the new technology, whether they are happy to work in their pyjamas or even if there is a culture of having video on or off during a conference call.
What is key is that even when working together remotely, they will form patterns of behaviour as a group. That are unique markers of belonging.
In this situation, there is a sense of what psychologists call: ‘common fate’, being in it together. This is where collective resilience begins.
Whereas, a single worker shifting to remote working alone does not have the benefit of shared social norms that have been set by a group. Without those group defined boundaries, they may well feel the need to be ‘on’ and responsive at all times. This can lead to there being less resilience to cope with being out of the office and away from what is happening with colleagues. There are other implications too, such as presenteeism, that can lead to burn-out.
This all means that leaders need to help groups set great social norms around resilience. When this is done within a group the outcome is more powerful.
Resilience and identity
“I would say it’s your identity,” says Susie, “it’s the sense of who you are at any one point in time that is going to shape how you perceive something happening.
“Therefore a lot of resilience comes with: ‘how did you respond after that car crash? That mugging? That job loss? That grief?’ And actually, what we tend to find is that it’s often about how people perceive what’s going on that determines how well they cope with it or not.”
We know that our identity is informed by the groups we are in at the time. Our group situation provides our ‘guidebook’ for how we behave. Therefore our resilience to change can be influenced by the group.
Collective resilience is the term we use for how social bonds in groups allow us to leverage this group identity and reinforce our ability to cope with change.
How well our teams can cope with new ways of working is dependent upon the team as a whole and what support they are given to form a new set of behaviours. These behaviours then support them working together in unique circumstances that can factor in the situation at home.
Take what is happening in our world at the moment. Organisations are suddenly adapting to large sections of their workforce working remotely. The teams within that organisation are no longer operating along with the social norms of the office because the ‘office’ is suddenly lots of individual living rooms, kitchen tables and home offices.
Many of these workers will have children being homeschooled and partners working at home at the same time. Teams need to take time to work out how this all fits together. And not simply lift the office routine and expect it to continue in other settings. A redesign is needed to agree on how all this fits together. This is why it’s important to schedule in time for online conversations to discuss working patterns and support.
Their resilience will also be dependent on their home identity as much as it will their office identity. We are now needing teams to switch between roles as a worker and their home-life on a regular basis. Reinforcing the collective resilience of the remote team will bolster the personal resilience for the social situations organisations have no influence over – the role within the home.
As Susie explains: “What we know is that individuals go through this appraisal process. You can help people with that in terms of the questions you ask. You can ask if you can do anything about it.
“We can see that people often take their cue from others in groups. They have what’s called ‘common fate’.
“For example, if you are on the London Underground and smoke starts filling up your carriage, you’re not necessarily thinking, ‘do I have a resilient personality for this?’ What you tend to do is go to a sort of shared identity. You think, ‘what’s everyone else like me doing right now? What would be the best thing to do because we’re all in this together,’ and we all have to get through it.
“Collective resilience almost overrides a resilient personality type and the reality is that a person cannot be consistently resilient through their life.”
If leaders can frame the group identity in a way that supports resilience then it can help counter the significant shifts that are happening.
For example: let your team know that working 9-5 at the moment is an impossible expectation, or setting up a weekly ‘virtual coffee’ chat online so they can each share how they are managing home life alongside working.
How we support collective resilience in our organisations
1. Measure it
If we can measure the level of collective resilience within our teams then we know where to focus our efforts. Understanding that one team is further on their journey than another allows us to better support those who need it first. Likewise, measuring progress means you can step in if needed. Our Team Chemistry Tool measures resilience and 15 key dimensions within your team and works virtually.
2. Enable group conversations
We know that resilience is context-specific. How we work and identify with the group will lead to different responses. With that in mind, allow your teams the time and space to have conversations. If they are working remotely, you may need to facilitate this for them and set the boundaries for whether they need to attend.
3. Maintain team continuity and look to the future
Whilst adversity may change a lot of what we do and how we do it, our collective organisational or team identity will continue, and may even thrive as a result. Maintaining a strong sense of ‘us’ throughout will be a powerful motivator that keeps people focused on next steps and maintains a supportive and collegiate climate. This is a time where we really do have to drop the ‘I’ and look at the ‘we’. Not only will this improve productivity, but it’s also proven to directly support physical and mental wellbeing.
To help organisations at this time, we have produced 12 tips for how you can help your teams transfer into the virtual world of work. You can download it here.
You can listen to Susie Ballantyne talk in greater depth about collective resilience on this podcast by Aleph Insights.