This year has been marred indelibly by market uncertainties across the globe, economic downturns, and continuing social disruptions in the wake of the pandemic outbreak. All of which have brought into sharper focus the need for resilience at an individual, organizational and industry level, as a means to effecting economic recovery. Analysts and institutional thought leaders such as Accenture, PwC and Egon Zehnder have undertaken surveys and published reports underscoring its importance, with prescriptions and frameworks to enhance it on the ground.
This consistency of emphasis across the board does make it easier for organizations to hone in on a particular trait or two, as regards human capital investment. But when it comes to resilience, there are two specific aspects that need attention, before one proceeds to interventions. The first relates to the way we tend to understand the concept itself. Resilient individuals, and by corollary, teams, are those that cope well with adversity, show perseverance throughout, and are able to recover from the disruptive events by employing adaptive processes. There are clearly two parts to the construct. Yet, in most discussions in the workplace context, the emphasis is squarely on the gritty first part, which is arduous, taxing and ultimately unpleasant. But the fact is that if focused interventions are be truly effective, they’d need to focus equally on the italicized part – fostering hope, optimism and positivity across the talent base. Without this, the experience of skill-building continues to be fraught with the stress and anxiety already present in people’s lives – not a respite from them.
The understanding that resilience isn’t some simple, monolithic concept but one that inherently contains complexities and nuances – leads in turn to some additional key questions that deserve our attention. For instance, what is the conceptual relationship between individual-level and team-level resilience? What is the relationship between behaviours, organizational resources and processes? Can processes in the workplace – and not just people – be resilient? What individual factors are associated with resilience at the team level?
In April 2020, a team of researchers spearheaded by Angelique Hartwig, at the Alliance Manchester Business School in England undertook a systematic review, to seek answers to precisely these questions. Insights from their much-needed study provide us with a clear, tangible means of operationalizing team resilience, by examining new ways in which teams can improve their adversity management in the workplace. What has emerged is a more comprehensive, multilevel understanding, which considers a dynamic view of team resilience, and the inter-dependencies between team and individual resilience.
The study findings can be summarized in the following 9 insights:
- The resources of individual team members, e.g. team orientation, expertise, and communication skills, are positively correlated to resilient team processes. As the latter are calibrated to boost employee trust, confidence and resilience, the former too get a boost.
- Team members’ resilience is positively linked to resilient team processes. The above relationship holds at the individual level as well.
- Team-level resources, e.g. the interpersonal relationship between team members, as well as team culture, are positively related to resilient team processes.
- Transformational leadership, wherein a leader engages with teams to identify change required, guide the teams through inspiration, and implements the change in close coordination with the teams, is positively related to resilient team processes.
- Resilient team behaviour consists of core team processes, including cooperation, coordination, and communication, as well as minimizing, managing, and behaviours that facilitate mending or healing, during as well as following adverse events.
- Resilient team processes, e.g. minimizing, managing and mending behaviours, are positively correlated with post-adversity team functioning. The more deeply integrated and effective these processes are in the first instance, prior to a crisis, the smoother the team’s ability to bounce back later on, and the faster their likelihood of doing so.
- Team-level attributes, such as team identity, shared views and mental outlook, team trust, collective efficacy, cohesion, and psychological safety, are all positively related to resilient team processes (minimizing, managing and mending behaviours).
- Resilience at a team level is demonstrated by a team’s trajectory following the exposure to an adverse event – including its persistence under pressure, its pace and extent of recovery, growth of functioning, performance or health, following the crisis.
- Team resilience is positively, reciprocally related to individual resilience. Therefore, while it’s possible for two individuals within a team, each high on resilience, to be at loggerheads with each other, at an aggregate level, the resilience level of the team tends to be higher, the greater the level of resilience at an individual level.
By definition, resilience is contextual, since it depends on a specific crisis or situation of adversity. Even so, the study shows that in general, the degree of deterioration in functioning as a result of the crisis, as well as the time needed to recover from adversity – are both important indicators of team resilience. Viewed in this way, the measure of resilience becomes a metric on a continuous scale, along which teams vary, depending on their resilience trajectory. The more time a team needs to recover from adversity, the less resilient they’re likely to be. Similarly, the more that team functioning is disrupted by an adverse event, the less resilient the team is are against its impact.
And with this deeper level of understanding, the stage is now set for interventions.