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Why empathy, humility and creativity build better teams

An extract from a new book lists the best behavioural indicators of team resilience and success

One of the clearest measures of resilience is whether a team can complete what needs to be done and take the hills that have been set as objectives
One of the clearest measures of resilience is whether a team can complete what needs to be done and take the hills that have been set as objectives (Pexels)

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We first took note of resilience as a recurring theme during research calls and focus groups the GFTW Institute hosted with members of World 50, one of our earliest partners. Through the focus group discussions, in particular, we heard the clear need for companies to be able to diagnose team stressors and co-create solutions.

At the time, many of the teams Keith was coaching were severely beaten up by the stress of the pandemic. Their leaders were feeling severely depleted, some with tears in their eyes. When Keith sought out more information about team resilience, however, he discovered that workplace resources are usually oriented more around the mental and emotional well-being of individuals.

At the GFTW Institute, we enlisted the help of WW and Headspace, two of the most prominent and passionate brands in the category of workplace wellness, to conduct more interviews around the phenomenon of team resilience. That’s when we discovered that the same relational dynamics that generate high team performance are also critical to the team resilience required to maintain such high performance.

Also read: Why the great return to office is more challenging than expected

In particular, teams that rated highly for co-elevation were also more resilient. The team members were more able to voice their needs, solve problems quickly and collaboratively, and get to bolder action faster. The team culture was resilient, in that the lack of defensiveness or insecurity among team members permitted those with problems to raise their hands and ask for help.

Next we partnered with LHH’s Mary-Clare Race and Taryn Marie Stejskal, founder and chief resilience officer at the Resilience Leadership Institute. Our intention was to develop new insights on team-based resilience that would complement all the great work being done on personal resilience, such as Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research. We took note of observable actions and behaviors within teams when assessing resilience (as opposed to trying to measure individual thinking and attitudes) and determined that the following team behaviors are the most reliable diagnostic indicators of team resilience.

Performance: Is the team achieving its targets? One of the clearest measures of resilience is whether a team can complete what needs to be done and take the hills that have been set as objectives. Are deadlines being missed? Is the quality of work suffering, or are normal key performance indicators moving in the wrong direction?

Candor: This key indicator of team efficacy is also an important indicator of team resilience. Are team members able to have open and honest dialogue and feedback with each other? The members of nonresilient teams cannot speak truth to each other or collectively identify and decrypt the challenges they face. A lack of candor reflects a lack of trust, a signature of a breakdown in resilience. Instead of candor, people denigrate each other in whispers or offer leaders unsolicited, unflattering reviews of team members. In its worst manifestations, you may have team members bullying or controlling others.

Resourcefulness: When faced with challenges or problems, do your team members build creative and effective solutions together? Resourceful teams devote their energy to solutions and remain focused on outcomes, regardless of external conditions. Teams lacking in resilience tend to waste time dwelling on the unfairness of a task or complaining about the amount of work needed to find a solution. They will wallow in doubt about the purpose of the task, while more resilient teams will express those doubts, work through them, and then develop solutions at a much higher velocity.

Compassion and empathy: Do your team members truly care for each other and share both successes and failures? Resilient teams are made of members who care deeply and genuinely about each other. It is impossible to marshal the collective resilience of a team if there is an absence of care or a lack of commitment to sharing equally in both successes and failures. Resilience is often expressed in deep commitment to co-elevating the team rather than seeking individual recognition or success.

Humility and vulnerability: Can your team members ask for and accept help from other team members? Teams that lack resilience struggle to admit when a problem has become intractable, and the members hesitate to ask for help either from someone else on the team or from someone else in the organization. Problems tend to become hidden, and responsibility for finding solutions obscured.

Productive perseverance: Can your team change its heading but maintain its goal? What Taryn describes as productive perseverance is the capacity to adjust and fluidly navigate between maintaining the mission and shifting in a new direction. Teams without resilience struggle to change course when circumstances demand it and stick rigidly to a plan, or they change course and lose sight of their goal.

Also read: Do workplace mental health programmes go beyond lip service?

Grati-osity: Can your team reflect with grati-osity, that is, with gratitude and generosity? Taryn coined this word to describe an ability to combine gratitude and generosity. The gratitude comes in when teams reflect to see the good in the challenge and how it changed them for the better, even if they wouldn’t have chosen it. The generosity is in sharing these stories openly, rather than simply doling out advice, so that others may learn from the experience. Teams without resilience avoid reflection or default to blame.

Positive intent: Is your team’s mindset to assume best intent? This final behavior is a mindset or perspective: remember to assume positive intent across team members. Individuals may be undergoing personal problems or experiencing stress in ways you may not understand. By believing that your team is doing the best it can, you can communicate support, patience, and empathy. Rather than assuming a team member didn’t complete a task, ask if you might have missed an email or a document, or ask how you can collaborate with or support the individual. A great way for a team to monitor its resilience levels is to run a form of this diagnostic at a monthly meeting through CPS (collaborative problem-solving). Imagine a two-stage CPS, beginning by compiling a list of the stressors facing the business, then a second stage to collaborate at speed to define practical solutions. Adapting CPS to the team resilience diagnostic in this way makes the most of CPS’s baked-in benefits—full team engagement with ownership of team problems and their cocreated solutions.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Competing in the New World of Work: How Radical Adaptability Separates the Best from the Rest by Keith Ferrazzi, Kian Gohar, and Noel Weyrich. Copyright 2022 Ferrazzi Greenlight Inc. All rights reserved.


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