3 ways to build your team’s shield of resilience

Struggling employee is comforted by a colleague

Assembling a team of resilient individuals doesn’t make a resilient team.


In an era of ‘getting more from less’[1], many people now work in a fast-paced, pressurised and constantly changing work environment. Because of these increased demands, developing people’s resilience is vitally important. But, organisations that only focus on developing individual resilience are missing a trick.

Just like individuals, teams need to be able to handle pressure, overcome challenges and bounce back from adversity. Research shows that a team’s health and performance can plummet when faced with adversity, even if it is made up of highly resilient individuals [2]. For example, they can still suffer from breakdowns in communication, an inability to manage conflict effectively, lack insight into how the team works together best in tough conditions, fail to hold one another accountable or support each other when in need. For teams to stay healthy and perform well in this volatile working environment, they need to be able to develop their team level resilience.

Just like individuals, teams need to be able to handle pressure, overcome challenges and bounce back from adversity.

What is team resilience?

Team resilience refers to a team’s ability to absorb, cope with and recover from pressures, challenges or adversity[3]. Resilient teams outperform those who are not because of their ability to both handle and thrive on pressure[4].

Resilience acts like a shield, protecting the team from the potential negative effects of shared pressure and disruptions the team may face. It enables them to improvise, adapt and recover in challenging times[5]. But, team resilience is much more than weathering or surviving a storm and coming out all battered, bruised and broken. Any team can do that. To be a truly resilient, high performing team, they must sustain or even improve their performance and come out the other side with their cohesion, health and resources intact.

Our research has revealed 3 key strategies to help teams build their shield of resilience:

1. Create a purpose that inspires during tough times

Creating a team’s reason for existence involves connecting to people’s purpose, cause or belief that inspires them to do the work they do [6]. A clear and meaningful purpose drives and guides the way team members think, act and communicate. When a team is clear on its purpose and inspired by why it exists, they can make better decisions under time pressure, information overload and ambiguity.

Think about your team: Is your team clear on what gets its members to come to work? Do you have a purpose that people deeply believe in, agree on, and are personally motivated by? If not, work with your team to create a purpose that means something to them. This clarity will inspire the team to push on in darker moments and help them deal better with setbacks.

2. Show teammates ‘I’ve got your back’

Back-up from teammates and the team leader is critical for helping the team to perform under pressure [7]. This involves recognising the signs that a teammate is stretched and offering support with their work. These gestures not only help teammates who are struggling but also contribute to boosting team morale and making the team more efficient.

Think about your team: Does your team value support from one another? If not, as a leader, role model the actions you want to see. Offer support to members of your team when you can see they are stretched or go out of your way to acknowledge other members of the team when you see them doing the same.

3. See adversity as a time for learning

The most resilient teams view disruptive or challenging events as opportunities for learning, and failures as a chance to evaluate how the team does things.[8][9][10].Seeing challenging events as an opportunity for learning allows teams to confront their failures head-on because they know that the knowledge they’ll gain from the experience will help them succeed in the future [11]..







Start up team planning

Think about your team:

To develop a culture of team learning, facilitate team meetings so that the team reflects on what went well and what didn’t, what they learned or what benefits were gained from the situation.

Team resilience is just one of the elements that high performing teams share. Read more about what separates high performing teams from those that simply function in our latest white paper, What gives teams the edge?


[1] Robertson, I. T., Cooper, C. L., Sarkar, M., & Curran, T. (2015). Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88(3), 533-562.

[2] Bowers, C., Kreutzer, C., Cannon-Bowers, J., & Lamb, J. (2017). Team Resilience as a SecondOrder Emergent State: A Theoretical Model and Research Directions. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1360.

[3] Alliger, G. M., Cerasoli, C. P., Tannenbaum, S. I., & Vessey, W. B. (2015). Team resilience. Organizational Dynamics, 44, 176

[4] Jones, G. and Moorhouse, A. (2008). Developing Mental Toughness: Gold Medal Strategies for Transforming Your Business Performance. Oxford: Spring Hill.

[5] Meneghel, I., Salanova, M., & Martínez, I. M. (2016). Feeling good makes us stronger: How team resilience mediates the effect of positive emotions on team performance. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(1), 239-255.

[6] Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin.

[7] Bowers, C., Kreutzer, C., Cannon-Bowers, J., & Lamb, J. (2017). Team Resilience as a SecondOrder Emergent State: A Theoretical Model and Research Directions. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1360.

[8] Barnett, C. K., and Pratt, M. G. (2000). From threat-rigidity to flexibility-Toward a learning model of autogenic crisis in organizations. J. Organ. Change Manage. 13, 74–88. doi: 10.1108/09534810010310258

[9] Jackson, S. E., and Dutton, J. E. (1988). Discerning threats and opportunities. Adm. Sci. Q. 370–387. doi: 10.2307/2392714

[10] Weick, K. E., and Sutcliffe, K. M. (2006). Mindfulness and the quality of organizational attention. Organ. Sci. 17, 514–524. doi: 10.1287/orsc.1060.0196

[11] Morgan, P. B., Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2015). Understanding team resilience in the world’s best athletes: A case study of a rugby union World Cup winning team. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, 91-100.