Team resilience: the power of strong relationships

8 May 2018

Team resilience: the power of strong relationships

Team resilience: the power of strong relationships

Whether you want to cross the Atlantic in a rowing boat or succeed in business life, it’s not enough to just create a strong team. Your team needs to recover quickly in the face of crises, too. In this blog post Nikolaj Juul Jakobsen, a research associate working on the Heads Together and Row project, explores some of the characteristics that help build a resilient team.

In a competitive, complex, and changing world, a team’s ability to get back on their feet together every time life knocks them over is crucial to their performance, health, and survival. This applies not just in the world of sports but in business life, too.

From Surviving to Thriving

Team resilience can be defined as a group’s capacity to emerge from adversities more resourceful and stronger than they were before.

But what characterises teams that have the ability to bounce back to a higher level of performance after facing high-pressure situations? How can these characteristics be cultivated and developed in a team? This is where the research behind team resilience becomes most relevant.

Why resilient teams succeed – The power of strong relationships

Until today, most research in the field has focused on individual resilience. But it is important to note that having resilient individuals in a team does not guarantee a high level of that same quality reflected by a team as a unit. Because unlike individual resilience, team resilience is to a high degree affected by group dynamics and the quality of the interactions between the team members.

That is why many scholars and researchers today consider favourable relationships within the team as a crucial element that helps the team overcome challenges and adversity together. When researchers examine the relationships among those in resilient teams in detail, some of the common characteristics they find include: strong social support, high-quality connections, and positive communication and interactions among the team members. As a result of these, the team is more organised and prepared to cope with challenges and recover from obstacles - together.

Situational awareness - Handling environmental factors

But cultivating strong relationships within a team is not necessarily enough to build a team’s ability to handle or recover from a crisis. This makes sense, given the fact that no company or sports team operates in isolation. Factors that exist in the external environment should also be considered when it comes to building team resilience.

By learning to be aware of and attend to environmental issues in a timely manner that affect the team’s performance, team members can make more informed decisions and actions in critical and stressful situations. Whether it’s battling giant waves in the Atlantic Ocean or political decisions that affect a company’s strategy.

Adequate training and preparation – train as you fight, fight as you train

Finally, several researchers point to the fact that a team’s ability to respond to a crisis can be improved by comprehensive preparation and training in contexts that reassemble real-world scenarios. Strengthening the team’s ability to face problems and adapt during high-pressure situations ensures that the members are “on the same wavelength” when they are faced with adversity and can work as a cohesive group.

Since team resilience still remains relatively understudied, there are a lot of remaining questions to be asked and answered. However, we do know that characteristics like strong relationships, situational awareness and adequate training and preparation can be instilled in team members and developed over time. Building the team’s resilience before they need it.

To lay the groundwork for further research on this topic at Henley Business School, we are very happy to be working with Heads Together and Row to explore different elements of resilience. In a research project that will run into 2019, we will explore how different psychological and physiological resilience markers are linked together, what role sleep plays in maintaining resilience, and how the overall team develops and sustains resilience building up to and during their big challenge. 

Over the next few months we will share with you our latest research insights. Stay tuned!