Team Resilience

Autumn 2016 saw the beginning of an action research project in co-operation with Howell’s Ashridge colleagues Kathleen King and John Higgins. Initially they worked with teams from a hospital emergency department, a qualification awarding body, and a hospice.

They set out to understand more about how team resilience differs from individual resilience. Individual resilience has been well researched over the years in many different settings, for example George Bonanno’s work on bereavement, Werner and Smith’s studies of disadvantaged families in Hawaii and Yates, Egeland and Sroufe’s insights into the importance of experiences in the early years. The events of 2020 have led to increased attention to individual resilience; team resilience has been much less widely studied, though there are stimulating contributions from Morgan, Fletcher and Sarkar from their studies of sports teams and from Jill Flint-Taylor at Ashridge Business School.

Howell, Kathleen and John sought insights into:

  • Are resilient teams more than groups of resilient individuals?
  • What factors or processes lead to team resilience?
  • What are some of the practical steps involved?
  • How does team resilience affect team performance?

Some clues emerged: the importance of boundaries, and how under pressure we can lose sight of what is and is not appropriate behaviour; the importance of workload management and the difference between ‘let’s see what we can do’ and ‘you will just have to cope’; and there is definitely something helpful about social capital! The team’s findings were published in early 2018 in this report on research into team resilience from, the management and leadership journal published in association with Duke University. Research continued through 2018 and 2019, with four factors coming to the fore:

  • Psychological safety: an area so thoughtfully developed by Amy Edmondson: how safe do we feel to say what we really think?
  • A sense of agency: do we feel that we can take action and make a difference?
  • Social capital: is there a pool of goodwill within the team that we can draw upon in testing times?
  • Social process: do we have understood ways of negotiating different objectives and priorities?

As 2021 arrives we continue to look for other teams to work with on this stimulating and important topic, particularly looking at the question: How might a resilient team develop its relationships with other teams, to reduce the temptations of ‘them and us’?


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