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Boldly Unbounded in Team Resilience

boldly unbounded in team resilience


The Basics of Team Resilience

First, what the heck is team resilience? We hear the term all the time, but what does it really mean? Team resilience is when a team can bounce back from setbacks, adapt to change, and thrive during adversity.

You know, the things we face everyday 😉

Why you need it…

We’re shifting as a society—what we value, how we work and live, and the power structures that have shaped our world historically. What a riveting time to be alive! Yet with this shift, we’re facing unprecedented adversity.

We’re facing more changes, ambiguity, and power clashes than ever. And faster than ever. Resilience is no longer a nice to have. It’s fundamental for flourishing.

Research shows that resilient teams have higher health, performance, and productivity. So when you cultivate resilience in your team, you’ll create a ripple effect leading to a more resilient organization—and in a way that feels good for your team. Resilience becomes an antidote to burnout.

What Are the Characteristics of Team Resilience?

Here are 5 core characteristics of a resilient team:

  1. Effective Communication. You have open, honest, and effective communication channels—both synchronous and async— making it easy to share information, solve problems, and take action faster. This includes things like a team wiki, intentional 1:1s, and having a shared way of working as a team. As a result, it creates a sense of unity and trust among team members.

  2. Shared Mental Models. Resilient teams have resilient processes to define expectations, anticipate challenges, identify potential risks, and strategic decision-making, to name a few. They’re operating from shared mental models, so they can respond more effectively in adversity.

  3. Flexibility, like Improv. Adaptive teams are open to change. You can quickly pivot and respond to challenges or unexpected circumstances. Like doing improv, but in an organization. While change is constant, it’s key to balance change with stability for building resilience and preventing burnout. Shared mental models are one way. Another way is staying aligned with your values—personal and company.

  4. Supportive, Safe Culture. Resilient teams create a supportive environment and psychological safety where team members feel empowered to voice their opinions, ask for help, and collaborate. There is a deep sense of belonging, and you put remote-first systems in place to foster it every day.

  5. Balanced Leadership. As the leader, how you show up is arguably the most important of all. It supports the other four characteristics. You show up and lead with clarity, compassion, and confidence. With emotional intelligence. You also provide guidance and support during difficult situations, while also encouraging creativity and growth.


The Neurobiology Behind Building Deep Connections Within Teams

Feeling disconnected, or isolated, is a common challenge in the world of remote work. There aren’t as many organic moments to connect. Carve out time for it.

Why? Because connection is deeply rooted in our neurobiology. Our brains are wired to seek out connections and social interactions. So when you engage in meaningful connections with your team, your brains release oxytocin—a.k.a. "love hormone." This fosters trust, empathy, and bonding.

Our brains are also more likely to release dopamine—the "feel-good" neurotransmitter or the thing you feel when you get a like on social 🙃. The result? A boost in motivation and reduced stress. It improves overall wellbeing—hence the antidote to burnout—and it builds team cohesion and resilience during challenging times.

The Role of Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems

Let’s go deeper into biology for a moment. I promise it’ll make you a better leader… and you’ll love it because it’s utterly fascinating 🤩

Say hi 👋🏽 to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system—known for the fight or flight responses—often leads to a sense of urgency, defensiveness, or fear. The parasympathetic nervous system is known as the “rest and digest” system. It’s what allows you to relax, connect, and reenergize.

So what role do these systems play in resilient teams?

Stressful situations can activate the sympathetic nervous system. You might experience it before an important presentation, starting a new job, launching a new project, or getting a big initiative to the finish line. When good stress is in moderation and the short-term, it offers benefits to well-being, motivation, energy, and performance.

But when it comes to the long-term, the parasympathetic nervous system is vital. What’s at the center of it all? Compassion, according to professor Dacher Keltner’s research at UC Berkeley. Compassion activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and it creates trust, vulnerability, and connection.

So, let’s explore compassion for connection, shall we?


Action It: Compassion to Create Connection

One powerful activity you can try with your team is a compassionate listening activity. It helps build empathy and understanding towards one another, ultimately fostering a deeper sense of connection and trust within the team.

I facilitated this activity during a company retreat. We were a global startup, so the goal was to connect people across different cultures. The best part? It ended up being the highlight of the week for the entire team.

I still remember the conversation I had with my partner. It was profound. We were sitting in a container building in the middle of a jungle in Malaysia. Post-its were sprawled around the room from a brainstorming session, and we sat in a corner nervously deciding who should speak first.

We had never met in person before the retreat. The moment felt a bit awkward. Who would start?

I worried that we had nothing in common—he was an engineer in India and I was an operations manager in the US. I grew up in rural America, sheltered from the world. But I decided to lean into vulnerability.

I shared my story first—the journey of marrying my husband and overcoming the obstacles of an interracial, inter-religious, inter-caste, and international relationship. It wasn’t an easy story to tell. And what I learned was that he also had a similar journey. One of great love and great loss because his family never approved. Societal expectations limited him from that life. From the love of his life. I can still feel the heaviness in my heart thinking of his story and how the ending was so different from mine. Yet within the story, we shared similar trials, and I simultaneously feel a deep connection to him as I write this. Yet, we haven’t worked together for nearly a decade.

And after that activity? We talked more throughout the retreat. We collaborated more after the retreat was done. We shared ideas. Gave feedback. Brainstormed. That 30-minute conversation created a connection that helped us work better together. And not just us, the entire team.

Here are the steps to facilitate it:

  1. Gather your team in a comfortable setting (think a cool spot during a company retreat or in Zoom breakout rooms), and pair them up with a partner. The less they know the person, the better. Each pair will take turns being the speaker and the listener.

  2. The speaker shares a personal story or experience that is important to them, while the listener’s role is to actively listen without interruption or judgment. It’s up to the speaker to share what they feel comfortable sharing.

  3. As the speaker shares their story, the listener practices compassionate listening. It involves focusing on the speaker's words, body language, and emotions. The listener can also mirror the speaker's body language to create a sense of connection and understanding.

  4. After the speaker has shared their story, the listener can reflect back on what they heard to confirm understanding. The listener can also guess what the speaker's values might be and confirm with the speaker.

  5. Switch and repeat.

My challenge for you is to find time within the next month to lead this activity with your team. Have questions? Hit reply and let me know.

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