When it hits the fan, what’s the plan? How to build resilience into your team and your business

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

resilient teamIn my last blog, I explored the topic of resilient leadership and put forward some ideas for how small business owners can develop this valuable skill within themselves. Now, let’s widen the focus and look at how you can build a more resilient team and work ‘bounce-back’ strategies into your business.

Become a ‘supermodel’
As a leader, you can’t really make demands about how your employees live their lives or change their mindset. What you can do is openly discuss the importance of resilience and model this quality for them. It’s not exactly ‘monkey-see, monkey do’, but your team observes the way you work, make decisions, communicate, manage relationships, handle feedback and respond to adversity every day. You are influencing not only how they work now, but also their future leadership style.

I mentor my business coaching clients to encourage and model the following behaviours to build resilience in their team members:

  • Play to your strengths
    A strengths-based approach to leadership leads to a more confident, engaged and committed team. When team members know and play to their strengths, it increases their confidence in their ability to do the job right. This also leads to a greater sense of control (which we know from my last blog (link) increases resilience).This VIA survey will give you and your team an idea of where your character strengths lie. Encourage your employees to take the survey with you. Lead a discussion on what everyone’s top 5 strengths are. Do they agree with their results? Do their colleagues? Brainstorm ideas for how each teammate’s superpowers can be harnessed and leveraged in your business. Make it an open and safe discussion where everyone leaves their job title (and ego) at the door.


  • Know your purpose
    Your team is trying to run a many-legged race. With no clear collective purpose, you may all run in different directions causing the whole thing to fall over. With a shared vision in place, people will notice when they have lost their way and more easily redirect themselves back on track. Make sure that you clearly communicate your objectives to your team and try to get each person’s ‘buy in’.It is also important that all team members understand the contribution made by each of their co-workers. Be sure to pass on client compliments and celebrate wins at meetings, via staff newsletters or by email. Send office-bound workers to visit job sites to observe the efforts of their team mates and witness the impact of their own. It is motivating to fully understand why you are working so hard.


  • Build strong ties
    There are few elements of resilience more important than a sense of belonging. Nurturing strong ties in your team helps to create a group ‘identity’ that promotes loyalty, trust, honesty and good communication. It is what makes a group work together on a problem, rather than taking an ‘every man for himself’ approach to adversity. Team building exercises are great for promoting positive employee relationships. Facing a non-work challenge helps staff to learn more about each other and discover common ground.


  • Communicate well
    Effective team communication requires honesty, trust and respect. These things feed off each other. Model good communication skills by being approachable and making sure that you share key information with your staff in a clear and open way. You are showing that you trust them by being honest with them and that promotes mutual respect.


  • Feast on feedback
    Feedback is essential to continuous improvement. The ability to give and receive constructive criticism is, admittedly, a bit of an artform. As a leader, make it safe to be vulnerable by setting the example. Actively seek out feedback from your team and deliver your own with kindness and void of personal criticism. Once you establish trust, your team will feel more confident contributing to the ‘feedback culture’ you have established.


  • Admit your mistakes
    Since we cannot hit ‘ctrl + z’ and magically undo our mistakes, the next best thing is taking responsibility for them. Resilient leaders openly admit when they’ve missed the mark and chalk it up to experience. Your team should feel able to disclose their own errors of judgement without fear of retribution. Instead, encourage them to see it as an opportunity to think creatively and find a resolution.


  • Champion change
    Change is not always bad, but it is almost always uncomfortable. Being able to sit with your own discomfort is a key to resilience; it allows you to notice it, acknowledge it and let it go.You must become a ‘champion’ of change for your team. In tougher times, you will be their barometer for whether or not things are going to be OK. Keep a cool head and reframe ‘change’ as ‘transformation’ and everyone else will naturally follow suit.Another way your team can build resilience is to learn to accept changes beyond their control. These are the moments where they will need you to be a flexible leader who can demonstrate how best to adapt to the new situation.


Business Resilience
Heading off the things that could go wrong in your business is, of course, very important. Having a risk management plan focuses on mitigating risk and what to do in the moments immediately following an unavoidable impact to ensure the safety of your employees. That’s a great start, but resilience is about how well you get back to ‘business as usual’ and sometimes how you adapt to a new situation and evolve.

Your business needs to be able to continue to operate in some capacity throughout this process. This is why I mentor my Tenfold clients to develop a continuity plan.

When designing your continuity plan, you should consider the following things:

  • Keep it simple – you are operating during a time of stress, so your plan must be easy to implement.
  • Have it accessible in any scenario – keep a copy of the plan off site (in case of fire, flood or IT crash etc).
  • Plan for a few key scenarios – you cannot possibly plan for every eventuality, but there are a few obvious crises that you can consider. Natural disasters, staffing issues, loss of IT, loss of key clients etc
  • Test the plan – once you have come up with these plans, test them regularly and ensure that staff are aware of their role in your ‘bounce-back’ strategy
  • Cross-skill staff – use the ‘hit by a bus’ framework to make sure at least one other staff member can ‘step into’ each key role within your business. That is, if someone in your business was suddenly unavailable, you must know who will be able to take over that function and have detailed process manuals on hand which they can follow.

What if ‘back to normal’ never comes?
Risk management and continuity plans are often great at covering off the scenarios from which your business can ‘bounce-back’ completely, but what can you do if that isn’t possible? There are some scenarios where whole communities face permanent change (the September 11 attacks in New York for example). In these scenarios you may have to quickly change your business strategy or even adapt your product or services in order to survive. This is where your groundwork in developing your personal and team-level resilience will really pay off.

Shake it off
No one likes to spend too much time worrying about what might go wrong. A resilient team plus a well-designed continuity plan will add up to a whole lot less thought-load. You can work away at your business, safe in the knowledge that if the worst does happen, you can continue to trade, serve your customers and take care of your team. Phew!