Do you teams have the ability to bounce back? A lot can go wrong over the course of a project. There can be unexpected technology challenges, delays caused by change at the customer, people can leave teams for all sorts of reasons, and even project goals can change. And then there are all of the ‘unknown unknowns,’ those risks that don’t make it onto the risk management plan but turnout to be the most dangerous of all.

Some teams are able to bounce back from these challenges. They reconfigure, find new energy, uncover hidden resources and find a way forward. These are resilient teams. And they are the kind of teams we need in an uncertain environment.

The concept of resilience comes from ecology. “Resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly.” This depends on the system’s latitude, how far it can move away from its stable state; its resistance to getting pushed off balance; and just how precarious its current state is. Resilience also depends on how a system is integrated into larger organizations, the most resilient systems having loose couplings. They are past of the organization and can draw on its resources, but are not rigidly locked in.  The work of systems ecologist C.S. Holling goes deep into the qualities of resilient systems, see “Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems.”

Given its obvious benefits, why aren’t all teams designed to be resilient? The main reason is that resilience has costs and depends on redundancy. And redundancy is often something that gets designed out as organizations strive for efficiency.

“Do we really need to have an internal QA function if we can outsource it?”

“Jane can handle both the segment analysis and write the value messages, so let’s have her do both.”

“Security can be handled by embedding this inside our existing processes, we don’t need to spend on additional layers.”

Efficiency-Team-Resilience

Another force that works against resiliency is the desire to enforce string alignment to an organization’s goals and hierarchy. These controls can prevent a team from adapting to threats by changing its process or finding new people.

For teams there are five key ways to build resilience:

  • Make sure that there are overlapping skill sets on the team, do not design more maximum efficiency (this also helps to improve communication, even when the shared skills seem irrelevant to the project)
  • The team needs to have lots of overlapping connections (one way to do this is to make sure that some of the people on the team have worked together before)
  • The team needs to be open to new people and ideas (not everyone on the team should have worked together before)
  • People on the team need good connections outside the team (both inside the organization and outside)
  • Bench strength is important if the team is to respond quickly when it loses a person or new skills become necessary

Team Connections

Resilient teams also need a level of autonomy. They have to be able to reinterpret project goals (together with other stakeholders) and adjust their own processes to the task at hand. Project management offices, rather than mandating a specific process, should provide teams with the tools needed to develop a set of flexible processes, and be focused more on outcomes and principles, and less on detailed step-by-step process control.

TeamFit gives your teams additional resilience in three ways:

  • Deeper understanding of the full range of skills available within and around a team
  • Better team design based on an understanding of skills
  • Access to a bench that can step in and refresh the team’s skills
Want to know more about resilience in business? There is an excellent book by Andrew Zolli Resilience: Why Things Bounce back. Or if you want to go deeper into its roots in systems ecology, try Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems edited by Lance H. Gunderson and C.S. Holling.