New research on team resilience has useful insights for dealing with overload, fatigue and pressure. Let’s move away from the cute and cuddly to look at the latest research.
Updating a model of team effectiveness first identified by Weick in 1998, a recent article in the academy of management describes four components of resilient teams. One part has important insights for managing burnout in professionals.
Respectful Interaction is being able to voice ideas and thoughts - including potentially unfavourable and divergent views. It’s built on three factors. Respect, openness and connectedness. Research published just this month by Lee, Mazamanian and Perlow has shown these can be built through having a regular time to ask questions that take a personal interest in team members. Just fifteen minutes of structured conversation to build relationships made a difference. It’s such a simple thing, but we often don't make time to do it. It’s also faster than getting in and out of the crowded gym change room (so I’m told). Team members were asked to talk about their family, their hobbies and where they grew up. After 10 weeks respect, openness and connections all improved. It was IT and it was an Accounting firm so let’s keep that in mind, but the Partner did participate, there were Senior Consultants in the sample and it was a global professional services firm. What made it work was good old fashioned scripts specifying the questions to ask and when to ask them. Just telling leaders to “get to know their teams” or “ask if they are OK” doesn’t build respectful interaction.
The other three parts of resilient teams included Team Potency - the belief of a team that it can solve problems and meet demands. It requires passion, persistence, grit and openness to learning. Too little and there’s not enough self belief, too much and the team will be complacent. Mental Maps of roles, knowledge and skills that can be accessed quickly when the formal or normal ways of working aren’t going to achieve the result ensure the professionals know each other well enough to move quickly. Finally resilient teams need Improvisation to build new solutions from old pieces. Rehearsing scenarios and potential problems before they happen to respond to them efficiently. The professional team equivalent of making something quickly from the old parts in the back shed or for those outside Australia, the garage or the loft.
Employee burnout has been getting a lot of attention lately. I’m going to suggest that if a team doesn’t have respectful interaction, potency to get things done, mental maps of who can do what and the ability to improvise it won’t be too long before many members of the team start to experience burnout. For an individual burnout means three things - exhaustion, cynicism and doubt about your own performance. For a team of professionals motivated by achievement and having high levels of perfectionism with the occasional Narcissist in the mix it’s easy to see how the team dynamic can become relentless pursuit of goals that leads to exhaustion, a reduced ability to put things in perspective to the point where everything is criticised - including any attempt by a team member, leader or firm to assist with work life balance. It’s no wonder the firm sponsored yoga classes get such a cynical reaction. What better way to doubt your own performance than to work beside that oh so common combination of high achieving and perfectionistic Narcissist. It’s a long way from cute and cuddly.
What to do?
See your team dynamic as part of improving wellness. Pay attention to the behaviours that build respect, take an interest in others, learn their preferences and be open to share something about yourself. Use team planning time to build potency, mental maps and the ability to improvise.
Watch our for being cynical about your firm’s efforts to improve things. Use that analytical mind professionals are known for to see things from different perspectives and be open to giving it a try or find your own alternative. Basketball may not be your thing. Pick up that long lost guitar or just read a chapter of a novel at lunch. Better still ask a team member what they have been reading lately.
Try what works in the research and see if it works for you.
Lee, M., M. Mazmanian and L, Perlow (2019) Fostering Positive Relational Dynamics: The power of spaces and interaction scripts Academy of Management Journal (on-line in advance)
Stoverink, A., B. Kirkman, S. Mistry and B. Rosen (2018) Bounding Back Together: Towards a theoretical model of work team resilience Academy of Management Review (on-line in advance)
Schaufeli, W.B., Leiter, M and C. Maslach (2009) Burnout: 35 years of research and practice Career Development International 14:3 pp 204 - 220