The only constant in today’s organizations is an unprecedented amount of change. Most of the senior teams that we work with are navigating constant, overwhelming, seemingly never-ending change. Often this change is due to market forces. Equally often it comes in the form of internal re-organizations or massive digital transformations. Even among these shifting sands and alternating winds, leadership teams need to find ways to deliver on aggressive plans and strategies, and to somehow find time to plan for the future.

We have found that high performing teams – those able to more successfully navigate this change, demonstrate behaviors that allow them to systematically deliver on even their stretch goals.These 15 behaviors, delineated in our Leadership Team Performance Index (LTPITM), enable the team to collectively rise above and do more together than they can achieve as individuals.

The potency of resilience

While all of these behaviors can contribute to a team’s success, there is one we have observed that may represent the highest leverage point for teams that have to persevere or accelerate through change and turmoil: Resilience. We define resilience for teams as “being calm, steady, resolute, and focused in times of challenge or crisis; agile and adaptive in times of change.” This powerful ability of the team to keep itself calm and agile, also allows the team to help other teams in the organization stay focused and on task. Being able to draw on that strength and bend rather than break with the swirl, gives the team the tools it needs to manage their day to day while also keeping an eye on the long view.

A glimpse into turmoil

We recently worked with a senior leadership team at a global manufacturing company that is amidst overwhelming change. The team’s function – global data and analytics – is a critical function for the rest of the organization, providing information and insights that help line leaders make better business decisions in order for the overall enterprise to sustain growth. The team is lean and under-resourced and has been operating under significant strain as a technology upgrade promised two years ago still has not happened. Their band-aid and back-of-the-envelope systems are failing from the weight of sheer volume and inadequacy. The entire team has been regularly working nights and weekends for two years to try to catch up and maintain the work load. The pace is unsustainable, and that ‘life-saving’ technology solution is still several years away. At the same time overall business growth is demanding exponentially more support. They were at a crossroads, trying to figure out how to pull together and create a workable, more inspiring situation and deliver on their mission to support the organization in its growth and expansion.

Putting resilience into action

In working with this team, we focused immediately on the theme of resilience. The team has some core strengths in this area, but also has opportunities to develop the capabilities to leverage calm and agility to make their lives more manageable, and the situation more tenable so the team doesn’t burn out or, in the worst case, leave the company. Here are four actions we recommended for the team to leverage their resilience to keep them on course: they are a great place to start if your team is looking to steady the course.

  1. Look for the laughter. One of the behaviors under resilience is “the team maintains a sense of humor even when things aren’t going well.” The ability for a team to laugh at themselves and their situation is critical to avoid getting bogged down or off track. It’s not always easy and requires a determined effort by the team to maintain this perspective. This is one area the data and analytics team has strengths, and they continue to rely on humor as a steadying force.
  1. Take your eyes off the grand prize. The “big hairy goal” at the culmination of a significant change – in the case of our team, it’s the new technology upgrade – can distract and derail in the face of its seemingly impossible nature. Instead, a focus on the small steps and interim progress provides equilibrium and momentum. This doesn’t mean losing sight of the grand prize, but success, and even survival, requires finding a way to improve the environment on an ongoing basis. We helped the data and analytics team focus on figuring out what they can do to continue to serve their internal customers while creating a more humane environment. They identified a number of smaller actions and incremental improvements they can do right now to build positive momentum in the face of this taxing situation.
  1. Say no. A key element of navigating the churn is learning to push back and say no to unrealistic or non-value added demands. This taps another behavior of a high-performing team – that of Courage, and a willingness to challenge the ideas of people in power. In the case of the data and analytics team, it was in their nature to say yes, given their role to support the business. We worked with them to figure out how to re-contract with their internal customers and find a way to stop accepting any and all requests indiscriminately. They have found that by appropriately challenging requests they were able to save time and to better support their business partners. Increasingly they are engaging in collaborative dialogs with their internal clients to understand, asking “Do you really need all of this information and do you really need it in this time frame? What problem are you really trying to solve? Let’s engage together to figure out what you really need and when.”
  1. Fight against the status quo, together. A companion to learning to saying no, is to challenge assumptions about how things are done. In a situation of overwhelming change, something has to give. Questioning past ways of doing things is critical lever to finding a new way forward that mitigates the churn. The key to doing that successfully is in collaboration with those impacted and involved in what the team is doing. High performing teams draw on the facet of Curiosity to bring in stakeholders to think differently about how they are doing things, “interacting regularly with customers and others outside the organization to challenge their assumptions and thinking.” The data and analytics team leveraged the collaborative dialogs they started to have with stakeholders to rethink not just what kinds of information and when, but whether there is an entirely new approach and alternative solution to achieve their broader goals.

As the data and analytics has discovered, it is possible to navigate and create success in even the most tumultuous environments, through the power of resilience.

For more on the challenge of leading through turmoil, read this blog post.

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