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Team resilience

As a way of beginning an exploration of how you can build more resilience into teams we’re going to use a sporting metaphor to get us started. It’s the 2012 Olympic Games in the UK. The Chinese men’s team are about to compete in the final of the canoe slalom doubles. As you watch their progress down the course, bear in mind the amount of preparation that these athletes will have done to be able to compete at this level. They’re racing down a challenging course that was especially created for the 2012 Olympics of Lee Valley. 13000L of water per second crashed down the course, creating foaming towers or bubbling sunken cauldrons for the athletes to navigate successfully as they race down the course marked with the suspended poles that are hung across the water. Each team member has dedicated years to preparing for this challenge. They’ve undoubtedly worked with coaches, psychologists, physiotherapists, nutritionists, and probably also consulted with former Olympians and countless other mentors and guides. And if you think about the work we have done so far on resilience, we can draw a parallel here with the approach we have taken to get you ready, and make you more resilient for the challenges ahead.

In a sense, the hypothesis is that to be ready to work in the current challenging environment of health and social care, you will need to build the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual resources to navigate the resource sapping terrain that lies ahead of you. Whilst we think that this is a sound hypothesis for your personal development, when it comes to your role in building team resilience, it only leads to a conclusion that your role is to help others prepare similarly to build their energy resources for the challenging course ahead. This is probably a reality, but what this approach doesn’t do is to encourage you to take a step back to examine if the course really has to be so tough and demanding.

Think about this course at Lee Valley. It is entirely man-made. Every channel and gully, every litre of water, every suspended pole, every rule, every penalty is there precisely to produce the challenges that are wanted. For example, the course that Lee Valley includes a system of large concrete blocks and these are what create the crushing, boiling, gurgling disturbances in the flow of the water that challenges the athletes. If you change one of the blocks you can get the water to behave entirely differently. So, question is, what can you do in your role to create the conditions where your team members and colleagues are not required to be so resilient? As you scan the environment of your forthcoming challenges, where do you have an opportunity to change just one of the blocks; for example, what can you do to remove the blocks that impose negative consequences for people with disabilities or from a black and minority ethnic background? What can you do to revise the rules, remove the penalties, adapt the routines and the rituals to enable others to survive and thrive?