Building Effective Resilience

How high performing teams perform under pressure and lead.

February 2, 2021

3 min read


One of the most remote places you can go to in New Zealand is the Catlins. Located on the South Island and described as "The hidden gem, a place of natural beauty, abundant wildlife, forests, beaches. and waterfalls and rolling farmlands."

Below is a picture of another hidden gem in Catlins on a farm in Slope Point, approximately 24 km from Waikawa.

In 2002 the Highlanders Rugby team spent a week in the Catlins. Our coach at the time was former All Blacks player and Coach Laurie Mains. Laurie had a reputation for being a hard taskmaster, and he did not disappoint. Mental toughness was one of the critical values for the Highlanders and proving you would never give up especially when it came to a gruelling Laurie Mains fitness special. Without going into too much detail, It was the only time I have observed senior All Blacks nearly faint! I lasted till the end, and we were all rewarded with a BBQ, Seafood-Kaimoana and good old speights.

A study published by Harvard in 2019 surveyed 2,000 NCAA Coaches to understand their perspective on how to build resilient teams and compared this perspective with team leaders in business and industries. Four key aspects were in this article and are relatable to my experiences in winning teams and exceptionally high performing organisations.

1. Teams share a mental model of teamwork

Teams that prepared well knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. Teams that go through adversity understand their roles and the process to think and act. When a problem exists in sports, you only have a split second to make that decision. Knowing every team member and how they engage and learn is key to sharing the mental challenges, especially when you’re behind the scoreboard!

2. Effective Collaboration in challenging situations

Resilient teams dig in when the tough gets going! Deep diving into each other’s lives and becoming vulnerable with each other build’s team morale and collaboration. The Graham Henry coached All Blacks team in the lead up to the 2011 World Cup is an example of team resilience through changing culture and leadership. The Michael Jordan era with the Chicago Bulls and the late Kobe Bryant LA Lakers and Alex Ferguson Manchester United Football team are examples of collaboration through trial and error and sustaining success.  These teams highlight effectively working together in being confident and in the high-performance zone to perform on cue. Their results speak for themselves and in what they achieved as a team.

3. Adaptability and Improvising

Charles Darwin theory of evolution stated that species survival is due to adapting

to the environment.  Adapt or die is a common phrase, and so for teams to compete and survive. The world is in a one in the hundred-year event with Covid19 virus impacting millions of people across the globe. Governments are adapting to counter the long term impact and planning to protect the economy and the lives of their people. Sports teams competitions, for example, the NRL National Rugby League in Australia and the Super Rugby Aotearoa adapted successfully. Many Businesses are limiting their marketing and training of their people who may harm long term growth. Businesses who pivot their business and are aggressive will survive.

4. Trust

Every team is different, and building teams into high performing ones can challenge the manager, team leaders, even the CEO. There are many factors in scaffolding a group of individuals. From personal responsibility and understanding your crucial role, to knowing your teammates will do the same for you. Teams build trust through experiences, especially in failure and even in the current Covid19 crisis. The process is a layering of blood, sweat, and tears and open dialogue to listen with empathy, respect and speaking openly without finger-pointing or blaming individuals when things are not right. Culture is that invisible force which brings in people together and collectively works as a team. To understand their purpose to create trust which filters through to on and off the field success.

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