What makes teams resilient

The six factors of team resilience

We need strong teams! Teams that are capable of surviving crises. Team resilience can make this possible. But what lies behind this concept? Find out more about the 6 factors of team resilience and the persolog Team Resilience Model.

When you start delving into a new topic, it is important to first familiarize yourself with the definitions of key terms. This is how clarity about what you are writing or talking about is achieved. Therefore, at the beginning, we would like to provide you with an insight into the definition of team resilience: Team resilience refers to a team's ability to maintain its performance under difficult conditions and to cope well with challenging situations without impairment (Kainzbauer & Brandhuber, 2015, p. 4).

In other words: A team is able to deliver its performance and successfully overcome crises, pressure, changes, or setbacks. Despite stressful circumstances, a resilient team remains productive and acquires additional competencies to better handle stressors. Similar to an individual, a team's resilience is a dynamic, active process that can also be initiated preventively (cf. Huber 2019, p. 23f). Therefore, team resilience can be increased even before a challenge arises. Resilience is something that can be learned and shaped by a team.

The answer lies in six essential resilience factors of a team: significance, psychological safety, clarity & structure, team efficacy, action & solution orientation, and team learning. When a team works on building and developing these factors, it takes a decisive step toward realizing its full potential and successfully preparing itself against crises. In this article, you will learn exactly how a team can achieve that.

One might assume that team resilience is achieved by investing in the resilience of each individual member. This can certainly contribute to a more resilient team. However, a group of resilient individuals does not necessarily constitute a resilient team. The resilience of a team arises from routines that the team collectively develops to deal with challenging situations.

Just like personal and organizational resilience, team resilience consists of not just one factor, but many different facets that contribute to a team's ability to navigate through crises and challenges. So, what specific prerequisites must a team bring? Here you will learn more about the factors:

With the factor of meaningfulness, the focus is on providing orientation and creating clarity. Does the team know why it exists? Does each individual understand the added value of their own work and that of the team?

A study by Tatjana Schnell (2018) has shown that four components play a role in making work meaningful:

  • Coherence - this means that the content tasks align with the skills and circumstances, allowing individuals to contribute their strengths.
  • Significance - this means that the contribution made is taken seriously and acknowledged.
  • Orientation - this means that the company's direction aligns with one's own values.
  • Belongingness - this means that individuals can identify with the company and feel part of something greater.

These components can be applied to teams and their collective work. Values provide long-term orientation for a team, clarifying its purpose and what it aims to achieve. To ensure that the team recognizes progress and perceives it as success, goals are necessary. These can be milestones on the path to a vision. Through individual and clearly formulated goals, each team member knows what they can contribute to achieving the goals and what the team expects from them.

Well-functioning teams have clear goals, work together to achieve these goals, and continually reflect on how they can get closer to the goals and improve their collaboration. When goals are achieved together, it creates a sense of accomplishment. These accomplishments motivate and inspire further progress. It is therefore important to continuously focus on team successes, celebrate them, and discuss how they were achieved together.

You may be wondering how to create this in practice within your team. Specifically, this can be promoted through the following guiding questions:

  • What meaningful contribution does our team make to the greater whole through our collective teamwork?
  • What does each individual contribute to the team?
  • What can the team rely on from each individual?
  • What am I willing to contribute?
  • Which values and vision support us in our actions?
It is important to regularly engage with these questions. Because if a team no longer recognizes the purpose and meaning of its work, it will not be able to work successfully in the long run. And especially in times of crisis, it is immensely helpful to know what you are working for. The following quote captures it: "When you know your why, you will find your how."

One factor that is of significant importance for team resilience is psychological safety. Behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson from Harvard introduced psychological safety as "the shared belief among team members that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking." Psychological safety describes the level of security that team members feel to speak up about uncomfortable truths, admit mistakes, and show vulnerability and uncertainties to one another. It describes a positive work atmosphere characterized by trust, where team members can be themselves and be open without fearing negative consequences.

Psychologists Jasmine Zahno and Joseph Pelrine divide psychological safety into three aspects:

  1. Showing vulnerability: Vulnerability can be described as a state in which one opens up and allows others to see deep into their soul, where they can either be hurt or accepted and pleasantly surprised by others. It is a prerequisite for not only completing tasks, but also developing creative and explorative solutions.
  2. Giving trust: Trust is the expectation of not being disadvantaged by the actions of others; as such, it is the indispensable foundation of any cooperation.
  3. Taking responsibility: Taking genuine, felt responsibility is achieved through clarity and competence. Employees have clarity about the intentions of their mission and are equipped with sufficient competence to lead the mission to success.
Both leaders and individual team members can contribute to promoting openness to vulnerability, trust, and responsibility.

Everything is changing. That is precisely why it is important to create clarity and structure in teams. This includes clearly communicating expectations and ensuring that each team member knows the contribution they can make to overall success. There is clarity about the goals a team pursues. It is crucial to maintain this clarity, especially in challenging times.

At the same time, a resilient team is capable of proactively shaping its future. Team goals are regularly reviewed for relevance and appropriateness and adjusted accordingly.

To achieve this, emphasis must be placed on regular and transparent communication. Only then can the team develop new strategies to counteract critical developments as early as possible, ideally avoiding them altogether.

It is important to regularly reassess the answers to the following questions:

  • Are the goals, roles, and milestones truly clear for everyone on the team?
  • Is it clear what is expected from each team member?

In a well-functioning team, it should be ensured that this is the case. Especially implicit demands on team members should be brought to the table regularly to reconsider old structures and develop new routines. The "marketplace of expectations" is a highly effective approach in this regard.

Here's how it works: Divided into groups or individually, team members are asked to write their own job descriptions on their "marketplace" (on a flipchart). Then the "exchange" begins. All individuals/groups move clockwise to the next flipchart (marketplace) and write down what they expect from the person/group in front of whose marketplace they are standing, or what they believe that person/group is responsible for. The contributions already written by previous participants are read and supplemented with new expectations. Gradually, the marketplaces fill up with "goods" (information, perspectives, roles). After the round, owners return to their own marketplaces, read through the expectations, and reflect on them. Open questions are clarified in the plenary session.

"Can we do it? Yes, we can." Surely, some people still remember this slogan from Bob the Builder. And that precisely describes the fourth factor of team resilience. It is about the team firmly believing in its ability to overcome challenges.

More specifically, team effectiveness describes a collective belief in effectiveness. This means that a resilient team knows its strengths and has a shared belief in its ability to tackle complex tasks, obstacles, and adversities. Even under difficult conditions, it has confidence in the team's performance.

A team that possesses high team efficacy approaches challenges and dangers with more self-assurance and confidence, can better handle the unexpected, and emerges stronger from crises.

How can this factor be strengthened in practice? It is crucial to understand that humans are creatures of habit. If we always do the same things as a team, we will never discover what is possible. Therefore, team effectiveness is enhanced when a team steps out of its comfort zone and overcomes its fear zone, realizing that it can learn, grow, and believe in itself more strongly. This allows the team to face increasingly greater challenges with the conviction that they can overcome them together.

How can this factor be strengthened in practice? It is crucial to understand that humans are creatures of habit. If we always do the same things as a team, we will never discover what is possible. Therefore, team effectiveness is enhanced when a team steps out of its comfort zone and overcomes its fear zone, realizing that it can learn, grow, and believe in itself more strongly. This allows the team to face increasingly greater challenges with the conviction that they can overcome them together.

Specifically, action and solution orientation means that a resilient team is capable of staying proactive and actively seeking a collective solution even in adverse situations. This also includes the willingness of a resilient team to change and adapt to changes.

Resilient teams are not paralyzed by crises and challenges. They have the ability to view a problem from multiple perspectives and consciously focus on the solution rather than the problem.

Furthermore, resilient teams mobilize and activate their energy to quickly steer away from the problem trance and find suitable solutions together. They prioritize opportunities, strengths, and progress. This helps a team to maintain its ability to take action even when faced with difficulties.

A great way to support teams in gaining a new perspective is by using the miracle question. In difficult situations, we often wish for a miracle to happen overnight, solving all problems. However, this wise thought is rarely utilized, even though it can also be applied within teams to open up new thoughts, emotional worlds, and behaviors. In a hypothetical future, everything is imaginable, everything is achievable, and initial solution visions become visible.

Here's how it works practically: The question is posed to the team in a plenary session: "From your perspective, what is currently the biggest problem in or for the team?" Each team member writes their answer on a moderation card. The cards are then revealed one by one. Now, the biggest problem is determined through discussion: the cards are sorted according to the severity of each problem for the team, and a consensus is reached on the card that represents the current biggest problem for the team.

Next, the miracle question is asked: "Imagine that you go to sleep and overnight a miracle happens. The next day, your problem is solved. How would you know that your problem is solved? How would you feel?" Ideas are collected. What new perspectives have emerged? What specific approaches for solutions can be derived for the team?

Failure is part of life. Every team will inevitably face setbacks. The intriguing question is: How does a team deal with them? That is precisely what the sixth factor of team resilience is about.

Team learning means that a resilient team is capable of considering experienced setbacks as a natural part of the learning process and drawing future-oriented conclusions from those experiences. It is important to reflect on negative experiences together afterward and process them in a constructive manner, both objectively and emotionally. The "lessons learned" are collected collectively. This allows for the emergence of new ideas and the creation of innovative routines to equip the team for the future.

Nothing is as captivating, interesting, and inspiring as true stories. While numbers and facts increase the credibility of information, storytelling evokes emotional engagement. Storytelling also has a significant effect within teams: when personal stories of falling down and getting back up, so-called "FuckUp stories," are shared, experiences come to life and resources and strengths become visible.

Here's how it works in practice: Each team member individually brainstorms on the topic of "My FuckUp Stories." Everyone recalls particularly instructive stories from their own lives, where team members experienced failures or setbacks, jotting down keywords. Each person then selects one story they want to share with the team and prepares it. It is important to focus the storytelling on the main message: What was the most important learning? What helped overcome the situation? What can the team learn from it? Those who wish to do so then share their own FuckUp story. A collective learning experience emerges.


In summary, the six factors of team resilience discussed in this article contribute to the ability of a team to navigate challenges and setbacks effectively. Resilient teams believe in their collective ability to overcome obstacles, stay proactive in finding solutions, and learn from their experiences. By fostering these factors, teams can enhance their resilience and emerge stronger from adversity.

► Find out more about the persolog©  Team Resilience Model and how to use it in training an coaching in order to make teams more resilient!