How Remote Teams Build Resilience for Long Term Success

Build Resilience on Remote Teams Leadership Podcast

Today on the podcast we interview Nick Petrie, Author of Work Without Stress: Building Resilience for Long-Term Success. Whereas many teams fail under stress there are certain teams that build resilience and can actually thrive under stressful conditions. Nick shares with us the secrets of how hybrid and virtual teams confront today’s turbulence, focus on strengthening their relationships, looking for new opportunities and reframing to take advantage of the disruptions in today’s new work environment.

Responding to Hardship Differently

Everyone initially has the same response when faced with a difficult experience. At first, everyone has a big drop off, and their typical levels of functioning and results go down across the board. Meanwhile, after the initial hit of hardship, people begin to respond in different ways. 

Some People Struggle to Recover At All: The Crisis Phase

The first group of people, unfortunately, continue to get worse. Inside this group, people can end up with post traumatic stress as a result of getting really overloaded. This group of people get completely overwhelmed and probably won’t recover unless serious action is taken.  

Everyone is trying to cope with this explosion of work or just trying to get through the situation. Unfortunately, many organizations are still stuck in this phase 11 months later. In addition, many leaders are very good at being in crisis mode; they love the adrenaline and they love the energy. Unfortunately, they’re used to operating in crisis mode for two or three months, but by doing it for 11 months and more, they’re starting to burn out.  

For example, some of these organisations’ strategies have been to “double-down” on old approaches and to work harder, work longer and hit their numbers. From what Nick has seen, this strategy hasn’t worked well for any organization. This strategy is what has made these organizations successful up until this point; but for them to succeed in the long run, these organizations, their leaders and their employees are going to have to get out of this crisis phase. 

Some People Partially Recover or Recover, But Come out of Hardship Looking Exactly the Same: The No Change Phase

Some people recover, but they never get back to where they originally were. This group recovers, but only partially. As a result of the hardship, these people continue, but with some kind of impairment. Generally speaking, most people actually are pretty resilient and they’ll bounce back. This main group of people pull through the hardship pretty much looking the same as the way they went into it.

Some People Not Only Bounce Back, They Become Anti-Fragiles: The Opportunist Phase

This fourth group is by far the most interesting when it comes to their response to hardship. They build resilience and bounce back; and after the hardship they actually are significantly different. These people start to explore the new opportunities emerging from the situation. 

This group of people use their experience to transform, to change and to grow. They come out of the hardship with new capabilities, greater capacity, and new skills. These people can be considered antifragile. With Antifragile people, the more volatile the situation gets, the more they grow. This term can also be used at the team and organizational level too. Companies like Amazon are a bit like this. It almost looks like it doesn’t matter what you throw at them, they will get stronger. 

Questions to Consider in the Growth Phase

  • What’s the opportunity here? 
  • What’s changing about our customers’ needs? 
  • What new business models might emerge here? 
  • What new capabilities might we need?

The same principles of good leadership and team leadership still apply, but everything is amplified in the work from home / hybrid culture

The Widening Leadership Gap

The Poor Performing Leaders are Struggling Even Worse

In the office, if you didn’t have good one-on-one meetings with your people before, that was bad. If you’re not doing it now, it’s disastrous. The same is true for a leaders’ practices. The ties that were weak have dwindled and died in the remote setting; people are not meeting anyone from other departments, and they are not meeting in the cafeteria at lunch. There are even many people who joined in the last year and who have never actually met someone from their company in person.

The Strong Leaders Are Feeling Better Than Ever Before

The strong leaders are feeling closer to their teams than ever before. Strong leaders have built deeper connections and ties with their teams. These leaders are getting their teams to think strategically about what their networks need to look like across the organization. These leaders then create intentional plans for people to interact to build these relationships. Before COVID, this plan happened organically in company events. Employees across the organization would randomly interact with each other. Today, leaders need to be much more conscious and deliberate about what their network connections look like. 

Research on Stress & Resiliency: Is Stress and Tension the Same?

Why is it that two people can go through the same event and one person gets stressed and overwhelmed but the other person is fine? Events don’t equal stress. There is a difference between pressure and stress and we usually put them together like they’re the same thing. 

Pressure is defined as an external demand in your environment. When people ruminate on the pressure, they convert the pressure into stress, which impacts their health and well-being. Leaders need to distinguish these two terms, and come up with strategies that prevent rumination to build resilience.

The Redefining Mindset: A Phase of Re-Exploration in Leadership

Many Leaders reach a level of success where they find themselves asking, “is this all there is?” These leaders have accomplished everything they thought was going to make them happy, but they still don’t feel fulfilled and begin to burn out.

Once leaders notice this, they start to explore a new phase in leadership called the redefining mindset. Inside this mindset leaders ask themselves questions like:

  • How can I go beyond achievement to also feel fulfilled?
  • What is meaningful work? 
  • What do I really care about?

This phase can mimic a mid-life crisis. Nick helps leaders see where they are on these developmental stages. By discovering what this phase is, leaders often feel relieved. They realize they’re not losing motivation, they’ve just moved to a new developmental stage as a leader and adult.  

Organizations would like the development to happen at the team level as opposed to what it used to be which was bringing in leaders across the company.

An In-Person 360˚ Assessment? 

Nick recommends that leaders dedicate time to seek in-person 360˚ Feedback. One CEO Nick worked with demonstrated this by asking a dozen people for feedback and then sharing the results with the entire company. This showed incredible levels of transparency and vulnerability that led the COO and CFO to follow in his footsteps. This was an inspiring example for others of how to improve as a leader and deepen connections within the company. 

Tips for Leaders:

  • Consider what phase your team or organization is in–are you still in the crisis phase? What do you need to do to shift into the growth phase? What are the next steps to build resilience?
  • If your team is in the growth phase, answer the questions above with your team to identify opportunities. 
  • Demonstrate boundaries around flexibility and communication. Model what your company says about taking time off and not working or sending emails after work hours.
  • Consider the depth of connection you have with your team, and that your employees have with your company. Focus on building relationships and connection over focusing on tasks.
  • Consider how you are turning tension into stress and what you can do to improve your well-being as a leader
  • Ask yourself if you are in a phase of re-exploration and what you should do to make it through this phase.
  • Consider how your employees are developing. Should your teams develop together versus leaders across departments? 
  • Should you consider dedicating time to get real, honest feedback about how you are doing as a leader in person?

About Nick Petrie

Nick Petrie is a former faculty member of the Center for Creative Leadership where he facilitated customized programs for senior level executives, and he writes extensively about future trends in leadership development. His current focus is working with CEO’s and their teams to transform organizational cultures. A New Zealander, with significant international experience, Nick has lived and worked in the U.S., Europe, Asia, The Middle East and Scandinavia. His clients include: Google, Walmart, NASA, Delta and Comcast. He has worked globally across industries including engineering, tech, banking, education, energy, law and television. He holds a Master’s degree from Harvard University and is the author of the book Work Without Stress: Building resilience for long term success. To learn more about Nick and his work you can visit his website here.

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