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Why resilient teams thrive in today’s VUCA world.

A group of hands touch wooden gears around a wooden rocket

Teams in the workplace, like all teams, can face challenges, unexpected hurdles on tight deadlines and failures at any given time. The true test of a resilient team is their ability to withstand or recover quickly from those difficult conditions. Today’s world is moving faster than ever before. We have more questions. Situations are more convoluted. Then, throw in a global pandemic for good measure. Today’s world is ripe for VUCA.

Many businesses today are facing or have faced what is termed a VUCA environment: one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. While organizations will never be insulated from VUCA conditions, executives can prepare their teams to handle these unprecedented circumstances by building resilient teams. Developing resiliency within an organization can help your teams handle tough settings and overcome VUCA experiences.

What is VUCA?

The acronym VUCA, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, is a business term adapted from military leadership. It was developed after the Cold War ended and began to appear in literature in 1991. The concept of VUCA is becoming more prevalent in all aspects of our society. Of recent interest is how VUCA leadership intersects with COVID.

Volatility is a tendency to change quickly and unpredictably. Consider the executive who approaches the day with a task list, but receives multiple calls before stepping in the building or opening a laptop. Each call is urgent, unrelated, yet interconnected. Instead of completing any task on the list, the day is spent putting out the immediate fires while new tasks are added to the original list. Volatility, however, can be a positive experience too. Consider the effect of a viral video on a new product line. In either case, volatility can lead to feelings of unpreparedness.

Uncertainty is the state of being uncertain; not having certain knowledge. The pace at which our environment is changing creates a lack of clarity, which makes it difficult for executives to understand and evaluate new challenges facing organizations. Have you ever said, “You have to see it to understand it?” to explain a situation. That’s an uncertain situation. Leaders who stop, look and listen to understand the situation can counter uncertainty. Leaders need to communicate with employees throughout the organization to develop this understanding through teamwork and collaboration.

Complexity is the quality or state of being complex. Business issues have layers of complexity with difficult-to-understand causes and factors. The volatility of our environment and the lack of past predictors adds to the complication and makes it challenging to make decisions. Leaders who can make sense of the chaotic situation through a purposeful process can bring clarity to complex situations.

Ambiguity is the quality or state of being ambiguous especially in meaning or the quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness. In business, complexity often leads to ambiguity. When it’s difficult to determine the causes of a situation, it’s ambiguous. Executive leaders who are agile, with the ability to communicate and implement solutions quickly, can navigate these waters more successfully than others.

Why is our world considered VUCA?

It is unclear if today’s world is more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous than any other time in history. It’s human nature to think it is, and it’s natural to think it may be considering recent financial crises, terrorism, climate change, global shifts in power, big data, AI and the digitalization of our world. However, “we can question whether our situation today is more VUCA than during the Black Death, World Wars I and II or when we discovered that the earth was neither flat nor the center of the universe.”

More than likely, change is happening more rapidly today. Our society is also more prepared to handle the pace of change with technology. Advancements in artificial intelligence and complex algorithms, in addition to an increase in connectedness worldwide, allow us to analyze more complex situations faster than ever before.

Our world, and virtually all industries, are not in a constant VUCA state though. The majority of industries experience VUCA characteristics at times. These periods are often not defined by extreme VUCA traits and the disruptive stretch is balanced by stable periods.

What does it mean to build a resilient team?

Simply put, to build a resilient team is to build a team that can function within VUCA conditions. As an executive, everything happens fast. If you have to wait for information to travel up to you to react, several other crises have arisen that have been missed. A resilient team is empowered to solve problems they understand.

Resilient teams, which are different from resilient people, have four commonalities: “They believe they can effectively complete tasks together. They share a common mental model of teamwork. They are able to improvise. They trust one another and feel safe.” In addition, leaders can improve a teams’ resilience by developing these attributes “before adversity strikes, during an adverse event, and after adversity has subsided.”

Finally, resilient teams are guided by culture. When the CEO leaves the room, culture guides employee actions and decision making. Leaders set the tone for the organization by defining what the culture is going to be. Resilient teams are guided by a leadership style that empowers employees to solve problems.

Building resilient teams with psychological safety.

Executive leaders who create an environment where employees can safely fail, stumble or have a problem are well on their way to building a resilient team. A culture of psychological safety combined with a leader who has the courage to respond appropriately to failures and missteps is vital to resiliency. However, that doesn’t mean there is no accountability. In fact, an organization can’t have psychological safety without accountability. (That’s actually a misnomer of psychological safety. It doesn’t mean the company turns into a soft, fluffy, huggy, warm organization.) Whether in the workplace or during a group project in college, we’ve all likely experienced the one person who doesn’t pull his or her weight. In a psychologically safe organization, that doesn’t happen. Not only is the boss holding everyone accountable, but peers are addressing these issues. Most importantly, “calling out” an employee isn’t about singling him or her out or “throwing them under the bus.” Rather, it emphasizes the team and organization are all aligned, in strategy, vision and mission. Everyone understands and is in pursuit of a common goal.

BEATTY helps you build resilient teams.

Team building is essential to developing and retaining top talent, organizational success and creating synergy. At BEATTY, our objective in team building is to create a compelling team identity and “rules of engagement” for working effectively together. We start by understanding the organization’s business and culture in addition to the roles of each leader. After analyzing the results of our Leadership Team Survey and identifying core strengths and key development opportunities, BEATTY facilitates an off-site retreat in which the team participates in an engaging, candid dialogue about the team’s current and desired state. In our experience, not only does this approach strengthen the team, but it also enhances the performance of individual leaders. Contact BEATTY today to learn how we can help develop your team.

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