A team that can perform well, even during a time of high pressure or change, is a powerful force, says Miranda Wheatley Price.

27th January 2018

We have all experienced periods of pressure and change in the workplace. These times can be testing and trigger stress and self-doubt in our ability to manage and deliver.

The same sentiment applies to workplace teams. Yet a team who manages well during times of pressure or change is a team that ensures business continuity, is higher performing and ultimately delivers more. It is these teams that have a culture of resilience.

The question is: as a communications professional, how can your work help build a resilient team culture that sustains performance irrespective of pressure and change? The following four key building blocks offer a proven approach and accessible guide.

Operate within ‘stretch’

The performance-pressure curve (see Fig.1) is a key indicator of how a team performs under pressure. The curve illustrates that, as the level of pressure increases, the performance level also increases, to the point of healthy tension or “stretch”.

The ideal is that at least 65 per cent of a team feels supported to operate in the “stretch zone” – the area where we all perform at our optimum.

The stretch zone is a great place to build resilience as it provides stretch goals that challenge us to grow and develop. To reach this zone, encourage leaders and managers to:

  • work with transparency and ownership when it comes to managing work pressure and demand. Resilient teams use the curve to have open conversations about triggers that tip them into the “strain zone”. Inevitably, colleagues will seek to support each other to operate through these periods, which in turn enhances trust, communication and co-ownership of heavy work demands 
  • identify strengths within the team and discuss one or two areas where these strengths could be utilised
  • discuss as a team what is working vs what isn’t and identify which areas of influence are within the team’s control, rather than wasting energy and time on issues outside the sphere of influence.


Reinforce clarity and focus

Clarity on goals, priorities and roles is a fundamental building block of a high-performing, resilient team. Ultimately, if you did nothing else but continually provide clarity, then performance and productivity would significantly improve. This is a communications opportunity in itself, and leaders and managers can build on this by:

  • building a yearly and quarterly plan that clearly defines goals to anchor the team and keep focus. This should be re-assessed regularly – at least once a quarter


  • defining and adapting priorities in relation to goals – on a monthly basis, as a minimum. To support the fulfilment of these goals, assign roles, agree measures of success and rewards too. This approach will retain short-term motivation and push through periods of pressure
  • including behavioural measures that describe what a team would hear, see and feel if a priority was achieved.


Support one another

Resilient people don’t go it alone. The team-support culture keeps people from slipping out of the stretch zone and losing productivity. It’s important to realise that “getting on well together” isn’t the indicator of a highly supportive team. Resilient teams proactively support each other to get work done.

To do this effectively, mechanisms should be built that help leaders, managers and teams to manage pressure, for example:

  • create a balance between formal and informal support mechanisms. Formal processes such as ring-fencing time in team meetings to talk about work pressures helps people feel both heard and involved in managing work demand and drives agreement on how to collectively manage it.
  • informal mechanisms such as a team breakfast or coffee breaks encourage openness, connectivity and a feeling of belonging – key aspects of team culture that enhance engagement and diminish the feeling of isolation when we are overwhelmed.
  • have transparent conversations in the team at least once a quarter. Share your own perspective – vulnerability can be very powerful and helps build a transparent culture.
  • build optimism and team belief in overcoming challenges at team meetings. Ensure you all get the opportunity to share one or two of your most challenging goals, the associated priorities and what you have achieved in relation to these.  


Experiment and challenge

Encourage people to challenge one another on what and how things are done to improve work efficiency.

Put time aside at a team meeting to reflect on how things are done. Draw simple process charts and get the team to gather round and challenge the steps of a process. Detailed and specific needs should be captured.

Encourage people to take responsibility and stretch their sense of control by assigning processes to small groups to challenge.

Improve where strengths already exist. This is the basis of quick wins and a rapid way to make a notable difference in performance. Teams are more likely to improve a process or demonstrate a behaviour more consistently if it’s already happening.

Recognise and reward workable solutions that have been piloted successfully.

A resilient team culture  can not only ensure business continuity, but also has the capability to deliver faster, bigger and better results. To build such a capability, guide leaders and managers on recognising that: 

  • the best performance zone for all of us is when we are ‘stretched’
  • we slip into strain easily – be aware of triggers, indicators and ways to help each other get out of it
  • clarity on goals, priorities and roles cannot be underestimated. They should be continually re-enforced and communicated
  • formal support mechanisms exist and go beyond “getting on well together”
  • time and effort should be given to challenge what, who and how things are done to tackle work inefficiencies. 

Miranda Wheatley Price is co-founder and Director of Organisational Change at Rubica. She helps leaders and teams to develop strategies, cultures and structures that support them during times of growth and change. To learn more about building a high performing team visit www.rubica.co.uk or email [email protected] to get the full guide to building team resilience. 



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