The Great Resignation isn’t slowing down. In fact, evidence suggests that every departure spurs remaining employees to increasingly consider a change. How do we respond to this trend? How do we build teams that absorb stress, recover critical functionality, and thrive in new circumstances?
Most organizations have offered more compensation as the solution: 85% gave pay increases in 2021, and 92% plan to give pay increases in 2022. It’s not working. Over roughly the same period, resignations have remained constant at 3-4 million per month.
While many employees admit compensation is a prominent component of their employment considerations, it is not the whole story. The pandemic has exacerbated extant fragilities. Nearly 2/3 of workers say that the pandemic caused them to reflect on their purpose in life; a purpose at least in part derived from their employment. Those driven to actively seek new jobs cite similarly non-pecuniary interests in improved work/life balance, a career change, and advancement opportunities.
The Great Resignation is at a scale that reflects the impact of a convergence of factors, and those factors have undeniably shifted the landscape and expectations of work. The millions of participants in the Great Resignation have cast their vote for change and even by SHRM’s latest count nearly 41% of employees are still actively seeking a new job. The hunger for something to change persists because we have not addressed the root of the trend – we have not built teams that engage employees and that are resilient to the levels of change and stress we have demanded they consistently navigate. The pandemic experience was the “final straw” in a failed approach.
We are working from an antiquated approach to teaming. The modern team requires resilience as a part of its DNA and we're here to explore how you can enhance your teams to be resistant to and resilient in the presence of larger environmental pressures like – but not exclusive to - the Great Resignation. The building blocks of resilient teams—stability, connection, and agility— offer leaders a blueprint for success.
The foundational element of a resilient team is stability. Resilient teams are clear on who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Such teams provide this meaning to members and reinforce it regularly in recognition of the fact that individual employee experience inevitably ebbs and flows, especially in a larger market environment like the one we’re currently navigating.
In times of stress and crisis, identity within our teams and a line of sight to our value can become blurred and even distorted. Wise leaders recognize this existential risk and proactively reinforce a team’s common purpose to cultivate ongoing engagement and guide decision-making. Individuals have and retain their sense of purpose when it is clearly and consistently reflected in the content of their days.
Beyond an inspiring vision and compelling mission articulated on a regular cadence, providing stability means that leaders must also reveal the inner workings of their decision-making, making it clear to the team how the common purpose informed their actions. This not only imbues trust, but it also preserves common purpose as the team’s North Star.
Communication is central to building stability, and leaders must focus on both language and approach as key drivers. For example, when evaluating decision-making with teams, encouragement, support, and coaching will breed confidence and openness. Second-guessing and “this is how I would have done that differently” interventions will erode or eliminate gains leaders would have made in building resilient teams
Even the best of us have moments of disengagement. Individuals that are a part of resilient teams overcome those moments through the strength of the group—leaning and relying upon their teammates. To harness that strength, successful teams must be tightly connected both functionally and emotionally. The ecosystem of a team must be able to recognize its makeup and have systems and processes that enable information and resources to rapidly flow to the point of need.
Connection thrives when teams have the necessary information to make good decisions in a timely manner. Resilient teams navigate today’s information overload, recognizing what information is truly important (and what is not), and establishing systems and processes that convey that information to those who need it, and when they need it. These teams also establish norms to provide that information with relevant context—to then transform that information into useful, actionable knowledge.
While sharing the right information is vital for building connection, it’s just as important to focus on the frequency of your messages. Every team has an operating rhythm – the habitual cadence in which the team meets, shares information, and disperses to get work done – but most of these rhythms happen by accident. Resilient teams actively fight this pull toward passive adherence. They keep a pulse on their operating rhythm and routinely finetune the cadence to match the speed of the environment.
Resilient teams promote a bias for action, proactively shaping the environment and positioning themselves to effectively respond. These teams are grounded in realism: they know that they will inevitably make mistakes, but these mistakes can produce powerful insights if they are leveraged effectively. The key is to mitigate the negative impact of the mistakes, share vital lessons learned, and then pivot the team appropriately to stay ahead of the competition.
Resilient teams can function as a cohesive unit because, even in the most chaotic situations, they have clear expectations and a shared understanding of what needs to be done. By operating off the same playbook, the team can act in a coordinated fashion even in dynamic situations. Resilient teams operate by a set of simple rules (a playbook) that make decision-making quicker, easier, and more consistent. Simple rules are powerful weapons to combat the complexity that threatens to overwhelm individuals and teams. Two particularly important types of simple rules that are regularly employed by resilient teams are boundary rules and prioritizing rules. Boundary rules limit the number of options someone has based on pre-determined criteria. One such boundary rule is employed by climbers on Mount Everest. The rule is clear – if you aren’t at the summit by 2:00 p.m., you must return to camp. This is not an official rule or law, but it serves as a useful guideline to stop overly ambitious climbers from getting caught out and exposed on the mountain after the sun goes down. Prioritizing rules, on the other hand, clearly convey the order of importance when there is a time or resource constraint. They ensure the most important actions are taken in priority order. During the hellacious fire that consumed the Notre Dame cathedral in 2019, the local fire chief quickly employed a prioritizing rule to coordinate and align his firefighters. He simply said, “People first. Art second. Furniture third. Structure last.” This simple guideline enabled his team to make quick decisions in the midst of the fiery chaos.
In times of upheaval and uncertainty, a culture of resilience is even more attractive. Skilled talent is drawn to high-performing teams that have meaningful work and function with a high baseline of trust and transparency. General Stan McChrystal (Ret.), CEO of McChrystal Group knows first-hand the importance of building resilient teams: “Without question, the Great Resignation and more unforeseen disruptions, unexpected issues, and unprecedented challenges will greet us. Some teams will fail. Other teams will hunker down and merely survive. But some teams will take the necessary steps to engineer true resilience-- absorbing the hits, redirecting the force to bounce higher in the end--and ultimately come out on top.”
McChrystal Group and SHRM are proud to partner to launch the Inspiring Resilient Teams program in a 4-week live online program, beginning May 31. To find out more, click here.
Peden Gray works in talent acquisition and development at McChrystal Group. Jennifer Keister is a senior principal at McChrystal Group. Liz Lacey is SHRM's director of education programs. David Livingston is the managing partner at McChrystal Group.