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Developing Resilient Teams

Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Teams do not rise to the occasion; they perform at their level of training.

This was demonstrated very clearly in April 1970 when Gene Kranz and his team at NASA mission control successfully brought the astronauts of Apollo 13 back to Earth safely.

The world watched as the Apollo 13 drama unfolded and Kranz and his team along with the Apollo 13 Astronauts demonstrated the resiliency to fight through seemingly insurmountable challenges to bring the mission to a conclusion without loss of life.

Much has been written about the resilient nature of Kranz’s team. But when you dig deep you discover this spirit of resiliency did not just happen. Kranz spent years molding his team into a resilient force able to overcome adversity.

Here are a few things Kranz did to develop team resiliency before they even knew the challenges they would be called upon to overcome. I believe the actions Kranz took to develop his team’s resiliency should be a model all leaders consider.

1.        Belief in the purpose – Kranz was able to work with the team to create a shared vision and purpose. Their purpose, like all good purposes, was to work for something greater than themselves. That was the exploration of space and the goal of having the safe return of all astronauts who were part of the program.

2.        Rigorous, realistic training. Kranz ensured the training his teammates went through was tough. Those who fell short were retrained. Those who were unable to meet the standards were weeded out.

3.        Train on making decisions under stress. The team continued to train hard under very stressful conditions to make reliable decisions and to make those decisions very quickly. Dissent was encouraged and everyone was trained to think critically and speak their mind. Thin skins were not welcome, and egos were left at the door.

4.        Practice good communication techniques. The team was trained to speak clearly and concisely. The emphasis was on explaining “why”.

5.        Foster collaboration and mutual understanding. Kranz trained his team to work collaboratively and support one another. The team was trained to understand everyone’s role in the process.

6.        Increase physical proximity. Kranz understood the importance of physical proximity in facilitating collaboration, communication, and understanding. For example, he insisted members of the four flight teams shared offices. According to Wharton professor Michael Useem, who has researched Kranz’s thinking, Kranz reasoned that if four flight engineers shared office space, they would know one another well before they would have to communicate and trust one another on highly technical issues.

7.        Hold informal recreational events to build cohesiveness. Kranz understood that it was important for his team to interact outside of the work environment to get to know each other even better. Participating in outings, sports competitions, or simply getting together with all the families present strengthened bonds and helped everyone understand what made everyone tick.

Kranz understood that individual resiliency was important to work in high-stress environments, but team resiliency mattered too. It was not the strength of an individual that led to success but rather it was the strength of the team.

About John Gronski

Major General John L. Gronski (U.S. Army Retired) is the founder and CEO of Leader Grove LLC, a leadership consulting firm. John is the author of two books, “Iron-Sharpened Leadership” and “The Ride of Our Lives” and is an international and Fortune 500 speaker. Learn more about John at https://johngronski.com/

Continue To Learn

Visit John Gronski’s website, JohnGronski.com to access free leadership development resources including a downloadable leadership pamphlet, John’s YouTube Channel, and John’s leadership blog.

There are also leadership development resources you can invest in by going to Store.LeaderGrove.com – You can purchase John’s books which include “Iron-Sharpened Leader” and “The Ride of Our Lives”. John created a great online leadership development program. You can purchase online leadership development courses including Cultivating Trust, Introduction to Emotional Intelligence, Conflict Management, and Introduction to Change Leadership. Once you complete a course, take a short quiz, attain an 80% score, and download a certificate of completion.

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