In Times of Stress, Build Your Team’s Resilience Rituals
A Diving Checklist approach
Written by Luciana Barrancos in collaboration with Skylyte founders
One of the most commonly used words during this COVID-19 crisis has been “resilience”. Resilience continues to be a vague term, usually incorporating elements such as ability to cope with setbacks and stress, while building grit. Resilience is often discussed at the individual level, which sidelines the systematic factors that affect our ability to develop and sustain resilience - such as the team in the work environment.
But how to develop and foster resilience in our teams? At Skylyte, our suggestion is to build team rituals. Research has shown that creating rituals can help us to feel more in control while supporting teams to feel their work is more rewarding, mainly because of their personal involvement in the rituals, which results in a heightened perceived value of their jobs.
To help you with the creation of these rituals, we, at Skylyte, created a tangible resource to rely on: a template for a weekly resilience checklist.
To bring it to life, we have used a metaphor: scuba diving! In many ways, COVID-19 has redefined the contours of our environment to such an extent it almost feels like being in a new and unknown territory. Similarly, diving entails stepping into an uncertain and risky element - the depths of the oceans. Stepping into it means developing new rituals that are adapted to the new environment and that ensure safety, with the added bonus of creating connection.
For scuba diving, there’s the “5-point checklist” to be completed with your diving buddy. We propose that you adopt a similar approach with your team and create your own 5-point checklist. Aligning ourselves to the “dive checklist” (Weights, Air, Releases, Buoyancy, Final Check), we’ve created 5 categories of weekly rituals to help you create your own effective, meaningful and sticky checklist. No one ever dives alone – so why should your team be any different?
Let’s dive into it!
1) Hold the space; in diving terminology: Check Weights
As in the diving checklist, let’s acknowledge the “weights” that we are all carrying and let’s hold the space for that.
What does this mean?
The issue is that most people have little control and high uncertainty in this context: a perfect storm for anxiety. According to Michel Dugas, a professor of psychology at the University of Quebec in Outaouais, uncertainty seems to be a necessary condition for anxiety of any kind. This can have severe impacts on people's mental health, and it’s showing up in different ways in times of COVID-19. For instance, 60% of Americans living alone claim that they’re feeling lonely often or always as a result of the pandemic. We’ve also seen a 2-3x increased risk for PTSD, similar to patterns seen post-SARS.
Given the low level of agency most of us have in this crisis, but also the sheer weight we are carrying, it is important to provide the space to talk about what people are feeling. Talking about this does not make us weak - it makes us able to stare our stress and fears in the face.This may include being there when your team needs you or ensuring that people have each other’s backs.
A great ritual is to give extra room for R&R (rest and recuperation). For that, model the boundaries between work and non-work in a way that reflects balance. There’s no shame (but pride!) in saying that you have to leave because you’re going to exercise, cook, spend time with your loved ones, read a book or just rest.
Also, can you create boundaries through art or other shared rituals in this new work environment? Consider having your check-out of the day through an “exit” song, image, or even joke to mark the end of the day.
Another ritual is to create a 5 or 10-minute buffer in meetings for people to ask questions and have the space to unburden themselves if needed. Companies like McKinsey and Amazon have experimented with such tactics!
Reminder prompt: “There is a place where I can go when I feel low, when I feel blue”
2) Managing airflow; in diving terminology: Check Airflow
Make sure your team has the stamina it needs. The first thing to keep in mind is to check that we’re all managing our ‘battery’ levels or, in diving terminology, our ‘airflow’ levels.
What does it mean?
People are different in terms of what gives and takes away from their energy (e.g. being an extrovert or introvert), and this is also dependent on the context. A useful resource to help identify this is Skylyte’s Resilient Typology quiz. As times have changed – and our sources of energy as well, we recommend having weekly conversations to understand how you can better manage your team’s airflow.
Remember – everyone is dealing with different pressures in their personal life and their own predispositions. Ask yourself the question regularly (both as a team-member and team-lead): do I have a sense of each person’s oxygen levels? Without knowing this it will be hard for you to be flexible within your team to redistribute work, or to ensure that the team is on the same page.
For your team meetings, think of including a quick “pulse number” on your team’s energy level at the beginning and end of each meeting. This is a very simple way to understand where people are coming from and their feelings.
You can also implement that into your written communication. For that, similar to the diving signals, create a list of shared signals (think of emojis) to easily communicate people’s work & emotional status. This can be a helpful tool to say things that are hard, and create a shared common language as a result. You can add that next to your name on your status on Slack, Zoom or other workspace platforms. Below is some inspiration for you:
Encourage your team to keep track of each other’s “shared signals”, and observe if there are too many 🙆🏽 or 🆘 signs floating around. Remember to help carry each other’s weights by listening to each other and over-communicating your highs and lows.
Reminder prompt: “Help me if you can, I'm feeling down; And I do appreciate you being 'round”
3) Spread responsibility; in diving terminology: Check Releases
In a period where change is the name of the day and priorities, constraints and objectives are evolving constantly, we need to be agile and be able to distribute and redistribute work.
What does it mean?
This means that you’ll be able to stay efficient and goal-oriented while ensuring that you or your team-mates are not burning out.
Are you a manager yourself? Then, think about how you delegate. Are you a non-manager or individual contributor? Then, be proactive about supporting your manager (they are usually even more likely to burnout given their added responsibilities!).
One suggestion is to go through people’s weekly to-dos and ask yourself: (i) is there any room to share responsibilities?; (ii) do we have the right balance between what is important, what is urgent, and what is feasible, given people’s constraints (see for example the Eisenhower Matrix Below on when to delegate)?
You can follow the diagram below, or use this Slack-integrated app, a bot that helps you select a decision-making model and process to try with your team. In particular, lean into tasks that are ‘sticky’ or ‘blocked’, and help each other identify the underlying reasons for that. Take a moment to pause and reflect, and have a conversation with your teammates about it. Many times, our ‘aha’ moments or insights into how to best move our days forward will come from the simplest interactions or moments of break.
Sometimes we forget that the easiest way to distribute responsibilities is to ask whether others need help. Sometimes it is that simple. Are you asking your team-mates if they need help? Can you make any trades? This will destigmatize ‘asking for help’ and make it a norm in your team.
Reminder prompt: "Hey Jude, don't carry the world upon your shoulders"
4) Team-building; in diving terminology: Buoyancy
Similar to diving, where you keep your buoyancy mainly through balance and breathing, we also need to keep our lightness and resilience of spirit together with our teams.
What does it mean?
People should continue to feel they are part of a team, to have a sense of belonging and appreciation for this – now remote – workplace. Researchers have found through correlational, longitudinal and experimental studies that having a sense of belonging predicted higher meaningfulness in life. Belonging is very important for our physical and mental health, as it helps with managing stress, coping with difficult times, and improving motivation.
There are great ways of doing it and we encourage you to think beyond the traditional “virtual happy hour”. For instance, you could consider delivering coffee or tea to people’s houses and sharing a brew together; scheduling a kids & pets time on your videoconference; baking something together; doing a Trivia night; doing fun exercises to get to know each other (the “36 questions that lead to love” is an ‘alternative’ resource to guide the discussion); Karaoke…
Rotate this responsibility within your team and have team-building events every week. We suggest that you find a healthy mix between reflection-driven (finding purpose, getting to know each other better) versus fun activities (because we all need some levity!). From a behavioral science perspective, humor and levity help us to relieve anxiety, create more meaningful connections at work, and enhance creativity. One of the links between humor and its psychological benefits is related to laughter. Even the anticipation of it has been proved to decrease our stress hormone (cortisol) and our “fight or flight” hormone (epinephrine) by 39% and 70%, respectively.
Reminder prompt: “I get by with a little help from my friends”
5) Let’s Go!; in diving terminology - Final Check
The final piece of the puzzle is about creating daily alignment on priorities, tasks and emotional state within your team before diving into the day.
What does this mean?
Things that flow very naturally when everyone is working in a physical environment might be more challenging virtually. You can’t necessarily see how many hours your team member is putting into closing that deal on the phone or how people are prioritizing what they have on their plates.
Scientifically, the role of clarity is so important! As mentioned before, uncertainty leaves us feeling anxious, stressed and powerless. We feel as if we lack control of our lives and, right now, we are overloaded with uncertainty. Try to give back control by making sure that people know what they need to do and WHY!
Our suggested ritual for the “Let’s Go!” phase is to have a daily check-in with the following format:
A ROCK, A CLOG, A GLITTER (RCG): an adapted 'stand-up' format of 15-20 minutes at most, at the beginning of each day. Each person identifies their 3 ROCKS for the day (big priorities) + areas where they have CLOGS in their work + some GLITTER to share (a joyful moment, expressions of love and kindness).
Remember to also rotate the responsibility among the team to set-up & lead this meeting. We have also found it helpful to have a shared doc for people to write down their RCGs and keep track of what everyone else is doing.
Reminder: ‘We can work it out”
In summary: Weekly Checklist for Keeping your Team Resilient in Times of Stress
1. WEIGHTS: As in the diving checklist, let’s acknowledge the “weights” that we are all carrying and let’s hold the space for that.
❏ Model R&R effectively: there’s no shame (but pride!) in sharing what you’re going to do next
❏ Boundaries: through art (exit song, image, joke)
❏ 5-10 minutes buffer before each meeting
2. AIR: Make sure your team has the stamina it needs. The first thing to keep in mind is to check that we’re all managing our ‘battery’ levels or, in diving terminology, our ‘airflow’ levels.
❏ Pulse number check for before and after meetings
❏ Written signals (workplace status; emotional & work)
❏ Keeping track of 🙆🏽 or 🆘, listening and over-communicating
3. RELEASE: In a period where change is the name of the day and priorities, constraints and objectives are evolving constantly, we need to be agile and be able to distribute and redistribute work.
❏ Delegation through diagram (or slack app)
❏ Offering & asking for help
"Hey Jude, don't carry the world upon your shoulders"
4. BUOYANCY: Similar to diving, where you keep your buoyancy mainly through balance and breathing, we also need to keep our lightness and resilience of spirit together with our teams.
❏ Weekly team building events (purpose related vs. fun activities)
❏ Injecting more levity
“I get by with a little help from my friends”
5. FINAL CHECK: The final piece of the puzzle is about creating daily alignment on priorities, tasks and emotional state within your team before diving into the day.
❏ Daily stand-up (Rock. Clog. Glitter)
❏ Rotate responsibilities
❏ Pulse number check for before and after meetings
“We can work it out”
We hope that with our diving metaphor (and some Beatles’ inspiration), you will be equipped to create your own repeatable, useful and sticky checklist for you and your team to build resilience, improve efficiency and enhance the sense of purpose and belonging at work.