Team resilience and team self-care – how good is your team?

Commenting on recent findings on wellness and self-care programmes at work, academic researchers in Harvard Business Review concluded that for workplace wellness we need:

‘… a totally different approach to workplace suffering. Rather than focusing on self-care, we need to be better at taking care of each other. This begins by framing employee distress as a collective rather than individual problem.’

Any time invested in individual self-care and skills is a great investment, however when we think of team resilience; team self-care is a collective affair.

Unpacking team self-care

A collective approach to team self-care goes to the heart of team systems. It is central to how the team supports itself to manage team pressures from a variety of sources; whether it’s long hours, difficult or complex tasks, workload or demanding stakeholders.  How a team deploys good stress management techniques together; how you are alert in your team to the overload of your colleagues and how you support the work-life balance are tenets of team self-care.


How can you take a true team approach to team self-care?

1.Establish a team culture of team self-care

How do things get done in your team when it comes to stress management and navigating pressures?  This is where we delve into the unspoken expectations of the team.  What boundaries do we believe in a set within the team?  Are long hours seen as a badge of honour?  Do we even talk about in our team what practically impacts our health and wellbeing in terms of how we work?

How you manage stressors in your team will be inevitably linked to roles and type of work.  Types of boundaries and practices many teams can look at which all flow into your culture of self-care include:

  • How workloads are set, monitored and reviewed
  • Flexible working conditions
  • Ensuring breaks and holidays are taken
  • How out of hours availability and knowing what is expected
  • Technology use – use of email and mobiles
  • How the team builds in recovery time after intense periods
  • Where and how people can have downtime during work breaks to destress
  • What team practices do you have in place to assist in stress management?
  • What’s in place to support employees through difficult times which impact on both their life and work?
  • How are team members supported by colleagues having come through difficult situations or encounters as a result of their work?
  • What specific skills training or support is in place to help the team navigate pressures as a team?
  • What health and wellbeing policies are in place and how are they practically used to support the team in their everyday work?
  • How do team leaders model approaches to team self-care to the team?

2. Regularly check on workloads

Work is live and sometimes unpredictable.  Discuss and put in place an approach in your team that regularly allows a review of workloads and factors in other challenges.  How well are tasks being allocated and shared?  Check and review all these expectations to have a shared team clarity on ways to prevent excess, flag and re-allocate workloads across the team.

It is also important to keep sight of performance in team self-care.  There may be some colleagues who provide a lot of open-ended support to others.  There also needs to be team accountability as part of self-care.  Where ongoing or additional cover provided by some team members but not recognised, reciprocated or managed can lead to resentment or individual team members constantly feeling put upon and requires attention to ensure a genuinely collective approach.

3. Develop team stress busters

Talk about and design strategies within the team to help with stressors (e.g., an expected and accepted way to flag to colleagues that you are feeling overwhelmed or having a colleague coffee and vent after a difficult meeting).  What can you have in place to help each other?

4. Think about specific techniques relevant to your team’s work

Some of a team’s work may be physically very demanding or for others emotionally draining.  Think about the scenarios you encounter in your team which have a deeper impact on health and wellbeing and target practical support actions specific to it.  For example, if you know that the next month is going to be psychologically difficult, how could you build in more de-briefs or external support for the team to process this rather than individually taking the emotional impact of their work home?

5. Recovery time – find it and build it into your team life

You wouldn’t expect someone who has run a marathon to get up and do it again the next day but yet we do this at work all the time.  Plan for and offset team peak times and schedules of real business with a period to follow of less intense work and/or downtime to enable recovery and rejuvenation.

6. Recognise warning signs and tipping points

Each of us reacts to stress differently in our workplace behaviours.  Converse and share honestly in the team how you each individually react to stress and learn about each other.  Find out in the team how you can give each other permission to alert each other to overload from behaviours you notice in each other.  Think about and identify practical ways about you then how collectively support each other when you do notice signs of overload.

7. Have a life…

‘Work to live, not live to work…’

We are more likely to feel a work-life balance when work does not get in the way of what is important to us such as caring roles we may have for our families; time with friends or a passion we pursue outside work. In a team, this can be recognising events or times important to colleagues and ensuring work is not detracting from participating in or enjoying these times.

Again, it is vital to note that this needs equity across the team to ensure that jobs are completed and healthy boundaries are in place to accommodate better balance for all team members.



 Leading for Resilience Workbook, Kathryn McEwen, Working with Resilience

(Harvard Business Review, 2022) available at  Harvard Business Review, 4th April 2022


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