Skip to content
ICE Community blog

4 foundations to create high-functioning teams at work

22 June 2023

Transform and Thrive’s Lucy Whitehall explains why resilience is key at team-level.

4 foundations to create high-functioning teams at work
High-functioning teams are made not born. Image credit: Shutterstock

An organisation’s success is built on consistently exceptional performance generated from connected, cohesive teams.

Critical to this success are individuals who understand their role, responsibilities, have agreed ways of working with others, and feel safe to raise ideas and challenge colleagues.

So, where does resilience fit in?

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes from the pandemic has been the need for organisations to nurture teams that can flex and adapt at a moment's notice.

This is the mark of resilience.

We explored personal resilience in our last blog, and of course, leaders need to be enabling team members to be as resilient as possible.

When it comes to team resilience – what more do we need to consider?

High-functioning teams are made not born

Cultivating resilient teams in your business is highly corelated with organisational success.

The working world has moved on from merely being volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) to a place of brittle, anxious, non-linear, incomprehensible (BANI).

This means that it’s not enough to be adaptable in the face of challenge and change.

Teams need to be innovative and creative now that change and economic turbulence is the new norm.

Resilience needs to be developed and nurtured during periods of relative stability (the good times) so the team is poised and ready for the challenging times.

When difficulty strikes, the team should then find a natural rhythm as they move into position, with no need for drawn out conversation, planning, or decision making.


While everyone in the business has an important part to play in team strength and durability, leaders undoubtedly have a pivotal role because they set the tone and drive organisational culture.

They are hugely responsible for the intangible agreements about how teams show up and perform. This is often called the psychological contract.

This implied agreement includes absolute clarity about roles and responsibilities and ensuring teams can work effectively together under extreme pressure as well as business as usual.

By paying attention to the core principles of resilient teams, leaders can create the best environment for resilience to flourish.

So, what are these core principles?

Four foundations to foster resilient teams

1. Communication

Communication isn’t simply about what leaders tell their people, or even how they tell them.

It’s easy to forget that listening is as important as speaking when it comes to communication.

Moving beyond active listening can transform the thinking of individuals and groups.

By creating an environment that enables exquisite listening, leaders can truly understand what’s going on and team members can get to know one another.

In a fast-paced business world, leaders can role-model a more curious culture, where people feel free to do their best thinking.

Thinking Environments are a simple way to begin.

2. Creativity

No matter how successful the organisation, it’s no longer good enough to do things in the same way, year after year.

Finding innovative solutions is the bedrock of successful teams.

Beyond this, a resilient team will be several steps ahead, imagining and exploring ‘what if’ scenarios, testing weaknesses and assessing future risk.

Encouraging teams to be playful with their scenario planning and giving explicit permission to come up with novel ways of working together and delivering value will ensure teams not only future proof, but also develop confidence and collective strength.

3. Safety

Safety in teams goes beyond the physical.

Leaders are responsible for setting the tone and empowering teams to take interpersonal risks.

This means people feel comfortable to challenge the status-quo, suggest new ideas and provide feedback knowing their contribution is welcomed and valued.

Challenge is respected and differences in opinion are discussed and accepted.

Practical examples of psychologically safe teams include:

  • taking individual and team responsibility to re-negotiate workloads
  • suggesting alternative approaches to client work
  • debriefing both successful and failed projects
  • calling out unacceptable behaviour
  • shining light on excellent performance

4. Inclusivity

For teams to develop a fundamental trust in themselves and their resilience, everyone needs to feel they belong.

Equity is the recognition and celebration of difference, regardless of the nature of those differences.

True equity shows up when teams have the widest definitions of inclusivity.

This generates resilience because the entire team (including the leader) has a deep understanding of strengths and vulnerabilities.

Therefore, they’re able to create opportunities for each member of the team to contribute authentically, without feeling they must fit into a prescribed way of being.

“[Team resilience is] the capacity of a group of employees within a team to manage the everyday pressure of work and remain healthy, to adapt to change, and to be proactive in positioning for future work challenges.”

Kathryn McEwan in Building Team Resilience (2016)
  • Lucy Whitehall, the wellbeing coach for senior leaders at Transform and Thrive Ltd