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Building a resilient team: How leadership impacts employee wellbeing

Building a resilient team: How leadership impacts employee well-being

The resilience of a team is, more often than not, a direct reflection of its leadership. Building a resilient team means adopting a careful blend of strategic foresight, empathetic understanding, and adaptive methodologies.

In a business context, resilience refers to a team's ability to adapt to challenges, absorb stress, and rebound from the inevitable setbacks or failures that come from running an organisation. It's not just about surviving difficult situations, but how a team and its leaders learn and grow from them.

The most resilient teams are characterised by agility and flexibility; by a shared sense of purpose and a collective ability to persevere in the face of adversity. This kind of resilience can only be built on a foundation of trust and open communication, where every team member feels supported and valued. It involves a proactive approach to problem-solving, where challenges are seen as opportunities to innovate and evolve.

The ability to build teams like this proves to be an incredible competitive advantage, producing individuals finely tuned to adapt, overcome and advance, regardless of the obstacles they encounter.

Balancing efficiency with empathy

The heart of team resilience lies in a leader’s ability to balance operational efficiency with employee well-being. It’s a delicate dance between pushing for results and being attuned to the mental and emotional needs of team members.

During her time as COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg exemplified this kind of approach by driving for a culture where efficiency and empathy coexist. Sandberg’s approach involved an innovative process of addressing losses and missteps openly, encouraging employees and senior leaders to extract learnings and modify best practices whenever mistakes were made. The impact was almost immediately felt, creating a supportive environment where failures and setbacks were seen as pivotal moments for improvement rather than disappointment.

The key challenge for leaders is to navigate the thin line between driving performance and nurturing a supportive atmosphere. Push too hard and employees will feel like undervalued cogs in a machine, be too soft and all direction and motivation will be lost. The balance involves acknowledging and understanding where employee well-being directly impacts productivity and efficiency. When employees feel personally valued and supported in specific tasks and projects, and they’re encouraged to embrace failures or miscalculations, they will become engaged, creative, and committed to the company’s vision.

The role of transparent communication

Finding that balance between empathy and efficiency starts with leaders championing a culture of openness and creating an environment where feedback and communication is not just encouraged but is seen as a vital component of a business’ growth and success.

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, was known for her open-door policy, encouraging employees at all levels to share their ideas and feedback directly with her. She regularly spent time walking the halls of PepsiCo, engaging in conversations with employees, and listening to their perspectives. This approach not only fostered a culture of open communication but also helped her and her senior leadership team in making more informed and inclusive decisions that aligned with PepsiCo’s strategic goals.

While Nooyi’s approach is a wonderful example, leaders must also ensure that their collaborative efforts do not completely derail the company’s strategic objectives. All viewpoints and pieces of feedback won’t always be valuable. The trade-off lies in always maintaining the strategic direction of the business through an open and transparent communication style that makes clear the company’s goals, while also being receptive to the insights and concerns of team members at all levels. This doesn’t mean involving every team in every decision, but it does mean being upfront and clear about those decisions and their impact.

Fostering innovation and adaptability

By fostering a culture of openness and empathy, leaders will begin to naturally cultivate an environment where team members feel free to think creatively and are not afraid to take calculated risks. This natural evolution has been instrumental in the success of companies like Google, going as far as to introduce the ‘20% time’ policy.

The policy encourages employees to take up to one day a week to work on something completely unrelated to their work, something that they’re passionate or deeply interested in. While the policy is a luxury that not many other companies or industries could easily afford to implement, the lesson is clear. By empowering individuals and teams to think beyond the confines of their work, innovation and greater adaptability will bloom.

The greatest challenge comes from managing the risks associated with unbridled innovation against the potential rewards. While fostering a culture of innovation, leaders must also ensure that the risks taken align with the company’s overall risk appetite and strategic goals. It’s about striking a balance between encouraging out-of-the-box thinking and ensuring that these innovative pursuits always contribute in some way towards the company’s growth.

Prioritising personal development and growth

Finally, a resilient team is one where individual growth is deeply aligned with the company’s growth. Leaders should focus on personal development plans that don’t simply enhance skills relevant to the company but also contribute to the personal growth of the employee. Much like Google’s ‘20% time’ policy at a smaller scale, this approach can greatly boost morale and ensure near continuous improvement in a team’s capabilities.

The key lies in aligning individual aspirations with the company’s objectives. While it’s important to support personal growth, leaders must also ensure that this growth contributes to the team and company’s overall objectives. The challenge for leaders lies in always finding a mutually beneficial path that fosters personal development while advancing the company’s goals.

Building a resilient team is a complex journey filled with trade-offs, but the rewards in terms of team performance and well-being are immeasurable.  At Acumen, we are dedicated to equipping leaders with practical tools to tackle real-life challenges. Our comprehensive range of training and development programs, including customised interventions and off-the-shelf courses, helps organisations foster a culture of respect and empower their employees. To learn more about our programs and how they can benefit your organisation, please contact Simon at



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