Building resilient teams: Strategies for leading in challenging times

As a leader, you set the tone for the team you manage.

A good leader knows how to motivate their employees, communicate well and make the right decisions, while encouraging a positive environment with room for growth.

But what happens when big challenges come up? It could be external events, supply shortages or rising costs that impact your business, or even internal changes within your organisation itself such a restructure or acquisition.

These are the kind of changes that it’s impossible to prepare for, so being able to adapt to the situation and learn from it is the way forward. This involves building resilience as a leader and setting a clear course of action for your team.

Before digging into how to tackle these challenges, let’s first take a look at what resilience is.


What is resilience and why is it important?

Resilience is about being able to handle and bounce back from challenging life events. A resilient person can manage their emotions and stress levels, adapting to the situation and finding ways to work through it. It’s also a set of skills that can be developed over time. While some people seem to have a natural ability to sail through with a smile on their face no matter what life throws at them, others might find themselves more likely to get overwhelmed when things go wrong. Learning new ways to cope and how to manage thoughts and emotions is key to overcoming this and developing resilience for the future.

Without resilience, we as human beings would struggle to deal with change.

This can apply to all kinds of situations, both positive and negative. Say you’ve bought your dream house and it’s time to move in. It’s an exciting change, but there are so many new things to adapt to: learning the new neighbourhood, buying new furniture, redirecting your mail, finding the nearest supermarket (or decent takeaway!).

Approaching all this in a resilient way means you can handle it when any issues come up, like realising an important package has been delivered to your old address, or if there’s a delay in your furniture arriving. Instead of stress taking over, your resilience frees up the mental space to think of solutions and being open to what comes next.


Resilience in the workplace

As a leader, you’re in the position of leading a team through challenges in the best way possible.

Let’s say your company has made the decision to close the office due to rising costs and move everyone onto remote working contracts. Can you imagine that there might be some panicked responses to the news and possible rumours about what this might mean for people’s jobs down the line? Or that some people might be happy about the change, while others are shocked or upset?

Here are some key strategies to build resilience within your team throughout challenging times:


  1. Look after yourself

Self-care is an important place to start because a well-rested and nourished mind and body is one that can function properly and perform at its best. While short term-stress can be a good thing to motivate you in the moment, chronic stress can leave you feeling tired, forgetful and struggling to make decisions. Making sure you give yourself time to relax and recharge means you will be more likely to wake up energised and able to problem solve and tackle challenges throughout the day, setting a good example for your team.


  1. Accept the situation

We might not always like the change but accepting that it’s happening is key to moving forward, otherwise you risk spending time and energy fruitlessly fighting against or denying something you can’t change. Going back to the remote working scenario above, accepting the reality shifts your mindset into the future which will help you to think of all the different factors to consider. You can then help your team to transition into this mindset too, starting by focusing on the positive outcomes like saving time and money on commuting.


  1. Create a safe space for open communication

Psychological safety is a key factor in building a resilient team that can work together effectively throughout the ups and downs of the workplace. This means having a space where each person can share their thoughts and ideas, make mistakes and ask questions without the fear of getting it wrong or being criticised.

According to Amy Edmonson, who coined the term psychological safety, it also fosters better motivation and engagement within teams which is ideal for helping to build resilience. If everyone is able to contribute and work together on a problem, or through a period of transition, this makes it feel more like a team effort where you’ve all achieved something together.

Empathy is also an important factor here. Not everyone is going to respond to challenges and change in the same way. While some team members may thrive and be keen to step up, others might respond negatively or shy away from taking action. Making sure everyone has a chance to voice their concerns on a one-to-one basis means they are being listened to and you then have the opportunity to understand their point of view and how you can help them to overcome any sticking points.


  1. Encourage a growth mindset

It’s impossible to get things right 100% of the time, we’re only human after all. A big part of being resilient is learning from mistakes and, crucially, allowing yourself and your team to make mistakes to find out what works. You can do this by framing mistakes as opportunities, asking ‘what can we learn from this?’ rather than focusing on what went wrong.

This is a key part of having a growth mindset, which is a belief that things aren’t set in stone, and you can work on improving your skills and abilities over time. For example, going back to the above scenario, a team member with a ‘fixed’ mindset might use language like ‘I’m never going to be able to concentrate working from home.’ If they had a ‘growth’ mindset, they might say something like ‘Right now I don’t feel like I could concentrate at home, so I’m going to look at different approaches that might help to change that.’

Encouraging this type of mindset in your team builds the foundation needed for resilience. It’s the difference between stopping to panic when a challenge is presented, and taking it in their stride and thinking ‘right, what can we do?’


Looking to build resilience as you navigate challenging times? Learn how Insights can support you in that journey here.