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Award-winning leadership coach Anne Phey shares five ways to develop a more resilient and adaptable team.

For many years, the term ‘resilience’ was mainly focused on the mental wellbeing of individuals, however, it has now become a corporate-wide concern. As the business world emerges from more than two years of unprecedented global upheaval, resilience and adaptability are now must-haves for leaders, teams and organizations to not only survive, but to thrive.

According to McKinsey & Co, adaptability is the one tool that all leaders can leverage to prepare for change – and ultimately make their company more agile. So how are resilience and adaptability related?

What are Resilience and Adaptability?

Resilience is the toughness within an individual that helps them recover from difficulties and overcome distress experienced during adversity, trauma, threats and stressful situations. Adaptability is the ability to accept the situation, learn from the experience and apply that knowledge across situations for a positive outcome.

In combination, it moves us from just enduring a challenge to thriving beyond it. We don’t just ‘bounce back’, we ‘bounce forward’ to shape a new reality, learning as circumstances evolve.

Like a muscle, one can build both resilience and adaptability. This ability is the key difference between successful and unsuccessful people.

How to Build Resilience Into Companies

Resilience and adaptability can positively influence mental and physical wellbeing, work satisfaction, employee engagement and team collaboration. People are an organization’s biggest asset. If your team members are happy and positive, attrition will decrease. If they are proactive and engaged, greater productivity and high performance become the norm.

Leaders play a crucial role in putting in place the building blocks that increase the resilience and adaptability of individual team members, as well as the wider business.

The following five ‘P’s are the key takeaways for you and your business.

With massive changes to our lifestyles and work, many are contemplating different life directions and searching for new goals. Leaders have an opportunity to help their team rediscover and reignite their purpose.

When we find meaningful purpose – the ‘why’ we do what we do – it helps each employee to see what the role is that they play and what contribution they make to the company and society. It is the motivational force that keeps us focused to achieve in the face of obstacles. It creates a level of energy, commitment and creativity that brings a desire to improve processes and solve problems.

Now is a good time to re-examine if your company’s vision and goals are still relevant and realistic. If necessary, new goals that are more in line with the direction of development can be adjusted or reformulated. If there is a large gap between the original goal and the current state of the business, you can set smaller goals to motivate the team to move forward gradually.

The ADP Research Institute conducted a global study of resilience with 25,000 working adults from 25 different countries on the impact of COVID-19 on resilience in 2020. Indicators surveyed include quarantines, changes in work hours, layoffs, increased remote working and so on.

The study found that groups affected by changes in more than five of the 11 indicators thought the changes were likely to be permanent. They were also 13 times more likely to be highly resilient. This shows that resiliency is a reactive state of mind due to trauma, and the more setbacks we endure, the more resilient we become.

It is the unknown that scares most people. Rather than downplaying the reality, it is better to be upfront about what the actual threat is. Leaders should be open and honest with their teams about what real changes need to be made at work and in life.

When a team is able to share different perspectives of a situation it can often help to identify any irrational thinking and adopt a broader, more balanced view of the present and future. This also gives an opportunity for self-discovery and a different appreciation of one’s strengths or past positive experiences. An open and honest discussion will allow teams to more effectively develop plans and actions to shape the future.

During the pandemic, some changes were forced upon leaders and their teams that were inevitable. However, in there also lies an opportunity to alter strategies and innovate in times of crisis.

It is a great time to review existing business strategies and models, retire the paths that are weak, stretch the models and seek out where risk and returns can become viable strategies.

In the midst of building a more resilient business model, leaders can encourage teams to be more agile in making decisions, be creative to reinvent processes, be quick to seize new opportunities, explore alternatives and be courageous to consider new pathways to set the company on a different trajectory of growth.

This is a chance to co-create with the team, learn quickly and build a more sustainable change into the business and operating models towards a new future for the organization.

A Harvard Business Review in-depth interview study in 2020 of 150 leaders (who were considered to be the most successful) from 15 different organizations showed that connections helped leaders be more resilient when they encountered major life or professional challenges.

With social distancing and remote working arrangements, people have not just become physically distant, but socially distant as well. Social connections are crucial for wellbeing, as highlighted by the ‘The World Happiness Report’, and with social isolation on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a decline in happiness and life satisfaction.

The study found that when participants had a larger number of social connections on which they could rely for support, they had a better sense of autonomy, competence, relatedness and wellbeing.

Leaders can create social support systems in-person or online with team members. Remember that to build trust with your team, you must be sincere, show empathy for your employees and give them opportunities to express their feelings.

Build up a social support group to provide a forum to share – not just about work but where employees feel safe to share their feelings or what is happening in their personal lives. Build connections through sports, volunteer work, family sessions and personal get-togethers.

Over time, the team camaraderie will build up stronger joint resilience and they will adapt alongside and to one another.

Besides looking inwards, there are external professionals such as psychologists, coaches and business consultants who can provide the advice and help needed. They offer an external neutral perspective and their specialized skills can be more laser focused and effective.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a rise in companies adopting Employee Assistance Programs to support employees with anxiety, depression, burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder. Having a counsellor or psychologist on hand allows employees to be open about what they are experiencing and the current dynamics in the workplace.

A 2017 study by Singapore’s National Social Service Council found that for every US$0.72 invested in adjusting the work environment (such as implementing more flexible work arrangements, providing coaching services and so on), it yielded a return of US$4.72 resulting from workers being more productive and making fewer medical claims. It is a worthwhile investment to improve the resiliency and adaptability of employees.

A leader in present times is one who is authentic, taking time to build trust with their team through being honest about situations and challenges. They are willing to let go of old ways to realign the vision and goals, and are open to co-creating with the team, investing in people and finding ways to solve challenges together.

Now more than ever, we bring our whole self to work. Resilience and flexibility start from within individuals, but are intricately tied in with the team and organization. Collectively, we learn and develop the thoughts, behaviors and actions to help us bounce forward to create success in the new normal.

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