Building Resilient Teams for Future Challenges

My recent report looking into Life after Lockdown noted several impending challenges to organisations and likely changes to the future business environment. It also highlighted strategies and solutions that organisations have put in place to tackle these challenges. Of the many lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic it became clear that the need to build a resilient business able to withstand future shocks was critical.

The role of resilient teams

Resilience is defined as “recovering easily and quickly from shock, illness, hardship etc” (Collins English dictionary). A resilient business must have solid commercial foundations from which to springboard into recovery, but it must also have a robust, engaged workforce with which to execute that recovery.

Productivity in the UK has barely recovered since the 2008 crash (Source: ONS report 2018). One reason cited for this is the decreasing level of employee engagement. Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO recently noted, “the fix for global declining productivity lies within our people capital”. Robert K Greenleaf founder of the Servant Leadership philosophy in 1970 believed in empowered employees as the driving force behind a company’s success. “A Leader shares power puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible”. If we see an organisation’s ability to recover quickly from shock being linked to their ability to increase productivity it must therefore ensure it has the right workforce to achieve this.

So how do managers create the conditions for a positive, productive relationship with their employees against a backdrop of uncertainty, financial stress, and organisational change? The results of my report and other recent studies examining employee engagement highlight some ways in which this might be achieved.

Increasing employee engagement

Motivation. Finding out what motivates employees is the first step towards creating a more engaged workforce. It should not be assumed that it is all about the money. Different generations and demographics have different motivations, for some it might be status and remuneration, for others it might be flexibility, the organisation’s culture, and colleagues. Managers need to understand what these are. Allowing open, honest dialogue in the workplace is a good starting point. This can be achieved through formal initiatives (e.g. employee surveys, reviews, assessments, and psychometric profiling) or informal initiatives (e.g. team building activities and social events). It is important to note that this is a continuing process rather than an annual event. Check that motivations and morale amongst employees has not declined by allowing time for regular review.

Provide clear guidance. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) may not always make the right decisions but employees expect the SLT to make decisions and need to be provided with clear, well communicated plans. One participant in my recent report claimed that she had not seen or heard from the CEO since the pandemic forced the workforce out of the office, leaving her feeling alone, confused, and abandoned. She resigned shortly afterwards.

A recent Gallup poll (May 2020), investigating the surprising recent increase in employee engagement in the US observed that “those organisations that focused on communication: having a clear plan of action, preparing employees to do work in a new context, and ensuring supervisors inform employees of the latest developments related to the pandemic and economic downturn were more likely to see increased employee engagement within the organisation”. Arne Sorenson, Marriott Hotels CEO, provided a recent example of this when he sent a short, emotional message to his associates shortly after the pandemic hit. In it he informed his audience of the considerable impact of the pandemic on the business and the measures they were taking to deal with it. He went on to deliver an emotional, honest and heart felt address reiterating the importance of people at the heart of the company and his intention to guide the business through the current crisis. Sorenson’s message demonstrated a keen understanding of what his audience needed; honest, accurate information delivered with understanding and reassurance.

Preparation and planning. For organisations operating in high risk industries (e.g. oil and gas) investing heavily in disaster management and contingency planning is part of their culture. When a crisis hits it is the processes, procedures and training that aid leaders and employees within their organisation to react accordingly.

The recent pandemic has highlighted that a crisis can befall any sector and that having the confidence to steer a business through turbulence requires training and preparation. Fully integrated contingency plans and procedures, knowledgeable employees and confident leaders are a mainstay to building resilient teams.

Crew Clothing Company recently provided a good example of an organisation preparing their workforce for the challenges to come. They have compiled a short, informative video for all staff and employees on what returning to the workplace will look like. It provides employees with clear, well presented guidance ensuring they are aware of new measures and responsibilities for both them and their managers.

‘Humanise’ the management relationship. Limelight Sports maintained an active communication policy throughout the period of lockdown relying on email, newsletters, and company notices to keep in touch with their furloughed staff. The employee feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, citing a renewed relationship between employees and the SLT. Opening and maintaining a new form of honest, informative, and humorous dialogue between employees and their managers created a new level of trust and engagement.

Create supportive management relationships. Many companies have seen the benefits of initiating a mentoring and coaching programme for all levels of management within their organisation. Not only does this create the environment for personal development but it also shows a willingness to support and invest in their employees. This does not have to come at a cost, merely encouraging a more empathetic style of management culture, showing gratitude, understanding and compassion can lead to increased trust and engagement. As the workforce returns so does the need for constant, supportive dialogue.

Recognise the importance of mental and physical wellbeing. A recent report commissioned by McKinsey & Co looking into Well-being in Europe found that, unsurprisingly, the pandemic has caused a significant decline in life satisfaction across the continent. Putting in place strategies that can assist employees with both their mental and physical wellbeing are more important than ever. Some companies I spoke to said they were looking at new and innovative means to engage their employees both at the workplace and outside it. These included looking at ways to reduce commuting (e.g. inclusion of remote working), increasing meaningful communication, executive coaching programmes, personal development (e.g. upskilling and training), increased opportunity for outdoor activity (e.g. team development exercises), offering psychological therapies (often digitally delivered) and even guided meditations. There are many ways to invest in the mental and physical wellbeing of employees to fit any budget or size of organisation. It looks likely that future generations will expect this to form part of their organisation’s culture.

Create an enjoyable working environment. The increase of flexible working options to employees was the most quoted observation about future working habits in my recent report. This is likely to be a surviving trend and therefore needs to be embraced by management. Remote working or Working from Home presents as many challenges as it does opportunities for an organisation. For some the opportunity to save money by reducing office space must be weighed against the possible impact on productivity through the loss of team cohesion and office culture. The solution is particular to each organisation and requires innovative thinking. It does not diminish the need however to ensure the workplace remains attractive for those that need to be there. This is most notably seen in new office developments in central London which include more facilities, e.g. showers, bike racking, flexible desk and meeting space, improved breakout areas, ample storage space (for personal affects and deliveries) and the improved use of lighting and decoration.


Declining levels of employee engagement can be caused by several factors; poor levels of pay, poor working conditions, lack of direction, not feeling valued or appreciated, lack of feedback, poor communication etc. As the recent 2019 TINYpulse survey into global employee engagement found, it boiled down to one thing: culture. There is no doubt that creating a trusting and engaged workforce against the backdrop of financial strain and global uncertainty poses a significant challenge. However, as the Gallup poll indicates it is possible.

The World Health Organisation estimates that for every 1 Euro invested in employee development, countries can see a return of 4 Euros in improved health and productivity. Better still, not all solutions need to come at a great expense. Sometimes a simple refocussing of leadership skills and strategy can reap huge rewards and if that helps an organisation to build resilient, high performing teams capable of achieving rapid recovery and surviving future shocks then surely that is money well spent.

If you would like to discuss any of the aspects of this report or explore the ways in which Coaching might assist you or your business, please get in touch.

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Events, an ex-Army Officer and a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past eighteen years.