Cultivating Resilience in Your Team: A Leader’s Guide to Navigating Uncertainty
Four Ways to Build a Culture of Resilience
I was 28 years old, at the peak of my career. I was making more money than I had in my life and, quite frankly, more than I would have imagined possible a few short years earlier. I had moved to a new town and was about to launch a new branch office set to lead the charge into a new province. Life was good. Until it wasn’t. It was October 3, 1997, when I got the phone call from the BC regulator. Eron Mortgage, the company I worked for, had been shut down for good. I would later learn this was the largest mortgage fraud in BC history—$240 million. A giant Ponzi scheme, it seemed. I was a new face, in a new town, with a new fiance; not only had I lost my job but also millions of dollars.
If ever there was a time for resilience, this was it. But, of course, I had no idea this was just the beginning of what would become a journey of resilience building in my life. While the details of my story may be unique, the need to adapt to unexpected change is not. No matter how well we script our lives, we can’t avoid the inevitable suck. This is true whether we are talking business or personal.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to be resilient. However, we appreciate that we don’t live in an ideal world. Challenges are inevitable regardless of how we plan, organize, and work our organizational plan. So the question becomes how can we create a culture of resilience within our organizations?
The difference between successful and unsuccessful organizations is how well they adapt and cope with change.
Here are a couple of well-known examples:
Netflix was a DVD rental-by-mail service which faced competition from established players like Blockbuster. However, Netflix adapted to the changing market and shifted its focus to online streaming, which became its primary business model. This move allowed Netflix to expand globally and become a leader in the streaming industry.
In contrast, Kodak failed to adapt and eventually went bankrupt. Kodak was a dominant player in the photography industry for many years, but the company failed to keep up with the shift to digital photography. Despite inventing the first digital camera in 1975, Kodak was slow to embrace the technology and instead focused on its traditional film business. This ultimately led to the company’s downfall, as it failed to adapt to the changing market and lost its competitive edge to newer digital camera companies like Canon and Nikon.
So how do we cultivate a culture of resilience within our organization?
Here are four things that are Paramount to developing a culture of resilience within any organization.
Curiosity over Judgement
We open possibilities by looking at the adversities thrown at us through the lens of curiosity rather than judgment. We create the opportunity to learn through the process and avoid being crippled by fear, doubt and indecision. Cultivating a culture of curiosity over judgment starts at the leadership level but will require an organizational shift in mindset. When the storm hits, we must ensure everyone on the boat is rowing their oars in the same direction. As leaders, we must cultivate curiosity through the good and bad times.
One way we can inspire curiosity is to invite it. We can ask our teams what they are curious about when we launch a new initiative. Invite curiosity, welcome questions, and encourage challenges.
Dr. Amy Edmonson codified psychological safety as the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.
When we create a psychologically safe environment, we allow our teams to speak up during times of crisis. We allow our people to use their skills and talent to help us navigate the crisis collectively. Empowering our people to take action without fear of reprisal creates a sense of agency, ownership and purpose, allowing individuals to be more resilient in navigating challenges and change. Knowing that ideas, beliefs, questions and concerns can be raised directly helps create a space of certainty within an otherwise uncertain world.
In the absence of information, people will fill in the blanks on their own. This can be incredibly damaging in times of crisis. In periods of uncertainty, while people are looking for clarity and direction, more communication from leadership is needed. Communication doesn’t necessarily mean that we have all the answers. It simply means that we as leaders are communicating the answers we do have and the questions we are still trying to address. This kind of communication, coupled with psychological safety, will further empower our teams to co-create solutions as we navigate through crises and challenges.
In 2008 I was the CEO of a national mortgage brokerage. That happened to be the year the world saw the global financial system collapse. Ensuring we communicated with our staff and customers throughout the unprecedented economic crisis and financial collapse was critical. Even when we did not have answers, we still communicated.
Creating intentional spaces for our teams to unpack whatever is going on allows communication to flow in all directions. Communication is not just about sending information out it is also about creating an environment where your team can actively share information, ideas and feelings.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
As leaders, this is one of the most powerful tools in our toolkits. When it comes to building a culture of resilience, we also need to foster an environment of emotionally connected (emotionally intelligent) individuals. When times are challenging, people react in different ways. Understanding what drives those reactions is vital to navigating change. You have likely heard me before talk about how emotions drive decisions, decisions drive behaviour, and behaviours ultimately determine our results. It is essential to understand our emotional makeup and those around us so that we can take action proactively rather than with a reactive approach.
One way leaders can help create emotionally connected team members is to start significant interactions (meetings, one-to-ones, etc.) with a “check-in.” A brief one or two-word “What feeling is coming up for you right now?” check-in can create a practice space for emotional intelligence and help foster psychological safety.
As you can see, all these competencies require ongoing practice. These are not tools that are simply pulled out when the need for resilience arises but skills that require continual practice. The time to learn how to swim is not when your boat capsizes. The time to learn to swim is before you get on the boat. The same holds for building a culture of resilience within our organizations.