Building resilience is a team sport

Promoting resilience and wellness requires creating psychological safety, providing clear expectations and considering cultural nuances and individual personalities.

Sports analogies are all too common in leadership and development. While they can often be seen as a cliché, they do offer a different perspective. A basketball player who has missed their last five shots continues to shoot, and leaves you, as an avid fan, asking “why?” When asked in the post-game interview, the player responds, “My coaches and my teammates have confidence in me.”

In another example, a child is trying to fit the shapes into the correctly shaped hole. The child tries fumbling with the shape, while the parent looks from afar encouraging, clapping and showing enthusiasm for the effort. Here’s a final example that might resonate further: When a loved one gets diagnosed with cancer, we tend to show them support by using words of praise, strength and a positive attitude. The patient builds on that confidence to fight, despite the ups and downs. 

In all these scenarios, one thing holds true – there was a support system. Players have off nights, but if they are making the right decision like taking the open shot, you must continue to ensure that they feel confident taking the next shot. A child is trying to figure out the puzzle, but it’s the parents acknowledgement and attention that is keeping the child going, despite the frustration. A cancer patient is going through some of the most physically draining periods of their lives. There is a point in which they may not feel like getting up the next day, but having loved ones reminding them of their strength and determination could put the patient in the right mental state to get up that morning. 

We sometimes use extreme examples to draw parallels to work. The support system within the office begins with the manager, but it can also encompass leaders and peers. Managers and leaders can enhance a team’s resilience by implementing a few strategies:

  • Create psychological safety. Communicate that you have their back, provide a safety net and create a mentality that “we will get through these roadblocks together.”
  • Remind colleagues of success. Sometimes looking at the past when you have dealt with challenging situations can be a motivator to get you through the challenging part again.
  • Break down the problem. Sometimes we are faced situations that feel too big and it is hard to understand where to begin. Coach the individual in breaking down the issue: Where are the roadblocks? What do we need to do first? What is in your control and what is not?
  • Share examples. A direct report might feel that they are the only ones to have gone through these challenges. This is where you can showcase your authentic self and share when you have gone through something similar and how you got through it. 
  • Give feedback on behavior. Focus on what the person may have done or said, rather than putting a label on the type of person they are. Feedback, when given well, can provide explicit information on what an individual can do differently. 

Peers and team members can also support an environment of resilience with the following strategies: 

  • Encouragement. Positive thinking can be helpful for an individual and ensures there is a supportive team environment. 
  • Lending a hand. We know everyone is busy, but if you can offer help even by simply asking “How can I help?” that goes a long way in letting an individual know they are not alone.
  • Advocate for each other. A peer can only do so much but may have a better understanding of what the individual is going through. Peers can be helpful by escalating the situation to the individual’s manager, who may not always know what a direct report is going through. 

When you cultivate an environment of psychological safety and positive support, you promote a mindset of resilience. Skilled leaders can inspire the notion that individuals, even in the face of challenges, comprehend how to move forward.

Nitin Malik is the global head of talent at StepStone Group.