We recently launched a new podcast series – Modern Perspectives – where we share insights from B2B leaders and explore how they deal with transformation, change and technology in a marketing context.
In the fifth episode, hosted by Lewis Webb, we spoke with two business leaders to get their thoughts on building resilient teams and cultures.
You can also listen to the Modern Perspectives podcast here.
Introducing Tracey and Victoria
In times of unprecedented change, resilience is essential. The COVID-19 pandemic tested our resilience to its limits. However, resilience isn’t something that just happens. Leaders need to create a culture where resilience is an overriding focus.
In this episode, our guests are senior leaders who deal with resilience every day:
- Tracey Countryman – Senior Managing Director, Accenture – Tracey is Accenture’s global industry, manufacturing and operations lead
- Victoria Humphries – Speaker, author, polar adventurer, businesswoman – Victoria was part of the first all-female expedition to the North Pole
It’s a terrific discussion, packed with insight and ideas to boost resilience. Here are five highlights from the podcast.
What are the elements of a resilient team?
Victoria – I think it’s about trust and empowerment. It’s not just trusting your team; it’s allowing them to try things, make mistakes, blossom and flourish. Then, when the chips are down, as they were last year during COVID, your team have practised for that world of change. They’re ready for D-Day.
My trip to the North Pole summed up every trait you need to be resilient. It was a world of constant ambiguity and change. You were full of fear and adrenaline, and you constantly had problems put in your way. You absolutely needed resilience.
Tracey – The meaning of resilience has changed in my 23 years at Accenture. The sheer nature of our growth (from around 24,000 people to 560,000) and the technology shifts that happened changed the way we engage, build communities and build trust.
Before the pandemic, I thought resilience came naturally. I thought it was something embedded in our DNA as a company. However, since the pandemic, I realised you need to focus on resilience and how to respond more effectively to your people and your clients.
Origin of resilience
Where does resilience come from?
Victoria – I don’t think resilience is something you’re born with, but it starts on the day you’re born. Resilience is something you learn through life, and you have to practise it daily. It’s all about having that opportunity to not succeed, adapt and adjust, and not be thrown when things come at you.
I think there’s an issue in society today that we’re not encouraged to fail often enough. You need a safe environment where you can practise. If you’ve never not succeeded, you can’t build up that resilience.
Tracey – In tech, we talk a lot about failing fast. There’s been a generational shift about embracing the risk and the failure that goes along with it. You can be aggressive about trying things, failing, putting yourself out there. Unless you have failed at something and rise again, you do not have that inherent resilience.
For example, I once had an executive meeting that went incredibly poorly. I meet with clients all the time, but this one, I just didn’t hit it off. It felt like a failure. I talked about it with a colleague, and he told me something I’ve always remembered – everyone you meet, no matter how senior, puts their trousers on one leg at a time.
What makes a resilient culture in a business?
Victoria – I see it in the military and the emergency services, where everyone has a role. You have to trust that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do. There’s no time to micromanage.
We all experienced this last March, where we had to pivot our businesses overnight while keeping all of our staff safe and closing offices. You didn’t have time to double and triple-check anything. You just had to delegate and trust.
Tracey – Since the pandemic, everybody has to have everybody’s back. Trust your direct reports, build up their confidence, believe in them and give them space to perform.
When your home is your workplace, mental wellbeing is everything. Leaders have to create a space for people to be their whole selves, constantly checking in and making some flexibility in the system. Leaders have to make time to connect personally and say, ‘How are you doing?’
Leaders should also be open and transparent. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. Acknowledge the uncertainty that you’re going through.
Agility is essential
Given the new level of uncertainty when you’re making decisions, either for your organisation or for your clients, how does that impact the culture of your team?
Tracey – We’re definitely reacting faster with our clients. Things that used to take ten months to innovate on now takes seven days. Crisis breeds innovation, and we had to get these digital use cases up and running straight away. As Victoria said, there wasn’t time to double-check and triple-check. That level of agility and innovation is going to become part of business culture.
At the same time, I think people have a longer-term view of their purpose, impact, and staying true to their employees – the human side. This long term commitment to changing social community and being a purpose-driven corporation is going to stay with us.
Victoria – I think this agility is one of the best things to come out of this crisis. When you do a staff training exercise on coping with change or being agile, there are always some people who sit there with their arms folded and say they don’t like change. Well, they were suddenly chucked in the deep end last year. But, the large majority of them actually swam. They discovered new skills, traits and abilities they didn’t realise they had.
Now, we need to see which companies will continue with these positive cultural changes and which ones will go back to the way they were.
Flexibility in an uncertain world
How do you create a structure with a degree of flexibility for those unknowns, like a global pandemic?
Victoria – It’s the culture more than anything else. You can run through as many scenarios as you want, but it’s worthless if you don’t have that culture of resilience. Leadership has realised that you need to focus on resilience 365 days a year. It’s not something you can look at in January, then move on to something else in February. You have to practise daily, building a culture of trust and empowerment, so your team can cope and suddenly be agile when it’s needed.
Tracey – We’ve always had structured programmes. I personally lead our inclusion and diversity in our women’s network for manufacturing and engineering. Several thousand women are part of it, and we talk every month about the human side of things. It’s authentic and very not corporate.
But, at the same time, we’ve seen networks popping up more organically. We had a junior consultant starting a community around engineering and manufacturing that had 240 people on the first call. It’s amazing. We have to empower people to go and think and do what they want around topics they’re passionate about.
Thanks to Victoria and Tracey for their excellent and thoughtful answers. Here are the five key takeaways from the conversation:
- Resilience comes from not succeeding. You need to be allowed to fail in order to rise again
- You need to practise resilience daily. It doesn’t happen on its own
- Leaders must trust their direct reports, build their confidence and give them space to perform
- The pandemic forced teams to be agile and adapt to change, whether they wanted to or not. The challenge is, can they keep it up?
- Mental wellbeing is key to resilience and even more critical since the pandemic. Leaders must take time to check in on their people and lead by example, showing their own human side
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