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  • Stephen Scott Johnson

Reducing risk and enhancing team wellbeing. Are you winging it?

Greetings from Melbourne’s flash lockdown. If you’re local, you might be thinking, “here we go again!” It’s a same-same but different situation – we’ve been here before and know what to expect – yet familiarity doesn’t seem to make things any easier.


I had a call last Friday from a general manager of a successful global enterprise that I’ve been working with for the past three years. The context was interpersonal conflict and ways to keep his team psychologically safe during this new period of restrictions. To preface this article, the Covid reality and ever-changing nature of work continue to challenge team resilience and wellbeing, making it extremely difficult for organisations to consistently deliver results. What’s more, high-performing teams are typically made up of driven, highly complex, talented individuals – people who by their very nature have a high propensity to get in each other’s way. Here’s the thing: the go-to performance “quick fix” many leaders reach for is to bolster resources and plug skills deficits, and whilst these things do help, often what’s limiting performance is subconscious biases and patterns of behaviour – those which limit people’s ability to function cohesively and be happy.

It’s one thing to change an attitude or reaction you’re aware of – it’s entirely another to change something you don’t even know you’re doing.


‘Project Implicit’, a 2016 joint research effort led by Harvard University, discovered that biases thought to be absent or extinguished remain as a “mental residue” in most of us. It’s like a ‘sleeper agent’ in a spy movie that lays dormant waiting for the right set of conditions to activate. This residue is also known as a “trigger”, whereby without conscious awareness we act and react in a way that undermines, thus negatively impacting work, relationships and overall wellbeing. Fortunately, the human brain is designed to learn and build new neural pathways for changing existing behaviours and decisions. As a leader, being able to recognise and mitigate these destructive patterns – to optimise interpersonal dynamics in real-time – has become an essential prerequisite for success. Importantly, in the absence of certainty, leadership doesn’t mean having all the answers or that you are exempt from fear.


Here’s a five-point leadership checklist to elevate team resilience and wellbeing


1. Be visible – It is essential to communicate the context for the decisions you make and for the actions you need to take. Abandon organisational hierarchies and engage with people directly to create assurance.


2. Set the tone – In a crisis everyone can play a leadership role, no matter how small. Align workflow daily and prioritise around a common purpose, with clear goals and objectives for each person in your team.


3. Be decisive – To galvanise a cohort you must be absolutely unwavering. This may result in bruised egos and people being upset with you, but don’t take it personally. Rather, authentically motivate and mobilise your team around a unified vision.


4. Demonstrate compassion – Integrity is the foundation of leadership and essential to keeping people engaged and reassured. More than ever, your team needs to know that you care, so be human and acknowledge their anxieties at a personal level.


5. Connect the dots – Think of your team as a living organism instead of a machine. We are living in an ever-changing reality, with increased risk of ambiguity undermining operations. Honest and adaptive communication is key – listen and engage with your team directly and discuss challenges and opportunities in an open forum.


In essence, your team as a molecular unit where real production happens, where innovative ideas are conceived and tested, and where people experience most of their work. But it’s also where interpersonal issues, ill-suited skill sets, and unclear group goals can hinder productivity and cause friction. Understanding this context is the difference between success and failure. It demands conscious leadership, which at the most basic level means leading from a higher state of awareness, while providing the four things most demanded of a leader: trust, compassion, stability and hope. If you’d like to learn how to improve interpersonal dynamics and reduce friction within your team, instead of “winging it” and hoping for the best, let’s talk!


Until next time,