Hamilton Philip Lindley resilient

Resilience is a shield protecting us from perpetual change, persistent stress, and constant pressures — it leverages our most challenging situations towards our growth. The story of the donkey and the farmer illustrates the power of resilience.

One afternoon, a farmer’s donkey fell into a pit. The creature bellowed for hours as the farmer analyzed how to get his donkey out of the well. He decided the animal was so old that he wasn’t worth retrieving. And the pit was dangerous. So he decided to cover them both up with dirt. He would bury the donkey alive.

The farmer and his friends grabbed shovels and began to throw dirt on the donkey. When the donkey realized the farmer was burying him, he roared horribly. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the donkey calmed down. That donkey must have surrendered to his fate. They kept shoveling.

After loads of dirt down on the donkey, the farmer looked down in the well, expecting to see a layer of soil where his old donkey used to be. But instead, he saw his donkey on top of the fresh dirt. With each shovel of earth, the donkey shook it off and took a step up. Eventually, with enough dirt, the donkey stepped over the edge of the well and trotted off to safety.

Life shovels dirt on us. We can either surrender and get buried alive or shake it off and step up. Each of our struggles is an opportunity. That obstacle may be the way out of your pit of despair. When life shovels dirt on you, or something stinkier, shake it off and take a step up. You can get out of the deepest wells by not giving up.

What does a resilient team look like?

Researchers at Harvard Business School have identified four main elements of resilient teams.

  • Humility: Can your team ask for and accept help from other team members?Resilient teams admit when a problem is unmanageable and ask for help. They do not conceal their failures but lean into the team for finding solutions.
  • Resourcefulness: When confronted with difficulties, does your team develop practical and creative answers? Resilient teams bounce from setbacks. They remain focused on outcomes no matter the external conditions.
  • Candor: Does your team honestly share feedback?Resilient groups vocalize truth to teammates, collectively identifying and solving challenges they face together.
  • Empathy: Does your team authentically care for teammates in both failure and success?Resilience is a devotion to elevating the team instead of seeking personal recognition. Talk with your employees frequently and actively listen. Help them recognize triggers of stress that are affecting their work and wellbeing. Social support is vital for managing stress among groups. Empathy creates a loyal and committed team. It also teaches us to be present, improves happiness, and cultivates collaboration.

How do I build a resilient team?

Create bonding activities. Your coworkers need to know about each other’s lives outside of work. Without a bond, they will fail to rally around each other in a time of difficultyWhen your team lacks a dose of social interaction from the workplace, the leader must keep them feeling that they are a vital part of something greater than themselves. In team meetings, start them off with both a professional and personal update.

Encourage your team to give positive feedback daily, play remote games, or enjoy virtual coffee breaks together. Make sure that they are taking advantage of video calls and chat applications to foster interactions. Share a funny meme daily. Ask a group question of the day to foster discussion about something other than work. People need to know they are not alone.

Encourage collaboration. A resilient team is a supportive network. Reassure your employees that they can rely on each other When an employee is faced with a difficult situation, ask her to think who on the team could help. That will build resilience in both the person seeking help and the worker providing it.

Communicate with certainty. When your team lacks information, they will begin to let anxiety take over. In uncertain times, we can become more anxious and almost obsessed with the unknown. No matter how bad the news is, don’t hide information from your team. People would rather know reality instead of being kept in the dark.

Consistently make your team members feel valued and appreciated. Promote the appreciation of the gifts that each team member brings to your group. Make sure that you compliment each individual for their specific accomplishments. Create a place that celebrates the whole person by paying attention to your workers. Did someone mention a new hobby? Ask them about it. Buy supplies for them. Remind them that you deeply value their contributions.

Reframe your employees’ insecurities

Give a positive spin to the circumstances that frustrate your workers. Help them look at change as an opportunity instead of something to fear. In the book How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing, the author advocates that we should only focus on what we can control. Encourage your employee to spend her energy on concerns within her influence while letting go of things outside of her control.

To reframe our way of seeing a situation, we should ask ourselves whether there is a genuine loss or just guessing an adverse consequence? We cannot get our minds stuck on how things ought to be. Ask ourselves what we can improve for next time. What was within our control and what was not?

Perfectionism is the enemy. Trying to be perfect will erode the resilience of your team. For years, I strived for perfection to hide my shortcomings. I believed that I needed to project an ideal image to dodge criticism. But perfection is unattainable. As my desire for perfection grew, I risked explosion or collapse. It requires a tremendous amount of energy, with no energy left over for a crisis. Your team will be awash in a sea of fear if you expect perfection from them.

A perfectionist is prone to ask himself questions that are reactive and unproductive, for example, “who is at fault for us not outperforming our competition?” To avoid perfectionism as a leader, ask yourself, “What am I missing? What actions might I take?”

The opposite of a resilient team is a fearful team

Fear causes more errors. Rather than use common sense, workers attempt to read their boss’ mind. So the employees drop the ball over and over. Constant criticism has the same effect.

Resilient teams are not fearful. If your team is continuously afraid, it is not resilient. Do you fear making a mistake? A team that isn’t resilient is consistently afraid of reprimands, demotions, or firings. That isn’t an environment that fosters innovation. Fear is an awful motivator. It drives us to make irrational decisions. When we are motivated by fear, we react without thinking things through, lash out in anger, and isolate ourselves. A workplace awash in fear won’t last long. Fear focuses on the short term instead of the long term.

Resilience requires a psychologically safe workplace

To be resilient, we must understand what we cannot control. We need to remain calm to make responsible choices for things we can control. We must stay positive.

To build resilience in the workplace, teams need a psychologically safe atmosphere where the following conditions are met:

  • Workers trust that supervisors won’t penalize them for individual mistakes — don’t create a tattletale culture.
  • Employees are held accountable for their good and bad actions.
  • Teams uplift each individual’s strengths rather than concentrating on their weaknesses.
  • Workers feel respected so that they raise their hand when something could be improved or is not right.
  • People are accountable for the organization’s prosperity and share praise.
  • Teams uplift each individual’s strengths rather than concentrating on their weaknesses.

These qualities are the way a resilient workplace keeps focused on the company’s vision. Resilient teams have the mental toughness to respond to crises. With a resilient group, a catastrophe goes from a volcano to a speed bump.


Building resilience where fear has deep roots takes skilled effort and leadership. Organizational leaders must direct change without rigid solutions. We must master collaborative leadership to sustain our organizations in an increasingly complex, ambiguous, and volatile world.

Read more on the Hammer Blog.