Every great team and company are built on a strong foundation of energised leaders, a culture of high performance, a passion for sustainability of the business and an investment in its people. Unfortunately, many companies make the mistake of perceiving the personal energy of its people as a bonus or a wellness parameter, rather than the foundation of performance. And all too often leave it to chance. In addition, whilst there are many excellent leadership, strategy, financial and business programmes available to organisations to develop talent, most do not strategically provide the tools to support or improve personal energy and wellbeing.

Mercedes F1 Works Team

One business that firmly places ‘wellbeing’ performance tools alongside more traditionally recognised business tools is The Mercedes Formula 1 Works team. Mercedes F1 is not just a racing team. It is a large business that generates half a billion dollars in revenue, represents a very strong return on investment for the Mercedes brand and employs 1 800 people across the racing team and the engine facility. Despite its size and enormous physical and psychological demands that the team operate under, the team culture is one of calm efficiency, driven by a no blame culture and attention to employee mental and physical welfare. In an interview with BBC in July 2019 Wolff outlined some of the wellbeing performance tools of Mercedes provide to all employees to protect their energy and sustain high performance:

“Staying energised, physically and mentally fit, is not trivial…..… In a modern advanced organisation like a sports team that is travelling to 21 grands prix every year, you need to be aware that the humans are your key resource……….We are looking at nutrition, at sleep, at medical support, at sports, and we are looking at giving days off, sending people home, if we feel they are not in a good frame of mind. We are looking at psychologists, at mindfulness at the team. I could speak here for another hour and say what we are doing.”

What is notable is that alongside the elements of nutrition and sports that are already familiar and accessible to most of us through our workplace wellbeing programmes, Mercedes have rolled out mindfulness and mindful meditation across the entire team of 1 800 people, predominately engineers. A long-term practitioner of mindfulness for his own personal wellbeing Wolff sees mindfulness in business as a means “to utilise those marginal gains in order to extract the most out of your group of people.”

What is Mindfulness?

Whilst it is not uncommon for people to equate mindfulness with meditation (meditation is one extremely powerful way to practice mindfulness) the most widely accepted definition in practitioner and academic literature is:

The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally – Kabat-Zinn, 2015.

It is a skill that gives you the ability to voluntarily bring back a wandering attention by:

  • better understand ‘thinking’ and its impact on feeling and,
  • enhance awareness of moment-to-moment mental processes -Varvogli et al., 2011

The ‘So What’ question

So why mindfulness for business? Chade-Meng Tan, the engineer responsible for establishing the Google mindful self-awareness programme, argues that in context of a work environment mindfulness enables 3 important skill sets:

  1. Stellar work performance
  2. Outstanding leadership
  3. The ability to create the conditions for happiness

Essentially mindfulness can sharpen and deepen your emotional competencies to help you optimise yourself and function at a higher level than you are already capable of. And Mercedes have experienced first-hand the impact these mindfulness practices have had on team performance as well as individual wellbeing. we pushed through that initial phase of resistance and I must say that I have increased the quality of my life tremendously by doing it, and the feedback we received was very positive.”

So how do you roll out mindfulness to a group of scientific minded, very sceptical engineers in the world of F1?  

“….. when we started, we chose a group where we believed there would be some of the most hardcore, stubborn, hard-line engineers who would think this is some kind of tree-hugging exercise. We put them all in a room – there were about 20 of us – and you will be surprised to hear that after the full course, which was six or seven sessions, the ones we believed would drop out immediately because it was all just ‘nonsense’, they did the whole thing to the end and actually improved their mental wellbeing and their performance.”

How Do I Roll Out Mindfulness in my Business?

  1. ‘Sell’ the concept

Sell the concept of mindfulness in a way that means something to the organisation a whole. There are individual benefits (in wellbeing, stress reduction, increased focus). But be clear about the value to the organisation (change readiness, outstanding leadership, sustainability).

  • Communicate Strategically

Mindfulness should be understood on a behavioural level and defined in process. Define what a ‘mindful’ leader/employee looks like and what they will do.

  • Start with me

Show it is ‘ok ‘to engage in mindful practices, living those practices yourself. Identify senior champions who lead by example, and who will inspire action. And then champions at every level.

  • Make it scientific

Demystify it, presenting it as a field of science with practical tool and methodologies available for people to try.

  • Align it with real life

Physical exercise is now taken for granted, aligned with our life and fully accessible to anyone who wants to learn can. In that same way make mindfulness ‘real’ in the lives and interests of your people.

Final Thoughts

Not only is there currently a crisis of a shrinking economy, there is also a crisis of human energy and personal resilience. It is critical right now to invest in maximising the performance of those who must solve your current challenges. The skill of observing thoughts in the present, and not judging them, can help improve perceptual clarity, energy, and coping ability. Even in engineers!