Building resilient teams through mental toughness

British businesses are still beset by failure rates that look set to loom above pre-recession levels until 2015 at the earliest, according to the latest Industry Watch report by accountancy firm BDO. In the face of such turbulent economic times there is mounting pressure on companies to ensure their staff, and in particular managers and leaders, are armed with the necessary resilience to guide their organisations through the recession and onwards to a successful future.

Long associated with elite sportsmen and women, mental toughness is a concept that is increasingly in demand among organisations under pressure to survive, grow and succeed. The programme, aimed primarily at giving staff the psychological skills and tools to adapt in a positive way to organisational change, is based on people’s capacity to harness the power of stress to improve personal and organisational resilience.

Harrogate-based people development company Primeast has helped people in over 30 organisations develop mental toughness over the last two years. The company’s head of organisational development and change, Martin Carver, reports a surge in demand for its mental toughness programmes, which can range from a simple personal employee assessment with feedback and a development plan to be delivered in house, to a six-month coaching plan with re-assessments incorporated at the end of the course to track progress.

“Mental toughness gives you the focus and tools to persevere, as well as to recover quickly from setbacks,” says Carver. “We are receiving feedback from clients on how nurturing resilience among managers and other staff is equipping them to battle their way through these extraordinarily tough market conditions.”

Carver and his team use an on-line profiling tool which asks a series of insightful questions in order to assess an individual’s resilience and ability to cope with stress. A development report is created which gives HR managers, or employers, a snapshot of the person’s – or team’s – current mental toughness, providing tips and suggestions on how to toughen up where necessary across areas of challenge, commitment, control and confidence. It also indicates if someone is too tough, and potentially blind to the impact they create.

Used throughout both public and private sector, mental toughness programmes can be invaluable for organisations entering a period of restructure or other change. “When a business is undergoing a restructuring process, it’s common for its people to develop change fatigue,” explains Carver. “A mental toughness programme can ensure that, psychologically, your managers, and other staff, have the readiness and propensity to take the business forward. How do employees cope when they have just lost colleagues in restructure and redundancies? It’s tough on the people who are leaving, but don’t forget those who stay behind and pick up the pieces.”

But the mental toughness nurtured by programmes such as Primeast’s is not about creating a workforce of warriors, tough to the point of aggression. The idea, says Carver, is to help people understand where they are in relation to challenge, commitment, control and confidence, to give them a focus so that they can adapt more quickly and efficiently. “Different roles require different levels of resilience,” he says. “It might be necessary to ramp up an individual’s mental toughness to enable them to keep themselves and colleagues focused and pulling together as a team through a period of change.”

An over-emphasis on toughness though can be counter-productive, adds Carver. “We encounter people who score all tens on the toughness scale but they tend to be arrogant, bloody minded and difficult to work with. In these cases toughness can become a weakness.”

Top tips for developing mental toughness


  • Work with someone else to help you review and prioritise your work, expacially when things are changing quickly
  • Time management tools and techniques could help you be better organised


  • Take time to understand the people around you – their strengths and weaknesses. Play to their strengths and don’t expect things that they can’t reasonably deliver.
  • Recognise contributions from others and give praise where it’s due.


  • Start you next piece of work with a colleague – share the challenge and the problems!
  • Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or yoga could help you cope more effectively with stress.
  • Remind yourself that what you do really does matter – identify the benefits of what you do.


  • Praise yourself when you achieve – and seek every opportunity to do so.
  • Change your work environment temporarily to set new challenges.
  • Find ways to make sure that if you have something to say you say it!
  • Get a mentor.
  • List five positives about yourself and work with a manager, friend or colleague to identify these.

Comments are closed.