Leaders who encourage their employees to learn on the job and speak up with ideas and suggestions for change have teams that are more effective and resilient in the face of unexpected situations, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Windsor.

“A Resource Model of Team Resilience Capacity and Learning” will appear in a special issue of Group & Organization Management. Authors Kyle Brykman, an assistant professor at the Odette School of Business at the University of Windsor, and Danielle King, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Rice, studied what makes employees more resilient and fosters learning in the workplace. The researchers specifically examined the interactions of 48 teams from five Canadian technology startups.

“Understanding what organizations can do to help employees become more resilient is the focus our work in my Working Resilience Research Laboratory,” King said. “This research project offered an opportunity to uncover the important role of leadership and employee voice in the resilience process.”

Brykman and King found that teams that were more effective and resilient if their bosses encourage employees to take risks, make suggestions and learn from the process. Creating a work environment centered around learning and open communication is helpful as teams grow and take on new tasks, King said. Leaders must reinforce this workplace culture with positive language that signals openness and a focus on their development, she said.

“Knowing that you have a leader who is focused on learning and not just on performance outcomes is critical,” King said. “It’s also important for them to be intentional about communicating this regularly to employees, as it can make all the difference in building more resilient teams. Leaders need to verbally reward a learning mindset. For example, when a boss responds to an employee who makes an on-the-job error by saying, ‘Great, now you can learn from this experience,’ rather than berating them for making a mistake, it makes a big difference.”

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Materials provided by Rice University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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