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Bruce Daisley

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Finding fortitude: How to help strengthen your teams

Team fortitude flagging in 2023? Managers need to own responsibility for fixing it.
Bear, stork and fox illustration collaboration teamwork

Across the workforce, employees are at breaking point. Three-quarters of people tell us they’ve experienced burnout at work and despite the toughening job market half of all workers have said they would consider changing jobs to escape this feeling. It’s no wonder that we’re all looking for greater fortitude in 2023. The economy isn’t going to get easier, so it’s game time for the team to show their strength.

What is ‘fortitude’?

But what do we mean by fortitude – and how can we find it? Fortitude, resilience, grit – they’re all synonymous ways of looking for that steeliness that we may or not recognise in ourselves, but we worry is in increasingly short supply in the wider world.

If someone says their course will make you more resilient, it’s only fair to ask how

Across schools, colleges and workplaces the demand for resilience training has surged. Indeed – not just these places – in the last ten years the US Army has spent over a billion dollars trying to make their soldiers more resilient. Soldiers, the most physically prime specimens amongst us are feeling weak, we might ask what hope there is for the rest of us.

While the demand for such courses is growing, their implementation in the military and education gives us rare opportunities to check the effectiveness of these interventions. Other scientists love replicating each others’ work, seeking to build and expand upon it. If someone says their course will make you more resilient, it’s only fair to ask how.

Science writer Jesse Singal trawled through research assessments of these programs and concluded that in the case of the military program, despite the lavish budget: ‘There’s zero evidence that [a] mandatory Army program for over a decade, does anything to help soldiers.

Similarly, the evidence to support the programs in schools is no better than an active control group. If these are initiatives with vast budgets and icons of psychology at the helm, what hope is there for your resilience webinar? Our concern grows when we realise workplace courses are based on the very same source materials.

Is fortitude innate?

The truth is that all of these programs seek to suggest that fortitude is something that some of us have, and some of us don’t. But how about we take a step back from this individualistic approach and ask ourselves where we see evidence of resilient fortitude? The example that immediately springs to mind is the embattled citizens of Ukraine, who have shown astonishing strength in the face of invasion by one of the world’s former Superpowers.

Did Vladimir Putin make the mistake of invading the nation with the most fortitude in the world, or is there something that we’re missing? Maybe fortitude is the strength we draw from each other, a potent sense that we’re all in it together forming the basis of this attribute. As soon as this penny drops it tends to be something of a wake-up moment. Fortitude isn’t an individual attribute, it’s a collective one.

This is a vital lesson for leaders at the moment, and especially critical because it comes with huge potential banana skins

And if fortitude is, in fact, a collective strength then it would have significant implications for the world of work. Over the last couple of months, headlines have seen leaders bemoaning the sense that their workplace cultures seemed to lack the cohesive quality they once had.

Marc Benioff at Salesforce wondered whether working apart from each other was leading to a reduction in the ‘tribal’ togetherness that his team had once shown. I’ve lost count of the number of leaders telling me they’ve worked out that they needed to create momentum behind an RTO (Return to the Office) push. But is there something in this? Does our strength come from a bonded sense of togetherness?

This is a vital lesson for leaders at the moment, and especially critical because it comes with huge potential banana skins. If we listen to our colleagues the last three years have been transformational, they have allowed us to unwind some of the pressure that has been mounting inexorably for the last three decades.

Work by Professor Nick Bloom found that by moving to a hybrid model of working our colleagues were able to feel like we were coping far more effectively with the demands of modern life. The number one reason why hybrid working appeals is because it gives us time back to feel like we’re succeeding in life.

Creating collaboration and fostering fortitude

This then is the challenge for 2023, how we can get the benefit of hybrid working but ensure that fortitude and the collective strength that we gain from each other aren’t sacrificed. The answer is that our time in the office needs to be coordinated. I spoke to an employee of one of the UK’s big four banks.

Building that strength is going to require more than RTO mandates

They told me that their culture of complete autonomy had been thrilling when it was first introduced, colleagues could come into the office for two days of their choosing per week. Within twelve months levels of collaboration and cooperation had dissipated. ‘We don’t feel like colleagues, we are just faces on a Teams call’, they said. The new regime had been initially appealing but they no longer felt part of something.

This year is when we remind ourselves that fortitude is the collective strength that comes when we feel like we’re all in it together. Building that strength is going to require more than RTO mandates. The challenge is on, not to order teams to be together but how do we inspire them to feel connected.

Interested in this topic? Read Are you creating a culture of employee resilience?

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Bruce Daisley


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