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Helping Your Teams Create A Resilient Mindset

By Gideon de Swardt

In the first article in the series about leading distributed teams, I spoke about the importance of autonomy. As a leader, your role is to help your team create autonomy for themselves, which is something that looks different for everyone. Some people are disciplined to create their own structure, while others need a more deliberate approach to guide them.

Regardless of which type of person you are dealing with, everyone can benefit from creating their own autonomy and having a growth mindset is the key to success.

The Importance Of Mindset

Dr Carol Dweck extensively researched the power of our beliefs, and how the simplest change of them can have a profound impact on our lives. She explains in her book “Mindset – Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential” that there are two ways to view intelligence or ability:

  • Ability it is fixed or ingrained – in other words, we are born with a certain level of ability and we cannot change that. This is called a fixed mindset.
  • We can develop our ability through hard work and effort. This is called a growth mindset.

Having a growth mindset (the belief that you are in control of your own ability, and can learn and improve) is the key to success. Yes, hard work, effort and persistence are all important but not as important as having an underlying belief that you are in control of your own ability and can learn and improve.

Dr Carol Dweck

Work Life Balance

There needs to be a balance between being challenged and also having the ability to disconnect and recharge. Recharging outside of work is essential in order to be more productive and affective inside work.

As a co-located team we are forced into routines that are made up of subconscious physical and mental habits. These routines help us to change our mindset to switch on for work and off from work. We don’t realise it, but simply by having to get up for work, get dressed, eat breakfast and commute to the office, we alter our mindset so that by the time we arrive at the office, we are in work mode.

At the end of the day, the same applies. We pack up, say goodbye to our colleagues, and commute back to our homes. On the way home we have time to process the day’s events and wind down. We subconsciously alter our mindsets and are mentally ready to fully engage with our families and friends once we arrive home.

This is where conscious effort needs to be applied within distributed teams, as you don’t have that commute to help you slip into the correct mindset.

In the beginning, I missed the commute back home the most, as it really helped me switch off from work. Because I hadn’t switched off, I found myself still dealing with work-related tasks throughout the evening. I was also not fully engaged with my wife and kids, and found it challenging to recharge.

The lesson I have learned throughout this process is that we are nothing more than grown up children. Even the biggest rebels amongst us need discipline, routines, and habits in order to stay mentally fresh. Once established, these habits for getting into and out of work mode become second nature and can be carried out on autopilot. In a work-home environment it’s very easy to blur the lines and lose differentiation between the work mindset and the home mindset, especially when your employees are new to working like this. What happens in these instances is that there is a massive surge in productivity that lasts for a few days or even weeks, but it’s not sustainable and will eventually plummet. This is an indication of the routine breaking down where employees are unable to switch off and “leave work”.  

Forming Habits Via Routine

As a leader, you can help your teams establish their own routines and habits that will feed their productivity and give them a healthy work-life balance.

Charles Duhigg explains in his book “The Power of Habit” that all habits can be broken down into a three-step process. A habit is triggered by a cue, which then leads into a routine and the routine ultimately culminates into a reward. It requires discipline to create cues that trigger good habits.

What habits can your teams use and re-use to help them get into the work mindset?

  • Create a definition between the work mindset and home mindset. This can be as simple as being able to walk out of the room they work in and close the door, leaving work behind them until the next day.
  • Create structure. With autonomy comes the flexibility to carve out your own schedule and work-life balance, but your teams still need to identify their own working hours that also align with core business hours. They need to find what works for them within that timeframe and stick to their own start and finish times.
  • Feel motivated. Help to create an ethos of celebrating their own performance. This can be as simple as defining tasks, achieving them and celebrating once they are achieved. This builds motivation and positive associations with the work they’re doing, inspiring teams to move to the next task or challenge at hand.

The Pomodoro Technique

One of my team members introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique, which was developed by Francesco Cirillo. It is a time management technique that is as simple as it is effective. It is something many of our team members have adopted in order to be more efficient. It is made up of six basic steps:

  1. You decide on the task at hand.
  2. You set a timer for 25 minutes (one pomodoro).
  3. You focus on that task for the required time.
  4. When the timer goes off, you stop what you’re doing and place a check mark on a piece of paper.
  5. Have a break for up to 5 minutes.
  6. Set the timer again and start again from step 2.

This continues until you have four check marks on the piece of paper, at which point you take a longer break of up to 30 minutes. The idea behind it is to stretch productivity levels within that 25-minute timeframe, resisting interruption and rather focusing on flow. The breaks are essential to recharge and refocus.

This technique encourages proper planning and structure, a disciplined approach to work, positive reinforcement, as well as a sense of achievement upon completion of a pomodoro. Essentially, everything we spoke about above.

Final Words

One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the last 18 months leading distributed teams, is that I don’t need to have all the knowledge. As I learn about myself, I can help my team more. But, they can also share their knowledge about what works for them. Together, as a distributed team, we are figuring out how to enjoy the full benefits of purpose, autonomy, and mastery in the work that we do. Hopefully this can help you and your team to do the same.

Published by Gideon de Swardt

I have over 20 years of experience in the Financial Services industry in North America, Europe and Africa. My core values of integrity, quality and passion have enabled me to help build successful businesses.


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