Tom Forrest

Tom Forrest

Senior Consultant

I recently experienced the life-changing event of our first child.

My wife and I felt relatively well prepared for this, attending a pre-natal course and reading a small library of baby books, as well as receiving a massive supply of advice and supplies to help smooth the new arrival.

Like just about everything over the past year, our best laid plans fell flat and just about nothing about the birth or following weeks went to plan.

Dislocated from family and friends through geography and COVID-19 restrictions, we missed their wisdom and practical first-hand help, and we had the feeling that we were getting everything wrong. Minor situations felt much larger and more important than they should, and we over scrutinised our every action. Inevitably this made us feel unhappy and overwhelmed.

However, help was at hand. As people became aware of our predicament, friends and family rallied round. We received messages of support and relief parcels containing baby products and chocolate, but best of all we received reassurance.

My mother in-law is the best purveyor of reassurance. Along with her practical advice she always ends every call to us with the words “You are doing so well”, or “Don’t worry, you are doing a great job.”

Reassurance is of course, the thing that humans always need. Whether young or old, whether a grizzled veteran or a new recruit, we all need some words of encouragement. This has become more  important than ever in times of change and uncertainty where our lives can sometimes feel like an ongoing emergency.

From a work perspective, we regularly question our value and impact, agonising over our failures and minimising our successes. Even when business is good, a sense of insecurity is never far away.

In a normal work environment, regular face to face contact allows our colleagues to more easily recognise when we need support. Recently however, the seismic changes have forced us to look inward as we scramble to adjust to the new. This introspection has not only left us to question ourselves more often but has also led to a disconnection from our colleagues. The feelings of isolation have been magnified by remote working. My colleague, Tiara Sanders, explores this and offers some tips on managing your own mental health in her latest blog.

As we can impact on our own mental wellbeing, we can also affect the wellbeing of others. Remembering that your colleagues are beset by the same nagging sense of doubt as you is a great motivation to offer them some words of reassurance. We don’t need to overthink this, as even seemingly unoriginal words or gestures can make a big difference. It is important however, to steer away from flattery, which is lying for our own advantage.

The great thing about reassurance is that it does not take any preparation or deep thought. In fact, it is often the most banal of sentences which can provide the best sustenance rather than something rehearsed. A simple line at the end of an email, or a kind word on a call, whether one to one or in a group can make a big difference to the way someone feels.

My personal experience is an example of going through the change curve. Our Arcadia Mindset Advantage Paper describes how leaders should use these lessons to best to redress the void, characterised by uncertainty. Recovery is best started with care and reassurance and leaders need to understand that when handling their people through these difficult times. To quote the paper:

“Leaders don’t always know the answers either so they must lead with care, giving and building trust through intimacy, reliability and selflessness rather than credibility.

Intimacy demands knowing how the change is affecting people’s personal experiences (home, kids, family, social life etc.) and being interested in their world.

Reliability means delivering on promises, on time and being a responsive servant leader. During change, ambiguity and ‘not knowing’ adds to the fear. Not responding to emails, voice messages makes this worse. Respond even if it’s with an ‘I don’t know’. Selflessness means giving  (time, energy, attention, resources, development, information, recognition, support, care) rather than taking (immediate performance, task completion,  requesting time, energy and resources!).

Leaders need to adopt a giving style to reciprocity. As per the ‘Give and Take’ book by Adam Grant, focus on giving value to others without expectation of receiving or taking of equal value.”

With that mind I just wanted to say although it has been a tough year, keep going, I think you are going to be fine.

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Agile Organisations and a VUCA World

Agile Organisations and a VUCA World

Imran Khan

Imran Khan

Senior Project Manager

The past year has seen some challenging times for most organisations. The pandemic brought with it huge uncertainty, endless lockdowns and social distancing measures to name a few. Organisations entered survival mode as they orchestrated work from home policies, strategies to stay competitive and figured out what was both beneficial to the company and could be quickly adapted.

McKinsey (2020) stated in an article, written at the height of the pandemic, that many companies adopted agile practices to cope with the changing business priorities. They concluded that companies with agile practices embedded in their operating models have managed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis better than their peers.

So, what is an agile organisation and what makes them adapt and cope with VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) conditions compared to more traditional organisations? 

McKinsey defined an agile organisation as “a network of teams within a people-centred culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles which are enabled by technology, and that is guided by a powerful common purpose to co-create value for all stakeholders” (McKinsey, pg. 3, 2018).

Agile vs. Traditional Organisations

By their nature, agile organisations are designed to be fast, resilient, and adaptable (McKinsey, 2020) . There is an element of fluidity about agile organisations that make them adapt compared to traditional organisations.

Characteristics of a Traditional and an Agile Organisation

Stoppelenburg (2018)

Lessons from Pandemic

In reference to the above McKinsey (2020) article, executives and agile leaders were asked which elements and agile practices helped them cope with the shock. Their responses fell into two categories 1. Team Level (Agile Teams) and 2. Enterprise Level (Agile Leadership).

Agile Teams

Agile organisations are made up of teams as well as a network of teams. They are self-organising, where the purpose and objectives of the teams are clear to every team member (Stoppelenburg, 2018). McKinsey (2020) stated in their article that the team structure allowed the organisations questioned to tackle the challenges that were being faced. Teams were able to mobilise those with the necessary skills around a task and keep work moving to schedule. This practice wasn’t only implemented by mature agile organisations , rather non-agile organisations  also called upon such practices in reaction to the crisis (McKinsey, 2020).

Agile Leadership

Another element, which proved vital during the crisis, was from the enterprise level. Executives and agile leaders were together empowering cross functional teams at every level to cope with the shock brought about by the pandemic (McKinsey, 2020). As practice, it is vital that leaders within an agile organisation create conditions in which employees can do the work well, can take initiative and deliver excellent performance. According to Stoppelenburg (2018), an agile leader is a servant leader that possesses the following capabilities that make the difference:

  • Have a deep self-awareness;
  • Show compassion;
  • Make emotional connections;
  • Collaborate on the basis of empowerment;
  • Give purpose and direction;
  • Connect different systems;
  • Be socially engaged.


Agile organisations are perfectly suited to deal with and create competitive advantage in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions. As seen in Mckinsey’s (2020) article, organisations with agile practices embedded were able to navigate from the complexities of the previous year and were able to continue – ‘business as usual’.

It would be senseless to think organisations have not learned lessons from the past year and would not (to some degree) be considering embedding agile practices into their operational model. Having said that, change is not easy and a major hinderance is the mindset.

As Architects of Change, we specialise in behavioural and cultural transformation. We have been delivering Agile Mind / Growth Mindset sessions to organisations across the spectrum, thus we know some of the challenges faced in adopting agile mindsets. Even so, we also know it is possible and therefore invite organisations to prepare for any future challenges.

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How to Manage Your Mental Health during Change

How to Manage Your Mental Health during Change

Tiara Sanders

Tiara Sanders

Client Services Manager, North America

Have you noticed a change in your mental health?

The year 2020 has been a big year of change and has indeed changed the way we will live our lives forever. No matter where you are in the world, we all have had to adjust to the “new” way of living and working. It started off as a perk to work from home; no long commutes, cooking lunch versus buying lunch, the list goes on. While some have worked from home prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, I think we can all agree that working from home can challenge your mental health. Whether you live with family or alone; it can sometimes be hard to pull yourself out of the sudden funk of loneliness, stress and anxiety.

A year later, with the remote workforce expanding it is important that we continue to practice healthy habits in our day to day lives. 

Deloitte surveys 18,000 Millennial and Gen Z people every year. The study reveals startling trends. This year the study was repeated during lockdown to get a perspective on changes. The regular survey had established a backdrop over the last 4 years of a rising number of Millennials and Gen Z who declare that they feel stressed “all or most of the time”, peaking this year pre-COVID at 40% for Millennials and 50% for Gen Z.

The issue here is that stress has a cumulative effect if it is continuous. Chronic stress is more damaging to mental health than heightened short term stress. Millennials entered the COVID-19 pandemic with low reserves of resilience.

We have recently written a paper, The Mindset Advantage, where we identified 6 areas of wellbeing management include sleep, breathing, meditation, access to nature, nutrition, exercise / activity, and mindfulness. The key is for the body to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system with Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin and to quash the Cortisol stress hormone stimulated by the sympathetic nervous response to change.

Even now we are still processing and managing new changes. As the world returns to the ‘new normal’, many are suffering with ‘re-entry anxiety’ which is a fear of not being able to adapt to previously established routines and habits. Anxiety levels can increase for individuals as some return to their offices for the first time in over a year. These 6 habits below can help you feel more productive while managing your mental health:

Dedicate space for yourself

If you are working from home full-time or have started to go back to the office, try and find a quiet space to work away from distractions. Whether it’s a shared space or corner of a room, try to re-create your desk/office aura in a designated area. 

Create a routine, set expectations and stick to the schedule

Working from home can make you feel as if you have to be available 24/7. You may still have this mindset when returning to the office. Align your thoughts and set clear goals for the day. Write out the duties you would like to accomplish and set your mind to tackle the list one task at a time. It’s important to schedule breaks in as well.

Incorporate wellness activities

If you own an Apple Watch, Fitbit or an electronic device with a health app, you are constantly reminded to keep your body moving. According to Psychology Today, Exercising 20 to 30 minutes daily can significantly lower anxiety levels. You’ll also boost endorphins and serotonin to flood your brain with happiness. So get out and go for a walk if you can.

Control your information intake

While staying informed on what’s going on the news is important, it is also just as important to protect yourself from the amount of information or misinformation you digest. Select a news channel or outlet to view at a specific time of day and try not to go down any rabbit-holes that can potentially cause a stint of anxiety.

Schedule team building activities

We’re all in this together. Scheduling team calls 1-2 times a month can help you show up for team members that may be struggling and help boost the team spirit. If allowed, you could try and meet as a team in person. Use this time to get to know your co-workers a bit more.

Make time for those you love

Carving out time for loved ones is necessary during this time. Having a core group of friends and family that can help uplift your spirits is key. It is important to stay connected to loved ones; a quick phone call, video call or text can change your mood in a matter of minutes. 

Change of any kind can be a journey of trials, challenges and set backs. It requires us to be at our strongest mentally and physically. As some continue to work from home indefinitely and some begin to return to their offices, it’s important individuals actively put personal plans in place to support themselves and it’s equally as important for organisations and leaders to enable their colleagues to access the necessary physical and mental health support. 

As ‘back to a new normal’ begins to take shape leaders must focus not only on new systems and ways of working but also on their people and rebuilding their confidence. Confidence to act, make decisions, take risks and move forward. To find out how you can support your team as a leader, read and download our Rebuilding the World’s Confidence research paper.

As a leader, ensure you are actively supporting your team’s mental health and providing the appropriate support at the right time:

  • Create a Wellness Action Plan
  • Implement flexible working plans
  • Role model your expectations
  • Measure wellbeing and wellness as much as you measure revenue and share prices!
  • Create TEAM belonging activities (‘cook along’, workout sessions, walking meetings)

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