4 March 2021

Advice for founders: The power of the 4 Rs and how they can help your team

This is a guest blog of Liz Afolabi, People + Culture Partner at our partner Unleashed, a far-from-your-average consultancy that supports high-growth businesses scale both successfully + sustainably.

Is it just me, or does it feel like 2021 has already lasted an age?

We’re only 8 weeks in, but wow have those weeks been eventful! Last month, in recognition of the fact that 2021 so far has been damn HARD, Unleashed’s leaders did something incredibly kind – they closed the company for the day and told us to take the Friday off, allowing us all a long weekend to recharge – on the company. As leaders, they understood that: a) kindness and looking after your team matters and, b) that a team that stays well and has time to restore and recharge its ‘batteries’ is much more resilient and is ultimately more able to do better work.

Let’s face it, the Unleashed team isn’t alone in feeling the weariness of the times we find ourselves in – especially as we head towards the first anniversary of the lockdowns that turned many of our lives upside down (definitely an anniversary none of us expected or, dare I say, wanted!) For many teams, that’s a year of potentially not seeing our friends (yes, friends at work is a thing!), of trying to work from home at the kitchen table or in bed for some, of homeschooling, of spending every day on Zoom calls and let’s not forget, that for some of us – that’s a year of not seeing or hugging those we hold most dear. Added to this, it’s also been a year of people trying to do their best to be productive, engaged and motivated at work DURING a pandemic when every day feels…well a bit like the movie ‘Groundhog Day’. It’s no surprise there are reports of a marked decline in our mental health and our levels of resilience – meaning things that pre-pandemic we’d have easily bounced back from, aren’t so easy to brush off now.

It’s no wonder that many team members are struggling right now, and feeling that they’re unable to be at their best or to do their best work, which in turn will be negatively impacting companies.


If you’re a leader reading this and wondering how on earth you can support your team when they’re feeling this way, then read on. I’m going to share the secret of the 4 ‘R’s to help you to help your team right now.

The first ‘R’ is for ‘Reinforce’

By this, I mean it’s time to remind and reinforce for your team the ‘why’ behind their work (in the words of Simon Sinek). Why do they do  what they do and why should they continue to care about it? So this ‘R’ is all about reinforcing your: 

  • Purpose (i.e the ‘why’ behind your existence)
  • Vision (i.e ‘where’ you want to get to so your mission becomes reality)
  • Mission (i.e. ‘what’ you do) 
  • Values (i.e. your ‘North Star’ or ‘how’ you define what makes you unique + that you stand for or not) 

Why does all of the above matter? Because being clear on this attracts amazing talent to your company, but most importantly, for your existing team – working with a sense of common purpose in a mission driven company that is values-led helps to energise and connect them to the impact they can and do have.

Some examples of how to do this:

  • Increasingly talk to your team about ‘why’ your company exists and the difference it is seeking to make and how they are a key part of that difference. If your mission is to change the world then connect your team to those whose lives are being positively impacted by what they do (e.g are there customers or users you could interview or invite in talk with the team to reinforce this impact?)
  • When it comes to your values, sense check with your team that they still resonate and most importantly that they are being ‘lived’ day to day and are being role modelled throughout the company. If they’re not, then it may be time for a rethink about what you can do to bring them to life, and for you as a leader to reflect on how you can role model more of what you’d like your team to see, experience and do more of. For example one of our values at Unleashed is to ‘Deliver excellence’ and by giving us the day off, our leaders demonstrated this in action. 

The second ‘R’ is all about ‘Recognition’

Recognition and appreciation of: 

  • The great work you see around you being done (a simple thank you is both powerful and goes a long way!) 
  • The efforts your team have been making day in day out 
  • The fact that your team are doing their best right now amidst some pretty challenging times 

Furthermore, from a neuroscientific perspective, our brains actively seek and love reward; and praise or recognition are rewards the brain always wants more of! So the more you praise your team, the more you’ll see the behaviors or other things you’re praising in the first place. 

Some examples of how to do this:

  • Most people want to be seen and heard and appreciated, so up your recognition game as a leader! Be authentic in your praise, do it meaningfully and do it consistently. Don’t just recognize and praise for the sake of it as that could have the opposite effect, but instead praise like you mean it and don’t be shy – as that’s what your team needs from you! 
  • An additional tip – think about how you can make the recognition personal (e.g. a small token that aligns with that team member’s interests or a private note for those who are less keen on public call-outs). 
  • Finally, recognize that some of your team may need more help than you can give, so signpost the appropriate resources (including mental health ones) for them to tap into as and when they need to. More on this later… 

The third ‘R’ is all about ‘Reconnecting’ your team to each other and to you

We’re social creatures and we should never underestimate our need to connect with others – something that many of us are sadly lacking right now. There’s also increasing evidence that whilst many of us are spending our days ‘connecting’ via Zoom, our levels of connection with others (from colleagues to leaders) have actually declined. In a world where ‘watercooler’ moments mattered more than we realised and where disconnection is a challenge, it’s more important than ever as a leader to encourage and facilitate moments of true connection for your team. 

Some examples of how to do this: 

  • Be intentional about creating those connection moments and harness tech where you can – from introducing the donut tool in Slack (which randomly match different team members for coffee each week); to creating open Zoom ‘rooms’ where team members can drop in each day/every day to work together, and creating digital ‘watercooler’ slots where all team members can drop in for non-work related chat. This helps team members get to know each other beyond the professional. 
  • At Unleashed, alongside weekly team drinks and using the donut tool, we hold ‘care and share’ sessions – designed to support each other, foster connection on a 1:1 and sometimes 1:2 basis. The importance of these moments shouldn’t be underestimated – they enable team members to see and remember the ‘human’ beyond the professional side that is shown at work, and can also  promote feelings of trust and the conditions for team psychological safety.

The final ‘R’ is for ‘Restore’

Remember how I started this piece focused on pandemic fatigue? The fourth and final ‘R’ is Restore. Pandemic fatigue is affecting so many of us in many different ways, and will have consequences for your team members’ performance. Their productivity levels are likely to fluctuate as will their energy levels. One simple way to support your team here is to encourage them to do more of the things that restore them now more than ever. By restore, I mean the things that will allow them to get the rest they need to feel truly restored and recharged so they can feel more ‘them’ and take time to look after their mental health.

A consistent theme I’ve heard from leaders over the past year is that team members aren’t taking time off to enable them to properly restore, which we all need – now more than ever. Whilst lockdown stay at home orders make it likely that none of us can travel for pleasure right now, taking time off allows our homes to become our homes again rather than our offices, and that’s an important distinction for us all as personal and professional lines are ever more blurred. 

Some examples of how to do this: 

  • As a leader, role model taking time out to restore yourself and do it vocally so your team knows that it’s ok to do the same. Unfortunately, there’s still a belief in some startup environments where the hustle is pervasive, that team members need ‘permission’ to rest, so doing this vocally as a leader gives your team the ‘permission’ to feel empowered and comfortable to do this for themselves. Similarly, to encourage daily balance for your team, consider leaving ‘loudly’ as you sign off at the end of each day so your team members feel able to do so too. 
  • Finally, to encourage and increase levels of Restore, invest in and actively promote mental health and wellbeing support/initiatives so team members have access to the resources they need. Everything from meditation, wellbeing and yoga apps to wellbeing coaching and Employee Assistance Programmes which are designed to support team members in all areas of their lives when they need it most. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t appreciate a little extra help right now. 

To conclude

So there you go! Leaders, I hope this call to action both resonates and helps you reflect (sorry, I couldn’t resist adding some more Rs!) on how you could help your team over the next few months and beyond. Long live the power of the 4 Rs!

Cheers, Liz