Future-Forward Leadership & Thriving Through Change: 3 Essential Team Qualities To Cultivate Today

By Dorothy Yiu

Disruption has accompanied humanity since the dawn of time and will persist into the future. Remember Charles Darwin's famous words?

"It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can adapt to change."

This principle is more relevant than ever in our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. 

In this article, I will share my insights on the three essential team qualities that leaders and employees must develop and maintain to help organizations successfully navigate disruptions.


The Critical Role of Emotional Intelligence

At EngageRocket, we’ve conducted many 360-degree reviews for our clients and noticed a fascinating trend. 

When we look at the different competency frameworks assessed on our platform by various companies, soft skills like collaboration are assessed four times more than traditional functional skills like business acumen. Emotional intelligence is no longer just a buzzword; it’s a core competency, especially for leaders. 

These skills include self-awareness, conflict management, the ability to influence and serve as role models, and, to give credit to Darwin, adaptability.

Why? Because the pace of change observed in the last two decades is relentless. In response to this rapid change, organizations are in a state of continuous transformation. 

Oxford University found that the key to successful transformation is for leaders to embrace the emotional journey of their employees. Change can be stressful, but leaders who manage this stress can turn it into emotional commitment rather than burnout. This underscores the need to cultivate emotional intelligence, especially among our leaders.


Learning Agility: The New Superpower

Besides emotional intelligence, learning agility also emerges as a critical competency for thriving in today's landscape. Some of our clients call this innovation, but it essentially measures curiosity towards new ideas and the willingness to challenge the status quo. 

Alvin Toffler, the futurist, hit the nail on the head when he said,

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."


Think about Blackberry.

At its peak, it dominated 50% of the US smartphone market and 20% worldwide. It was famous for its keyboard on a mobile device, but it was also Blackberry's inability to unlearn and let go of its signature keyboard feature to embrace the touchscreen revolution brought on Apple that led to its demise. Apple's success with the iPhone was fueled by its ability to learn and innovate, releasing a new and improved version every year, ultimately driving Blackberry’s market share to zero in five to six years.

This shows how crucial learning agility is for survival. I love the term “future fearless” that a friend of mine who heads up the learning academy in her organization uses.” It’s about developing future fearless leaders, and these uniquely human competencies are less likely to be replaced by AI.


Real-World Team Resilience: Learning from Failures

Let’s dive into some real-world examples. For those who live here in Singapore, you may remember that before Marks and Spencer, there was Borders in Wheelock Place in Orchard Road.

It was once the largest bookstore chain in the world but failed to adapt to the digital revolution in the publishing industry. Instead of developing a digital strategy and investing in digital infrastructure, it outsourced online sales to Amazon and remained focused on physical stores,  which led to unsustainable operating costs while sales continued to decline. 

Borders' story teaches us that fear of the unknown can be more damaging than the disruption itself. Their inability to embrace the unknown world of e-commerce led them to outsource their biggest opportunity to their biggest competitor. 

As leaders, we need to be highly aware when these fears create pressure zones that will hinder resilience from emerging and growth to happen.

At EngageRocket, we had a similar moment recently. We had to decide whether to enter a brand new market in order to pursue growth. Most are aware the last few years the industry went through what was termed a tech winter, so it was a big decision to do so during a challenging period with unknown risks.

Shortly after the decision was announced internally, we held one of our quarterly founder's ask-me-anything sessions. Usually in these sessions, we would have an anonymous Q&A and people can ask whatever they want and the founders would answer candidly.

The initial reaction from our team was fear-based. Questions like "What if it fails?" and “What is going to happen if it turns out to be a wrong decision” dominated the conversation. 

So after answering a few of these, I remember challenging this line of thinking by asking everyone in return why not ask ourselves these questions instead: “How can I contribute to the success of this strategy?” “How can we make quick iterations?” “How can we ensure sufficient feedback loops to monitor progress?”

It was a wake-up call for us to foster the desired resilience that was perhaps missing — grounded optimism, adaptability, and the ability to bounce back from setbacks.


Creating a Culture of Psychological Safety

As leaders, we have the responsibility to always remind our teams that it’s not a zero-sum game where you either win or lose. 

In most cases, you have to fail a few times to see the path toward winning. Netflix’s success story of pivoting from a DVD rental business to an online streaming platform didn’t come without a few failures and pivots. Even when they adapted to the rise of online streaming brought on by YouTube, the initial content they had was old movies and didn’t capture sufficient interest. So they pivoted to include their own production house, bringing us original content like "House of Cards."

To thrive in times of disruption, it’s important to normalize failures as part of the learning process. To do this, we need to create psychological safety and construct mechanisms for all voices to be heard. 

When the pressure increases, support, such as listening sessions and employee coaching, needs to increase along with it. After the company ask-me-anything session, we dialed up the frequency of our communications and created psychological safety by actively seeking employees’ opinions. This made them feel comfortable bringing up issues before those issues hindered our ability to change course for better outcomes.


Breaking Down Silos: The Power of Collaboration & Recognition 

Collaboration across departments is another cornerstone of resilience. Establishing common goals and company values can unite diverse teams. 

Think about Taylor Swift’s fan base. It’s incredibly diverse, spanning across different geographies, genders, and ages. 

One study showed that nearly 13% of her fan base is 60 years old and above. I personally know one of them; he’s 62 this year, and he has gone to at least 10 Taylor Swift concerts and can go on for hours telling me about her music. When I speak to the Swifties I know, all of them root for Taylor strongly. Not only because of her talent in storytelling through her music, they are also all united by their shared admiration for her authenticity and strong work ethic. 

Similarly, for companies, creating shared goals and values is crucial. These goals and values serve as an anchor and a common language that unites employees no matter which department or team they are from.

From these goals, leaders can form cross-functional teams with shared KPIs. This cross-department collaboration also opens up opportunities for team members to recognize one another’s contributions. 

Recognition is an incredibly powerful motivation for employees. It’s a key pillar of employee engagement, and helps to build stronger connections at work, lowering barriers that may prevent collaboration. 

At EngageRocket, we dedicate a 10-minute segment at every company-wide meeting for recognition. Anyone can recognize anyone in the company. Once someone starts the ball rolling, more recognition flows in without fail. Often, we will exceed the 10-minute segment because there are so many recognitions to give. We end the meeting feeling like one big team, rather than many individual teams within a single company.


Embracing Change: The Path to Organizational Growth

Disruption isn’t going away, but with the right approach and proactive mindset, we can not only survive but thrive, preparing the organization for whatever the future holds. 

It starts with developing emotional intelligence, learning agility, and resilience in both leaders and employees. These qualities help teams adapt, learn from setbacks, and keep innovating. 

Creating a culture that values psychological safety is a game-changer. When employees feel safe to speak up and take risks, they're more likely to share those breakthrough ideas. Plus, encouraging collaboration across departments means everyone's knowledge and skills are pooled together, leading to better strategies and solutions.

And last but not least, don't forget to celebrate wins, big or small. Recognizing achievements can boost morale and motivation, setting off a positive cycle of continuous improvement. 

By focusing on these steps, organizations can turn the challenges of disruption into opportunities for growth. 


Want more content like this?

Join EngageRocket's HR Impact community and get the latest HR resources and exclusive event invites!



About the author

Dorothy Yiu

Dorothy Yiu is the Co-founder and CEO (International) of EngageRocket. Dorothy brings over a decade of experience in human resources, technology, and business strategy. Before EngageRocket, Dorothy was the Regional Head of Operations for Gallup, a global analytics and advisory company where she oversaw the execution of over 100 large-scale consulting projects globally. Dorothy holds two degrees from Singapore Management University under the Lee Kong Chian Scholarship. She was also NTT’s Women of Future nominee in 2022 and was named SG Digital Leader by IMDA in 2024.

Follow Dorothy on LinkedIn here


Tags: Leadership, HR Strategy, Workplace Culture, Developing Employees, Coaching, Leading Teams