Five ways to build a thriving team

Holly Branson and Ajaz Ahmed_ speaking at an 100% Human At Work gathering
Tom Sopper
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 14 October 2022

I always love joining Virgin Unite events. They always leave me filled with hope for the future. So, it was such a pleasure to join nearly 100 business leaders at the latest 100% Human At Work gathering to discuss the new world of work and how we can put people at the heart of it. At Virgin we have always been passionate about putting our people first and understand that the success of your business relies on your people.

The 100% Human Network brings together more than 500 companies that are creating a future of work that puts people first while serving humanity and the planet. We launched the network in 2014 in partnership with Virgin Unite and The B Team, and it has grown into a thriving ecosystem of ideas, gatherings, research and workplace trials that are driving real change. The team have also created global discussion papers and toolkits that focus on everything from the future of work, to being human in a digital world, to reimagining pathways to employment, to mental health in the workplace.

Holly Branson with Ajaz Ahed and James Rutter speaking at an 100% Human At Work gathering
Tom Sopper

Throughout the day, members from the 100% Human At Work network joined brilliant discussions on everything from advancing equity and belonging, to standing with refugees, and using AI to change industries for good. There was so much energy and excitement in the room, with everyone united in the belief that businesses should always put people first and be a force for good in the world.

I joined a panel with Ajaz Ahmed who is the CEO of AKQA and an integral part of the 100% Human at Work network, and James Rutter, who is the chief creative officer at COOK and a passionate B Corp advocate. Our discussion was all about building teams that thrive.

Holly Branson - how to nurture a thriving teams word cloud

It was fascinating to discuss this important topic with James and Ajaz, who both understand that businesses thrive when the people within them thrive. More importantly still, helping people is simply the right thing to do. Their insights were invaluable and I loved sharing my experiences as Virgin Group Purpose and Vision Officer, as a core part of my role is helping our people flourish. I wanted to share some of our tips on how to build a thriving team and how to prioritise it in the day-to-day reality of work.

1. Make sure every manager understands that the company’s first obligation is to its people and its purpose. If this isn't prioritised at a leadership level, it’s almost impossible to implement. You’ve got to lead by example and walk the walk, not talk the talk. I loved one story that Ajaz shared where a journalist said to him: “It’s great to see your purpose work, where is the rest of it?” … His reply: “It’s all purpose work, there is no other work!”.

2. A thriving team is built off healthy relationships. As James put it: “The unit of any culture is the relationship we have with one another.” Sometimes businesses get too caught up in the research papers and the workplace seminars and they forget that culture comes from people connecting with one another and forming healthy relationships. Nurturing these relationships in the same way as you nurture the relationships you have with friends and family is a simple way to help one another thrive. We’re all human at the end of the day and we’re always happiest when we’re in healthy relationships.

Holly Branson at Virgin's office in london with a group of employees
Holly Branson

3. When teams fail to thrive or culture comes under threat, go back to the basics. Your purpose and your values should underpin everything you do so if they are healthy, well communicated and prioritised, everything will flow from there. When they become challenged or dismissed and culture becomes contaminated, “you can’t put your head in the sand,” as Ajaz said. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves, address the core issues, go back to your values and make sure your leaders are modelling the values and the behaviours you want. 

4. Don’t work in ambiguity. Provide frameworks and structure so everyone understands their place in the company and the purpose they are working for. How do you measure and assess company values? Are they as tangible as possible? Can everyone really understand the purpose, the business strategy, the team strategies and their place within it all? If people have purpose-based KPIs and receive transparent communication about how the company is living out its purpose and values, they’ll feel empowered in the knowledge they are working towards something meaningful.The structure and transparency also helps you to discover and diagnose underlying issues.

Holly Branson speaking at an 100% Human At Work gathering
Tom Sopper

5. Create moments of joy. Leaders and managers shouldn’t underestimate the power of humour and building a fun working environment. It’s crucial for building trust, avoiding burnout, and feeling connected with one another. We’ve written about it before, and it’s something Dad has prioritised since the very beginning at Virgin, so a focus on fun has really shaped our culture. As a challenger brand, it’s helped us to drive smart disruption, spark innovation, bring out the best in people, and remain relatable. It’s vital to take fun seriously!

Richard Branson and Holly Branso on-board Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady
Kevin Wolf

It was so brilliant to sit down with James, Ajaz and a room packed with purpose-driven leaders who see employees as humans and not just resources. Discussions like this make me excited for the future of work, which will hopefully be more human-centric and purpose-driven than ever.

If you’re interested in joining the 100% Human At Work network or tapping into their insights, learn more about the network here