Unlocking Potential with the 'Broaden-and-Build' Theory: A manager’s guide

As a manager, your role is pivotal in shaping the environment and culture of your organisation. As HR and Occupational Psychology experts, we can see the potential of psychological theories to enhance team performance and wellbeing.


The capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.

The ‘Broaden-and-Build’ Theory, developed by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, provides a framework for understanding how positive emotions can enhance individual and team performance, and help build resilience. 

What is ‘Broaden-and-Build’ Theory?

Depending on how we interpret and decode information, it will trigger either a positive or negative Thought – Action response.  So simply – how we decode information, such as our thoughts and feelings, will influence what action we take.

Broaden and Build - Positive thoughts and emotions

The theory explains that positive emotions widen our perspective and encourage us to explore new ideas and activities.  

The more positive emotions we experience, the more we broaden positive behaviours and thoughts, which over time help us to build valuable skills and knowledge. 

The more we experience positive emotions, the more likely we are to see things more positively. 

But what happens if we experience negative thoughts and emotions?

Broaden and Build - Negative thoughts and emotions

In response to a specific event, we may decode the available information into a negative thought.  This then triggers us to respond in a negative way and experience negative emotions. 

Our thoughts and focus therefore become narrowed, which can then trigger our fight or flight-based responses, for example, feeling fear.  

We may also be more likely to view other experiences in a negative way as our viewpoint has been narrowed.

Why is this important?

By creating more opportunities to experience positive emotions, we can build ‘a bank of resources’ to rely on in tougher times and which then leads to broadening and building higher levels of resilience and emotional wellbeing over time. 

By considering the principles of the ‘Broaden-and-Build’ theory you can:

  •   Increase resilience
  •   Enhance creativity and innovation
  •   Improve collaboration
  •   Foster higher engagement
  •   Enhance performance

How to apply the theory 

  • Create a positive work environment: encourage a workplace that values positivity and recognises and celebrates those achievements, both big and small!
  • Foster social connections: promote opportunities for social interaction – strong bonds create trust and collaboration.
  • Support professional growth: by providing opportunities for learning and development, your team will feel valued and feel that they are growing, and positive emotions will increase.
  • Encourage autonomy: can the team take ownership for their work?  Autonomy helps to boost confidence and satisfaction.
  • Lead by example: by cultivating positive emotions with yourself and demonstrating positivity and resilience in your leadership, you can encourage your team to do the same.

As a manager, you have the power to unlock your team’s potential.