How resilient is your organization or team?

March 1st, 2021

Emmy Werner was an exceptional American psychologist best known for her research on resilience*. Resilience is the ability of people to deal effectively with setbacks and negative events. Werner’s best-known work is a study for which she has followed hundreds of people on the island of Hawaii for over 40 years. Thanks to her perseverance, Werner could not only determine which protective factors contribute to people’s resilience, but also how resilience develops throughout peoples’ lives. As the term resilience already suggests, Werner’s research showed that resilience isn’t a fixed characteristic but a shifting balance that can break. According to this psychologist, the balance resilience is determined by on the one hand the weight of the negative events a person has to endure and, on the other hand, the weight of protective factors. As long as the protective factors carry more weight than the negative events, people are able to effectively deal with the stress associated with negative events. But if the negative stressful events outweigh the protective factors, the balance breaks and resilience is lost. The finding that resilience is a balance is good news. After all, this means that people can improve their ability to deal with negative events by increasing the weight of protective factors. People with low levels of resilience can gain more of this, and people who have lost their resilience can rebuild it. 

In my book, I draw the parallel between resilient individuals and resilient organizations. Just like resilient people, resilient organizations control their own destiny and are not determined by external forces. Of course, circumstances also affect resilient organizations. But these organizations are not defined by their circumstances. Instead, these organizations decide for themselves how they deal with their circumstances. Resilient organizations are characterized by a curious urge to explore new possibilities, interactions and situations. In addition, these organizations have the flexibility and drive to proactively improve and develop in interaction with their environment. Just like individuals, organizations can also improve their resilience. Resilience in organizations exists as long as the negative events that affect an organization are less severe than the factors that protect an organization. 

Without people no organization, and without resilient people no resilient organization. In our complex environment we can’t afford to alter or develop only in response to our environment. After all, this would mean that every time we fully completed our reactive change, we would find our company lagging behind again since the environment has already developed further. Our company would get caught in a never ending cycle, playing catch up with reality. Just think of all those organizations going through reorganization after reorganization without ever achieving what they thought or hoped to achieve.

Resilient organizations never stop evolving. They proactively develop on their own initiative. These organizations work with motivated people whose sense of responsibility doesn’t end with what they are asked to do. Employees in resilient organizations feel a passion about the product (the service or the experience) and believe that the total product is just as important as the part they are personally responsible for. These organizations don’t sit around and wait to find out what is possible, but proactively search for opportunities and make things possible. In resilient organizations, people ensure that things get done regardless of the obstacles that present themselves. Employees challenge themselves and others to push the boundaries of their skills and knowledge. 

If you want to get an impression of how resilient your team or organization is, check which of the statements below best fit your employees and organization. 

The people in our organization are the best in their fields. 

We take risks if we perceive opportunities. 

We use our energy to achieve what we want. 

The people in our organization are passionate about what they do. They do what they love to do.

Obstacles are challenges that can be overcome. 

We focus on the strengths of our people. 

We believe that our people can achieve anything as long as they believe in it. 

Leading people in our organization means inspiring people so that they can achieve what they would deem impossible. 

Innovation is the only way forward. We explore the unknown to discover opportunities. 

We have the best people striving for the exceptional. When pushing boundaries it is inevitable to make mistakes. If no mistakes are being made, nothing new is being learned and progress stops. 

The people in our organization meet the requirements for the tasks they have to perform. 

We ignore opportunities if we perceive risks. 

We use our energy to prevent what we don’t want. 

The people in our organization do what they are paid to do. 

Obstacles are a reasons not to try. 

We focus on improving the weaknesses of our people. 

Our people can do the job they have to do. 

Leading people in our organization means pushing people to do what they don’t really want to do. 

Never change a winning team. If problems arise we will use what we know to solve the problem. 

Mistakes are undesirable and must be avoided as much as possible. It is important to identify who made the mistake. If mistakes are tolerated just like that and nobody is held accountable, people think they can get away with anything. 

The more statements from the dark gray column that fit your organization, the more resilient your organization is. However, the more statements from the light gray column that fit your organization, the less resilient your organization is. Building resilience is an investment that always pays for itself. During good times it leads to development and increases the chance of innovations. And during setbacks it provides counterbalance to protect against negative effects. MoonRabbit helps organizations to increase protective factors and thus resilience. We identify the current resiliency level of the organization, we reduce negative patterns, and we implement new positive patterns. 

In practice, we often see that people believe that eliminating negative symptoms and patterns will automatically lead to a result where the vacuum is being filled with a healthy organizational structure. Unfortunately, this is not how this works. That is why MoonRabbit does not only work with organizations to remove unhealthy organizational structures (to bring the system of the organization back from a negative value to 0), but also to actively devise and implement methods to implement healthy organizational structures (to bring the organization system from 0 to the highest possible positive value).

If you’re interested, please get in touch!

Hiring MoonRabbit means that we will actually work together. The following components will be part of a cooperation: 

  • An introduction and planning session; 
  • Design and preparation for a tailor-made cooperation.  

Consulted sources:

E.E. Werner. “Protective Factors and Individual Resilience”. Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2000. Pp. 115-132.

* According to Merriam-Webster the definition of resilience is: 1. The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress; 2. An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.


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