Developing Resilience Part 1/4: What is resilience?

This article is the first in a series all about developing resilience. This piece explores the concept of resilience and the following articles provide insights and tips on how to identify and establish individual, team, and organizational resilience.


Every time we go through a collective crisis, certain words re-emerge. Most recently, during the global pandemic, the word resilience became a trending topic of discussion, amongst others.


On the one hand, individuals had to mentally process and accept the isolation, loneliness, and personal compromises that were brought on by remote work, successive lockdowns, and the general health concern, without having an idea of how long their situation would last, and all while taking measures to avoid becoming sick or endangering their loved ones.


On the other hand, organizations had to be resilient too - and leaders had to adapt to new forms of work, while taking into account the mental well being of their employees, as well as their own. Organizations also had to develop the resilience of their supply chain, their systems, and their R&D and product release cycles.


And although resilience is a word that tends to resurface depending on current events or crises, its importance for individuals, communities and organizations should not be reduced to a passing trend.


What is resilience?

“Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air”, concluded Diane Coutu in her HBR article. In other words - resilience refers to the ability to bounce back from a negative situation. It does not mean that resilient individuals, teams or organizations, never experience any pain or stress while going through a difficult moment, but that they are able to process and work through them, and eventually land on their feet.


The term “resilience” can be used to refer to emotional resilience, physical resilience, and community resilience. The first relates to one’s mental well being, the second to one’s physical health, and the third to a community’s response to hardship (source). In this article series, we will be focusing on resilience on the individual, team, and organizational level. Those can be conceptualized in the capacity and ability to overcome adversity, one’s belief in their own abilities, the process in the overcoming of the situation, or the outcome of it (the impact caused by the event) (Raetze, Duckek, et al., 2021).


Individual Resilience

The importance of individual resilience is vital to one’s well being. Individual resilience can be associated with longevity, greater life satisfaction, and it can lower rates of depression, according to this Harvard Health Publishing article. Various studies have also found that one’s psychological (or emotional resilience) can reduce the risk of developing burnout, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. One’s level of resilience can be determined by different factors, relating to their environment, or to their own traits. Rees et al. (2015) explained resilience by the biopsychosocial model: the interplay between an individual’s biological predispositions of vulnerability to adverse mental health outcomes, with their set of environmental and social circumstances. Windle et al. (2011) identified components of resilience such as: optimism, self-esteem, personal competence, social competence, problem-solving skills, self-efficacy, social resources, insight, independence, creativity, humor, control, hardiness, family cohesion, spiritual influences, and initiative.


Team resilience

While some organizations opt for group work, where employees contribute on tasks individually, some have highly collaborative teams, where team members work tightly together, and require a certain level of cohesiveness. Communication and trust with one another play a really big role in the latter - and in developing team resilience. As a matter of fact, Kirkman et al. (2019) found that the main beliefs resilient teams have in common are in their ability to effectively complete tasks together, in sharing a common mental model of teamwork, their ability to improvise, and their trust and safety in one another.


Morgan, Fletcher, & Sarkar (2017) specified four characteristics similar to those beliefs which can determine team resilience on a psychological aspect: the quality of emotional expression among team members, the quality of relationships, structural ties, and coordination, diversity in terms of team composition and talents, and social support. In order to have resilient teams, it is important to touch on each of these elements, which all relate to the communication standards, values, and culture created within teams.


Organizational resilience

Organizational resilience generally refers to good risk management in business disruption. It is what pushes an organization to survive and adapt through a crisis, whether external or internal, and it encompasses an organization’s ability to innovate as well as its processes, the interactions between people on the different levels of its hierarchy, and its available resources (Xiao & Cao, 2017). Professor David Denyer from the Cranfield School of Management wrote in his 2017 summary of academic evidence that organizational resilience can be thought of in four different ways: it can be seen as the preventative control of negative disruption, mindful action, performance optimization (progressive consistency), and adaptive innovation (progressive flexibility). For an organization to be resilient, it needs a strongly organized workforce that is able to withstand dramatic changes, as well as a business strategy that takes into account innovation and risk management.


We’ve now explored how resilience can be seen on the individual, team, and organizational level, and specified the different factors that come into play.


Our next articles in this series will go deeper into how resilience can be recognized, created, and maintained on those 3 levels. Stay up to date on their release by signing up for our newsletter here.