Center for Creative Leadership
Today’s leaders are no strangers to change and disruption. In 2020 alone there are countless examples of businesses needing to shift and adapt their strategies and value propositions, taking on the headwinds of their current and projected markets, while shaping their organizations to be able to respond and deliver.
Frequently referred to as “changing out the fuselage while keeping the plane flying,” building a resilient organization requires collective teams of individuals who rally for a common goal, are open and responsive to the challenges placed before them, and work tirelessly through ambiguity and uncertainty.
What Defines a Resilient Organization?
Organizational resilience is built over time and while actions and behaviors can be developed in anticipation of crises and disruption, some of the best development occurs during those very times of adversity and unplanned change. At CCL, we consider organizational resilience to be the dynamic capacity of the people within an organization to:
be mindfully aware of the environment,
respond productively to continuous change, adversity, and disruption, and,
positively adapt and learn from experience in order to drive higher levels of performance over the long term.
3 Steps to Building a Resilient Organization
In leading your organization to becoming more resilient, embed these 3 iterative steps as standard operating practice:
1. Anticipate – Discern what’s happening in the environment and prepare to act on challenges and opportunities.
2. Adapt – Mobilize and collectively implement actions by empowering the organization to work and collaborate in new and different ways.
3. Assess – Review and reflect on progress to collectively learn, evolve, and build capability and capacity.
6 Key Capabilities of the Resilient Organization
These process steps are made more effective when carried out with the following 6 key capabilities:
1. Purpose & Meaning: “Sense-making” of current realities and inspiring renewed purpose.
This is particularly important to the Anticipate step, in order to scan both what is happening in real time as well as opportunities that are emerging.
2. Empowerment: Distributing and establishing authority and accountability for decision making. Leadership is compelled to clearly articulate goals and roles, along with providing the necessary resources for teams to mobilize and implement (Adapt) the new direction.
3. Social Connections: Building strong relationships and networks based on trust and mutual support. An essential capability to effectively Adapt, as well as necessary to collectively learn (Assess), these connections become the bedrock of the resilient organization as collaboration and sharing of information is heightened.
4. Emotional Intelligence: Recognizing, managing and expressing emotions in a constructive way. Typically considered an individual competency, an organization’s culture reflects its collective emotional intelligence, or lack thereof, through its leadership. The extent to which those leading the organization keep disruptive and destructive emotions under control, as well as display empathy for what their people are experiencing enables teams to better cope and Adapt.
5. Learning Orientation: Reflecting on experiences and applying learning to new challenges. When leadership sets an example of routinely seeking constructive feedback for what’s working and what isn’t, and acting on this feedback, they enable the organization to collectively Assess and learn on an ongoing basis.
6. Innovation: Generating and applying innovative solutions to address challenges. This capability, critical throughout every step of building organizational resilience, requires leadership to challenge, empower, and reward their teams to innovate and solve problems in novel ways.
When leaders strengthen resilience in these areas, the organization emerges stronger, more resourceful, and capable of meeting current and future challenges. This collective resilience also strengthens individual resilience, signaling to each member of the organization the importance of incorporating practices that keep them engaged and motivated, and capable of giving their all to what they do – at work and beyond.
Some leaders are even supporting their people by offering access to an online resilience program to bolster individual resiliency – thereby helping to reinforce and collectively build a more change-capable, resilient organization.
Best Practices from Our Research on Building Resilient Organizations
At CCL, we’re exploring the science and best practices of building organizational resilience through collective leadership. Below are suggested practices from some of our findings:
Best Practice #1: Regularly engage your leadership team in collective sense-making through taking stock of both threats and opportunities (sometimes 2 sides of the same situation), and identify areas of strength to leverage in order to develop areas of weakness. The standard SWOT exercise can be amplified through a robust discussion answering the following questions:
How are the challenges we’re encountering familiar?
How are we challenged in ways for which we have no experience?
How are these challenges reinforcing threats?
How are these challenges presenting new opportunities?
Best Practice #2: Periodically assessing Direction, Alignment, and Commitment will net greater purpose and meaning, as well as contribute to a learning orientation. Here are some example questions to try:
Direction: To what degree do we have group goals that guide our key decisions? What are they? How can we get clearer?
Alignment: To what degree does our combined work fit together? Examples? How can we get better?
Commitment: To what degree do we make the success of the whole a priority? To what extent are individuals willing to “take one for the team” if it benefits the broader organization?
Best Practice #3: Strategically push problem solving and decision making down to the lowest possible level, and empower agile teams to focus on identified opportunities via “sprints,” or time-boxed periods of focused work. Unleashing the creativity of individuals and charging them with the task of generating new solutions to business challenges creates a culture of innovation, as well as enhances social connections.
A great way to get started is to engage cross-organizational teams in “Empathy Mapping,” a means to refresh an understanding of stakeholders’ explicit and implicit needs. Questions should be designed to be holistic in nature and challenge the team to adjust their perceptions about their stakeholders’ reality, and can be used for generating ideas to solve problems for customers, clients, internal partners, general employee population, etc.
A bonus to the process: by reframing problems from the stakeholders’ point of view, the team is collectively building awareness which contributes to emotional intelligence.
Best Practice #4: Begin, or increase, efforts to routinely conduct reflection and learning exercises at critical milestones. Institute “pauses” to explore the impact of decisions and actions, seek feedback on what is working and isn’t, and develop the insights into actions that ensure the learning is being carried forward. In short – create a culture of learning. Here is an example of a quick reflection activity to try with a team:
Have each person list 2 things that occurred that the collective should continue to do, 2 things that the collective should stop doing, and 2 things that the team needs to start doing in order to improve the collective work. Discuss the responses, looking for themes and actions that can be carried forward from the reflection.