Organizing For Resilience - Group Resilience

Welcome back! This week I’m going over more about Organizing For Resilience, specifically focusing on the aspects that affect the resilience of a group.

Organizing For Resilience

Back again this week with the chapter “Organizing For Resilience” by Kathleen Sutcliffe and Timothy Vogus from Positive Organizational Scholarship.

This week I want to focus on the group. For us in software, this might be our team that we tend to respond with, SREs, etc… But can often by a cross functional resultant group of other responders.

Either way, knowing a bit about resilience emerges at this level can help us build better activities, practices, and habits for our teams.

Unfortunately, it turns out that researchers who have looked at group dynamics haven’t examined resilience directly. In order to examine it then, the authors look at a few potentially overlapping areas, things like team learning, group disaster behavior, and work on collective efficacy.

The authors use that term a lot, “collective efficacy,” which can be confusing since it’s used in many other ways as well. As we’ll talk about here, this is just the groups overall belief that they can face a challenge and get things done.

Since groups are made of individuals, of course, we see some of the same patterns here. Things that encourage competence, growth, and efficacy are typically going to lay the groundwork for resilience to emerge.

The authors also touch a bit on the idea of a fixed vs growth mindset. You may have heard about this elsewhere including in some popsci type settings, but the short version is that people with growth mindsets believe that they (or their group) can get better at something wheras a fixed mindset says that a given ability is simply innate, unchangable talent, you were born with it or not.

Since you’re reading this, you’re clearly interested in learning, so I’m going to presume you have a growth mindset! It’s important that the outlook of the group be similar as well. Learning and resilience are conected in individuals, groups are much the same.

Teams oriented toward acquiring new skills, mastering new situations, and improving competence are more likely to positively adjust to challenging conditions and be higher performing over the long term.

The authors tell us that positive adaptation becomes more likely because groups that are doing this, acquiring new skills, are more likely to be able to handle complexity and perserve.

Ok, but how?

That’s all great, but if you’re like me, you really want to know how this happens, how are those states created?

From the research, we know that this happens because of a few different things:

1 More diverse knowledge and just more knowledge in general

Prior knowledge is needed to allow new knowledge to be absorbed and usable. As a result, the more prior knowledge the group has, the more they can get more. It’s a bit like a bank account paying interest, the more you have, the more it can build given the same interest rate.

2 More team diversity

There are a few different levels to this one, more generally, the more sorts of people you have in a group, the more likely you are to have a broader pool of skills.

But the other important bit of this is that they also have diverse viewpoints. This can help the group see new things and see in new ways and can be a useful defense against fixation.

3 Diversity of experience

This is an idea I don’t hear a lot about in many discussions (if I’m missing them, please let me know!), so I wanted to make this it’s own point.

The more diverse the group’s experience is, the better. This means you probably want some folks you might think of as generalists, some very narrow specialists, etc….

All of these points will allow the group to see more, which means they have an increased chance at intervening. All of this is held together with effective communication. There is some indications that generalists may do better with some of these, but of course our growth mindset would tell us that we can learn too!

Broadly speaking, we can see that things that increase competence, build social or material assets, reduce risk, or reduce stress are going to increase the chance of “positive adjustments” happening.

Collective Efficacy

The authors tell us that collective efficacy “figures prominently in promoting resilience,” so it’s definitely worth examining on it’s own.

As I touched on briefly, the more a group has confidence in their ability to face a challenge and solve a problem, the better they are likely to perform under pressure.

The author’s don’t really address this, but other high reliabilty organizational research cautions us that becoming overconfident can cause us to overlook developing situations. (See issue 9 for more about HROs).

A very interesting point that the authors make though is that it doesn’t seem to matter much where this efficacy comes from, whether it occurs naturally on it’s own or is induced artificially, both seem to work. An experiement was done that primed people to think about a simulated organization and its teams to changable or not and those who were primed to think about the organization as changable did better.

Collective efficacy is emergent though, it is not simply an adding up of how effective each individual feels. Factors such as the mix of compentencies in the group, how the group is organized, and if the group has “mututally facilitory” interactions.

A bit surprising to me for a paper that opens talking about how other research is negative, the authors use an example of absence of collective efficacy to demonstrate its importance. Specifically the Mann Gulch fire (as analyzed by Karl Weick) where 11 died. They summarize saying that the inability to maintain a flexible structure that could also handle changing demands prevented them from having collective efficacy.

Since collective efficacy influences how easy or hard it is for a group to become discouraged and how long they may persist without immediate results, groups that see themselves as more capable are more likely to face challenges with confidence. This helps them keep going, which leads to more positive adjustment, which reinforces their confidence.

The authors close with a deceptively simply statement:

“Resilience is an outcome of the self-reinforcing nature of this cycle”


  • Resilience at the group level shares some of the same foundations as the individual, but they are not identical
  • Group diversity helps the group see more and have more opportunity for intervention.
  • Effective group dynamics require effective communication
  • Resilience emerges from a group because
  • Collective efficacy, the groups belief that they can face a challenge, can help the group perform under pressure.
  • Collective efficacy is emergent and more than just the sum of the individuals.
  • Collective efficacy can help prevent groups from getting discouraged and can help them keep going when they don’t see results right away.
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