Between Sponge and Titanium: Designing Micro and Macro Features for the Resilient Organization



Many contemporary organization s must deal with high levels of environmental uncertainty, complexity and equivocality , struggling with not only strong competitive pressures but also increasing uncertainty related to sociopolitical and economic trends within the frame of a risk society. The centrality of resilience in contemporary managerial discourse is mostly related to the social, political, environmental and economic turmoil and jolts, to which organizations have been exposed during the past decades. Organizational survival is therefore increasingly challenged, and to survive and prosper, organizations must transform jolts and shocks into new and resilient solutions. Organizational resilience refers to the ability of an organization to continue to meet its core functions by finding and implementing in a fast and timely manner organizational micro and microstructure able to transform uncertainty into new solutions. While the progressive turbulence of the external environment requires organizations to be more resilient, the design of organizational resilience appears to be still limited to its adaptability to the external environment. Within this context, this chapter draws an original proposal on the design of resilient organizations considering both micro/individual-level and macro/design-level features.

9.1 Introduction

Uncertainty seems to characterize extant organizations forced to struggle with various types of risks and exposed to extreme external discontinuity (Kaplan and Mikes 2012). Managers have to deal with emerging misfits when traditional organizational structures do not hold properly (Donaldson and Joffe 2014) and conventional strategic behaviors are timeworn. Accordingly, organizations are asked to identify, design, and implement resilient structures and behaviors able not only to effectively and promptly face uncertainty but also to prevent and anticipate it. To say it with (Välikangas and Romme 2013), organizations are asked to “develop [those] mechanisms before the organization needs to recover” (p. 44). Indeed, resilience refers to the ability of an organization to continue to meet its core functions by finding and implementing in a fast and timely manner organizational micro- and macrostructure able to transform uncertainty into new solutions. While the progressive turbulence of the external environment requires organizations to be more resilient, the design of organizational resilience appears to be still limited to its adaptability to the external environment.

Despite the vast number of contributions discussing resilience in management (e.g., Weick 1993; Collins and Porras 1994; Weick and Sutcliffe 2001; Coutu 2002; Sutcliffe and Vogus 2003; Folke 2006; Cunha and Cunha 2006; Lengnick-Hall et al. 2011; Reinmoeller and van Baardwijk 2005; Välikangas and Romme 2013; Van der Vegt et al. 2015) and the proposals of several research agendas on the subject (e.g., Vogus and Sutcliffe 2007), an inwardly consistent proposal for designing the resilient organization is still missing. Aiming at filling such a gap, this chapter is structured in five parts. As resilience encompasses both recoverability (the capacity for speedy recovery after a crisis) and strength with solidity (the capacity to stay strong), the metaphorical sponge and titanium effects are explained in Sect. 1. In Sect. 2, we provide some indications for contextualized macro and micro configurations to tackle the external uncertainty and equivocality. As organizational resilience depends on the ability to restore efficacy and not merely or exclusively on the efficient use of resources, Sect. 3 presents the constitutive features of organizational design for resilience as structural (S), behavioral (B), and cognitive (C). Section 4 is devoted to discussions and conclusion, while the work ends with Sect. 5 where future research trajectories are depicted.

9.2 Sponge and Titanium: The Absorbent and Stiff Capacity of Resilient Organizations

In turbulent, surprising, and continuously evolving environments, crisis and discontinuity characterize extant organizations who are forced to struggle with various types of risks (Kaplan and Mikes 2012): preventable risks such as breakdowns in processes and human errors; strategic risks undertaken voluntarily after weighing them against the potential rewards; and external risks which are beyond one’s capacity to influence or control, are scarcely predictable as well as their potential impact, and little knowledge is available on how to handle them. Moreover, since globalization forces organizations to be overexposed to multiple stresses coming from different and heterogeneous environments, they need to develop resilience meant as the capacity to anticipate, respond, and rapidly recover from a disruptive event (Vogus and Sutcliffe 2007). As a consequence, only flexible, agile, and dynamic organizations can thrive. In that, resilient organizations differ from the other ones by their ability to tackle the external uncertainty and equivocality (Mayrhofer et al. 2007) by being “potentially ready” for the unexpected to occur (Weick and Sutcliffe 2007). Resilient organizations develop the capacity to cope with a wide array of anomalies and are constantly striving to grow their capabilities to do so, through learning from events and near events.

Although researchers working on the theme use different terms to describe different aspects of organizational resilience (Collins and Porras 1994; Freeman et al. 2004; Sutcliffe and Vogus 2003; Weick 1993), they all orient their analysis on some common features, that is the ability to find new solutions, effectively communicate, and reorganize in response to crisis (Kendra and Wachtendorf 2003). The working definition of a resilient organization is, therefore, one that has the capability to change with minor frictions by absorbing the negative effects generated by sudden shocks and recover to a new and better equilibrium while preserving the continuity of its operations. Consistently with the mechanical origin of resilience (Campbell 2008):
  • Resilience is the ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically, and release that energy upon unloading;

  • The proof of resilience is the maximum energy that can be absorbed within the elastic limit, without creating a permanent distortion;

  • The modulus of resilience is the maximum energy that can be absorbed per unit volume without creating a permanent distortion.

When it comes to organization design , resilience encompasses two elements: (1) recoverability, meant as the capacity for speedy recovery after a crisis—we refer to this as the “sponge effect” (Sponge: “a very light soft substance with lots of little holes in it…” Collins Dictionary); (2) strength with solidity, the capacity to stay strong—we refer to this as the “titanium effect” (Titanium: “… a strong malleable white metallic element, which is very corrosion-resistant and occurs in rutile and ilmenite”). Piggybacking on such metaphors, a resilient organization stays productive also during turbulences and difficulties as it is able to learn from experiences and mistakes and to look forward with a renewed push. This forward-looking and self-correcting type of organization anticipates changes routinely and addresses them proactively by activating multiple learning processes every time something negative occurs. The resilient organization distinguishes itself in its response, which is immediate, thorough, and constructive.

9.3 Design Features for the Resilient Organization

Nowadays, organizations are exposed to increasingly complex and equivocal external environments (Burton and Obel 2004) characterized by hypercompetition and rapid change. From an organizational design standpoint, resilience results from the processes and dynamics that are able to create or retain resources in a form that is sufficiently flexible, convertible, and malleable to enable organizations to successfully cope with and learn from the unexpected (Sutcliffe and Vogus 2003). In that, resilient organizations are constantly in search of contextualized macro and micro configurations to tackle the external uncertainty and equivocality (Mayrhofer et al. 2007), considering that they have to be potentially ready:
  • for the unexpected to occur (Weick and Sutcliffe 2001);

  • to cope with a wide array of anomalies (Vogus and Sutcliffe 2007);

and are constantly striving to grow their capabilities to do so, through learning from events and near events.

In this sense, the capacity for resilience is developed by ensuring a constant alignment between the macro organizational structure and assets (Par. 9.1) and HRs strategic management (Lengnick-Hall et al. 2011) (Par. 9.2).

9.3.1 Macro Organizational Structure and Assets

Although researchers working on the theme use different terms to describe different aspects of organizational resilience, they all orient their analysis on some common features, that is the ability to find new solutions, effectively communicate, and reorganize in response to crisis (Kendra and Wachtendorf 2003).

Mallak (1998) defines resilience as the ability to plan and implement adaptive positive behaviors according to the specific situation. Bell (2002) identifies it as the ability to promptly and adequately answer to unexpected changes. In both cases, resilience matches the ability to recover and bypass difficulties in a prompt way with resolution and precision.

From a structural design standpoint, the working definition of a resilient organization is, therefore, one that has the capability to (1) change with minor frictions when changing contexts by demonstrating flexibility and plasticity, (2) withstand sudden shocks, and (3) recover to a desired equilibrium either the previous one or a new one, while preserving the continuity of its operations.

The three elements in this definition encompass both:
  • recoverability (the capacity for speedy recovery after a crisis), and

  • adaptability (timely adaptation in response to a changing environment).

A resilient organization stays productive, efficient, and effective also during turbulences and difficulties as it is able to learn from experiences and mistakes and to look forward with energy, trust, and renewed push, and positively overcome new challenges.

Resilience, as considered in this work, is a multifaceted construct, mainly composed of three characteristics (robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness) and two possible performances (response and recovery). In particular, these two last components describe how a system performs in the event of crisis.

Response refers to the ability to mobilize quickly in the face of crises and requires both communication and inclusive participation. Indeed, effective communication and trust in the information conveyed increased likelihood that, in the event of a crisis, stakeholders are able to disseminate and share information quickly, and to ensure cooperation and quick response from the audience.

Recovery, that has to be guaranteed for “each subsystem” of the “whole organizational system,” is the ability to regain a degree of normality after a crisis including the ability of a system to be flexible and adaptable and to evolve to deal with the new or changed circumstances after the manifestation of a risk. It requires both active horizon scanning and responsive regulatory feedback mechanism.
  • Active “horizon scanning”: Critical to the attribute are multi-stakeholder processes tasked with uncovering gaps in existing knowledge and commissioning research to fill those gaps.

  • Responsive regulatory feedback mechanisms: Systems to translate new information from horizon-scanning activities into action—for example, defining “automatic policy adjustments triggers”—can clarify circumstances in which policies must be reassessed.

Resilience is also made of three main characteristics or features: robustness, that is the ability to absorb and withstand disturbances and crises; redundancy, the excess capacity and backup systems enable the maintenance of core functionality in the event of disturbances; resourcefulness, the ability to adapt to crises, respond flexibility, and—when possible—transform a negative impact into a positive.

Robustness, in turn, requires modularity and adaptive decision-making models. Whereas:
  • Modularity: Mechanisms designed to prevent unexpected shocks in one part of a system from spreading to other parts of a system can localize their impact;

  • Adaptive decision-making models: Networked managerial structures can allow an organization to become more or less centralized depending on circumstances.

Redundancy implies repetition of parts or duplication of critical infrastructure and diversity of solutions and strategies; in details:
  • Redundancy of critical infrastructure: Designing replication of modules which are not strictly necessary to maintaining core function day to day, but are necessary to maintaining core function in the event of crises.

  • Diversity of solutions and strategy: Promoting diversity of mechanisms for a given function. Balancing diversity with efficiency and redundancy will enable communities and countries to cope and adapt better than those that have none.

Resourcefulness implies the capacity for self-organization, creativity, and innovation, like:
  • Capacity for self-organization: This includes factors such as the extent of social and human capital, the relationship between social networks and state, and the existence of institutions that enable face-to-face networking, the capacity to balance several opposite forces (e.g., Hedberg et al. 1976). These factors are critical in circumstances such as failures of government institutions when communities need to self-organize and continue to deliver essential public services;

  • Creativity and innovation: the ability to innovate is linked to the availability of spare resources and the rigidity of boundaries between disciplines, organizations, and social groups.

Given this working definition of the resilient organization, it is almost obvious that the classical concept of “efficiency” applied to organizational structures and the use of resources does not convince us anymore (e.g., Håkonsson et al. 2013). Slack resources are fundamental to our definition of resilience (Schulman 1993). Woods (2006) similarly discusses the importance of maintaining an up-to-date understanding and sensitivity to where an organization is operating with respect to its limits (i.e., how much margin exists). The idea of margin is essential to resilience because maintaining an adequate margin is necessary for responding to unexpected events, and an organization that operates beyond its comfortable margin for too long is inviting disaster. The conventional meaning of “efficiency” contrasts with the idea of preserving margins as it is generally used to express the capability of a specific application of effort to produce a specific outcome with a minimum amount or quantity of waste, expense, and unnecessary effort.

To reinforce our developmental perspective, it is not merely the stock of resources that determines resilience, but also the deployment of these resources. A developmental perspective implies the presence of latent resources that can be activated, combined, and recombined in new situations as challenges arise. That is, resilient organizations seem to turn traditional organization theory on its head by deploying resources rather than restricting the deployment of resources, as posited by the classical perspective of treating threats in a rigid and negative way (Staw et al. 1981).

We argue here that resilient organizations aim to restore “efficacy” by enhancing their ability to quickly process feedback and flexibly rearrange, combine, and deploy resources in new ways.

9.4 Micro Organizational Features —Promoting Resilience via HR Strategic Management

Organizational resilience can be achieved by nurturing resilient behaviors. In this sense, the HR system can play a fundamental role in developing organizational resilience by building and maintaining a workforce with the capacity to anticipate, respond, and/or rapidly recover from a disruptive event (Mallak 1998; Vogus and Sutcliffe 2007). In fact, both strategic and operational aspects of HR (Arthur and Boyles 2007; Becker and Gerhart 1996; Lepak et al. 2004; Schuler 1992) can be formulated and implemented in line with the need to have resources and organizational structures constantly available for change. In this sense, all the practices related to recruitment and selection processes (Par. 2.2.1), internal mobility (Par. 2.2.2), performance evaluation and compensation mechanism (Par. 2.2.3), and learning (Par. 2.2.4) should be formulated and implemented by taking into consideration the need of the organization to have HRs able to find and implement resilient solutions and behave according to the needs for resilience. We now consider these three levels separately, aware of the fact that they have to be managed as mutually interacting.

9.4.1 Recruitment and Selection Process

In complex environments, where the unexpected is an increasing part of the everyday experience, organizations, their units and their members may have limited capacity to anticipate every challenge that arises (Weick et al. 2005). Resilience is having the necessary capacity “to cope with unanticipated dangers after they become manifest” (Wildavsky 1988, p. 147) and, as considered in this work, is a multifaceted construct (Cascio 2012), mainly composed of three elements: behavioral, cognitive, and contextual:
  • Behavioral elements can be developed through a combination of practiced resourcefulness and counterintuitive agility juxtaposed with useful habits and behavioral preparedness (Lengnick-Hall and Beck 2003, 2005). Combined these behaviors create centrifugal forces (influences that make ideas, knowledge and information available for creative action) and centripetal forces (influences that direct inputs and processes toward actionable solutions) enabling a firm to learn more about a situation and to fully use its own resources under conditions that are uncertain and surprising (Sheremata 2000).

  • Cognitive factors represent the shared mindset that enables a firm to move forward with flexibility. They are an intricate blend of expertise, opportunism, creativity, and decisiveness despite uncertainty. Cognitive foundations for resilience require a solid grasp on reality and a relentless desire to question fundamental assumptions. In addition, alertness or mindfulness that prompts an organization to continuously consider and refine its expectations and perspectives on current functioning enables a firm to more adeptly manage environmental complexities (Weick and Sutcliffe 2007).

  • Contextual conditions that support resilience rely on relationships within and outside an organization to facilitate effective responses to environmental complexities. In that, resilience brings together the three distinct perspectives identified by Gunz and Mayrhofer (2011, p. 253): conditionary, boundative, and temporal; in this same vein, the resilient organization can be seen as a contextualized configuration to tackle external uncertainty and equivocality (Mayrhofer et al. 2007). The four essential contextual conditions for resilience include: psychological safety, deep social capital, diffuse power and accountability, and broad resource networks (Lengnick-Hall and Beck 2003, 2005). Combined together, these factors promote interpersonal connections and resource supply lines that lead to the ability to act quickly under emerging conditions that are uncertain and surprising.

Recruitment and selection processes must be accompanied by the analysis of the actual possession and ability to put into practice of these three elements and the associated competencies.

9.4.2 Internal Mobility

The assumption that resilience is dynamic in nature fits with the consideration that internal mobility—referred to the change of role that a worker may engage within the organization, shifting from one organizational unit to a different one, and so performing various activities—can activate capacity for resilience. In this sense, it should be strategic for organizations to develop a mobility program internally consistent and directed at nurturing the cognitive, behavioral, and contextual dimensions of resilience (e.g., Poole 1990; Scullion 2005) for each employee by facilitating mobility between organizational units.

9.4.3 Performance Evaluation and Compensation Mechanism

The performance of individuals against organizational goals determines whether the organization meets its goals. The basic objectives of performance evaluations are twofold: first to reward employees for meeting organizational objectives and second to identify which objectives are not met and to develop action plans to ensure they are achieved in future.

Inside resilient organization, the assessment of the employee can be parameterized both on standard criteria (ability to reach fixed goals by following the proper organizational behavior) than on the ability to identify and implement resilient solutions, that is, new and no orthodox ones.

Moreover, some factors like learning from events and near events, learning from mistakes, ability to effectively communicate, ability to reorganize in response to crisis can be positively rewarded.

9.4.4 Learning

The modulus of resilience is related to organizational learning, that is the ability and readiness to activate multiple learning processes every time something negative occurs.

Two specific beliefs seem to anchor resilient organizations. First, these organizations treat success lightly and are leery because of the potential for the unexpected to occur (Weick and Sutcliffe 2001). In other words, resilient organizations assume that their model of risks is in need of regular updating, that their countermeasures are incomplete, and that their grasp on safe operations is fragile. Second, resilient organizations also believe that they can readily cope with a wide array of anomalies and are constantly striving to grow their capabilities to do so. Resilient organizations believe that they are imperfect but can achieve excellence over time through learning from events and near events. Moreover, resilient organizations are constantly engaged in:
  • proactive and preemptive analysis of possible vulnerabilities (fear of failure);

  • the questioning of assumptions and received wisdom to create a more complete picture (reluctance to simplify interpretations);

  • discussion of the human and organizational capabilities that enable safe performance (sensitivity to operations);

  • attempts to learn collectively from the errors that have occurred (commitment to resilience); and,

  • making decisions to transfer the person or the people with the greatest expertise to deal with the problem at hand regardless of rank (deference to expertise).

These behaviors enable organizations to better detect and correct emerging and manifest errors in a timely manner, thus minimizing adverse outcomes. Hence, in contrast with the deterministic approach (Staw et al. 1981), we believe that resilience and the process of its generation can be better and more convincingly explained by adopting a developmental perspective. The notion that resilience is “developmental” is crucial, as it emphasizes that it is developed over time by continually handling risks, stresses, and strains, and by allocating adequate resources in a proper way.

In actual fact, multiple resilience processes will occur. Every time a resilience process is completed, the organization believes it has returned to homeostasis. However, what really happens is that the organization has reached a higher level of functioning because by successfully mastering the resilience process, additional skills or abilities have been acquired. If the same or a similar trigger event occurs again, the organization will be able to cope with it in a more effective and efficient way.

Resilience is a dynamic process that refers to a successful answer despite adversity. The process needs to be kick started by a trigger. Although each resilience process seems to be a return to homeostasis, multiple resilience processes over time lead to an increase in the level of functioning.

The ability for self-awareness enables the organization to learn from past experiences. If the life of an organization is seen as a chain of infinite resilience processes, the final level of functioning (LFf) can be defined as the sum of all resilience processes (Eq. 9.1):
$$\text{LF}f\text{ = }\sum\limits_{k = 1}^{n} {{\text{LF}}\left( k \right)}$$

Equation 9.1—The level of functioning

If and when cognitive and behavioral adjustments are sustained over time by the contextual conditions, the chain of multiple events—that generates the incremental change in level of functioning—presumes unlearning, relearning, and learning (see Hedberg 1981) which taken together constitute organizational renewal. To the extent that renewal processes become institutionalized, it follows that organizational lifetimes will be lengthened. In sum, the notion of crisis suggests that a seemingly life-threatening organizational crisis may ironically result in increased organizational vitality and longevity.

The unlearning process enables the long-term development of new responses and mental maps. As Underlined by Barnett and Pratt (2000), Hedberg (1981, p. 18) builds on Lewin’s (1953) and Schein’s (1985) frameworks. Hedberg’s conceptualization of unlearning encompasses three distinct disconfirmation, or disassembly of: (1) preexisting “views;” (2) extant connections between stimuli and responses; (3) connections between responses. These phenomena create the state in which a person, or an organization, no longer recognizes what is perceived, what response to make, and how to assemble new responses to new situations. Barnett and Pratt (2000) define organizational learning “as a process through which knowledge about action-outcome relationships develops and may then modify collective behavior (Barnett 1994)” (p. 76).

9.5 The Search for a New Design Framework

From what has been presented so far, it appears that organizational resilience depends on the ability to restore efficacy and not merely or exclusively on the efficient use of resources. When the characteristics described above are considered, current managerial theories do not explain resilience in a comprehensive and consistent way.

The gaps that we are trying to fill can be categorized as structural (S), behavioral (B), and cognitive (C). The related conjectures are coded accordingly (S1, S2, S3, etc.). From a structural standpoint, the resilient organization is exposed and sensitive to external pressures, so it presents these characteristics:
  • It is an open system with boundary spanning (S 1)

  • It is a robust system, since:
    • It transforms unpredictable external shocks into new energy, and considers them as opportunities for learning (S 2);

    • Its post-shock equilibrium is at least equivalent to that of the starting conditions (S 3).

From a behavioral perspective, resilience confers inner reactivity on the organization, in which three phases can be identified:
  • Detection of the stressor (and the related suffering caused by it) (B 1);

  • Definition of a related coping strategy (B 2);

  • Minimization of the friction time (B 3).

Such behavior requires a cognitive organizational system able to:
  • Learn from experience (C 1);

  • Seek new alternatives or better settings in which to operate (C 2)

  • Act in a preemptive and proactive way (C 3).

The consideration of these features requires different theories to be evoked coming from different fields. We argue that a resilient organization has to be conceived as an open system made of strictly interconnected behaviors and structures. Moreover, overtaking Mallak’s (1998) and Bell’s (2002) definitions, in our view a resilient organization has to be able to put itself in a condition where it can behave proactively and be adaptive. We mean that, if needed, it has to adopt an anticipatory, change-oriented, and self-initiating type of behavior. Proactive behavior involves acting in advance of a situation arising, rather than just reacting to it. It means taking control and making things happen rather than just adjusting to a situation or waiting for something to happen.

From our perspective, mainstream approaches and existing theories seem to partly cover the aspects of the emerging and complex phenomenon of resilient organizations. Despite their inner limits, these organizations are precious sources of knowledge for putting conjectures to the test and, eventually, for contributing to the understanding of organizational resilience. The theories that can help achieve a comprehensive understanding of organizational resilience are summarized below:
  • The system theory (Von Bertalanffy 1950a, 1950b) describes the openness of the systems and the dynamics of interaction with the external environment (see S1). When a system is exposed to a stressor, it can either respond by trying to converge toward the preexisting steady state of equilibrium (via negative feedback loops, to homeostasis) or by targeting a steady flow of development (via positive feedback loops, to homeorhesis) (see S3). The transformation of external shocks into opportunities for learning and reacting (see S2) is not very far removed from the mechanisms of entropy/negative entropy applied to physical and biological systems. As Cohen and Wartofsky (1980) have underlined, the notion of “autopoiesis” discussed by Maturana (1970) and Maturana and Varela (1973) refers to “autonomous, self-referring and self-constructing [yet] closed systems” (Cohen and Wartofsky1980, p. v). Thus, it seems that the synergic action of acting and learning can be ascribed to cognitive elements borrowed from more recent psychological studies.

  • The contingency theory, both in its original contributions (Burns and Stalker 1961; Lawrence and Lorsch 1967; Emery and Trist 1965) and its more recent contributions (Carroll 2012; Puranam 2012; Helfat and Samina 2014) classifies the external environment in terms of its complexity, uncertainty, and equivocality, and in the way these phenomena affect the internal structure of organizations (see S2, S3). Moreover, if we accept the strategic alternatives described by Miles and Snow (1978) as part of the “situation fit” (see Burton, Lauridsen, and Obel 2002), the contingency approach can explain some proactive behaviors (e.g., exploration), but it does not properly take account of learning and preemptive actions (Schoonhoven 1981; Padget 1992; Hambrick and Cannella 2004).

  • Managerial theories dealing with strategy and structure (see B1) can be classified in two ways: (a) in a Chandlerian fashion, whereby structure follows strategy (Chandler 1962), (b) the alternative view according to which strategy follows structure (Hall and Saias 1980), or by (c) a balance of these views. As for the last of these, Mintzberg (1990) offered a balanced view, arguing that the relationship between strategy and structure is reciprocal: “Structure follows strategy … as the left foot follows the right.” Nevertheless, the configuration framework that he proposed is a model that describes only six valid organizational configurations (originally five; the sixth was added later) and six mechanisms (mutual adjustment, direct supervision, standardization of work processes, standardization of output, standardization of skills, standardization of norms) for the coordination of different tasks. Such a classification appears to be too reductive for explaining the functioning of a resilient organization. Moreover, we consider the assertion that each organization can consist of a maximum of six basic parts is absolutely inadequate—these parts are as follows: the strategic apex (top management), the middle line (middle management), the operating core (operations, operational processes), the technostructure (analysts that design systems, processes, etc.), the support staff (support outside the operating workflow), and the ideology (halo of beliefs and traditions, norms, values, culture; Schein 1978). Perhaps, the most distinctive feature of Mintzberg’s research findings and writings on business strategy is that they often emphasized the importance of emergent strategy, which arises informally at any level in an organization and is an alternative to or complements the deliberate strategy determined consciously either by top management or with the acquiescence of top management. The limits of the recalled theoretical contribution shed light on the fact that probably the resilient organizations have to be studied in a wider framework, in which the strategic solutions of exploitation and exploration could be pursued in a complementary and non-exclusive way (Miles et al. 2006). More recent contributions appeared on the Journal of Organization Design raise important points that would help design structural solutions for resilient organizations. In particular, according to Carroll (2012), the pursuit of both exploration and exploitation could be reached through a continuous and incremental reconfiguration of the organization. As the author recalls: “Continuous, incremental redesign may sound ideal. However, frequent reconfiguration of organizational boundaries can be costly and not necessarily successful … firms that have limited resources for reconfiguration may be dissuaded from this type of process.” (Carroll 2012, p. 67). Further, it seems that the resilient organization requires structural design coming from “a rejuvenated and useful branch of organization science” with a “high level of consilience” (meant as the importance of scientific explanation at one level of aggregation based on scientific knowledge about lower order phenomena) and the prototyping of new organizational forms (Puranam 2012, p. 18–19).

From what has been considered so far, although system theory covers the main features of an organization, it is still too generic and not sufficiently exhaustive and accurate to explain and interpret resilient organizations. Managerial theories, individually considered, are not able to explain resilience. In fact, none of them is able to deal with the phenomenon of resilience and all its behavioral and structural features. Instead, theories from other fields can better cope with the phenomenon itself, and with its implications for behaviors and structures.

The cognitive side of a resilient organization (see C1, C2, C3) can be analyzed through the concept of self-efficacy and the coping strategies developed in the field of psychology, and particularly in psychosocial training. One of the ways to develop self-efficacy is via direct experience, which is made tangible in psychosocial training. High self-efficacy weakens work-related stress (Perrewé et al. 2002; Bandura 2006), especially when accompanied by the conscious use of active coping strategies (Jex et al. 2001). The literature on stress and coping emphasizes the primary role of cognitive appraisal in the stress process (Lazarus and Folkman 1984; Moos and Schaefer 1993). Coping is generally defined as behavioral or cognitive efforts to manage situations that are appraised as stressful; an individual effort is made to reduce stress. Problem-focused coping has been associated with different levels of stress (Brown et al. 2002). According to Bandura (1997), stress reactions depend on the self-appraisal of one’s coping capabilities. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) have defined coping as a process by which individuals, upon perceiving a situation as stressful, evaluate and implement coping strategies. Coping strategies are appraisals or behaviors employed to reduce emotional and physical reactions to stressors. Several studies have found that communication skills prevent problems derived from work-related stress (Shimizu et al. 2003), and that problem-solving skills help in coping with stressful situations (Cox 1987).

9.6 Discussion and Conclusions

Resilience is an organizational competence that can be nurtured, improved, and consolidated through learning processes, and can be a source of strategic sustainability for organizations. Being composed of different elements that have to be combined dynamically, resilience cannot be considered automatic in management, therefore it requires an appropriate managerial style.

Our analysis has shed light in an original way on both the entities (resilient organizations) and the phenomenon (organizational resilience) by filling a gap in the knowledge about a consistent and comprehensive framework. In doing so, the intent of our work was to contribute to the ongoing academic debate on how organizations can face unexpected events. At the same time, the idea was to give managers and policymakers a systemic view in which to operate their choices, overcoming the partial and scattered indications coming from the heterogeneous and fragmented extant literature on the subject. We suggest that managers should intervene on both macro and micro features in order to promote organizational resilience.

9.7 Future Research

Considering the unsatisfactory exhaustiveness of the literature on this subject and the potential scope for further work based on a fresh impulse, we argue that to exhaustively describe the emerging phenomenon of resilient organizations both managerial and non-managerial theories, models, and components are needed. In fact, the proposed perspective enriches the field of organization design by proposing a structural framework for creating resilient organizations which can be developed within the contingency perspective (e.g., Burton and Obel 1988; Donaldson and Joffe 2014), Välikangas and Romme 2013) rather than rely on organizational improvisation (e.g., Cunha et al. 1999). Further, this chapter aims at addressing the current research on the subject to reconsider the physics foundation of organizational resilience in order to produce organizational design feature that managers could practically implement. Therefore, we see a potential space for the academic debate to help the managerial practice deal with resilience by providing a new and convincing perspective on the subject.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Business and Management and LUISS Business SchoolLUISS Guido Carli UniversityRomeItaly
  2. 2.Università Cattolica Del Sacro CuoreMilan (Piacenza campus)Italy

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