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    Oct 22, 2020    |   Camille Labrie

Building Individual and Organizational Resilience

Written by Shawn Bakker, Lead Psychologist

Life is full of disruptions and resiliency is the ability of people and teams to bounce back. David Denyer from the Cranfield School of Management describes two core tensions that we need to manage in a strategic way if we are to tackle disruptions effectively.

Core Tension #1 – Defensive vs Progressive

  • When playing defense our primary concern is to deal with threats and risks and stop bad things from happening.
  • When being progressive we focus on prospects and opportunities and look for ways to make good things happen.

Core Tension #2 – Consistency vs Flexibility

  • Consistency is looking to standardize rules, procedures, systems, guidelines and policies.
  • Flexibility is seeking out a diversity of perspectives, ideas and work practices

To deal with disruptions we need to manage the natural tensions between being defensive and progressive, and between looking for consistency and flexibility. While these can often seem at odds with each other, resilient people and teams are able to recognize the need to do both and do so when appropriate.

David Denyer has combined these two core tensions into his Strategic Tensions Model which is shown below. To be resilient, which is not only to survive but to bounce back from disruptions we need to be able to move between the four quadrants when necessary. When first encountering a crisis it makes perfect sense to shift to the defensive side of the model – looking for ways to protect oneself and ones work through clear structures and quick changes to adapt to the new reality. After a crisis has been initially addressed you need to shift to the progressive side of the model, looking for new ways of doing your old work and consideration of brand new opportunities that were not present before.

strategic tensions model

While theoretically it is easy to understand the need to balance these tensions and focus on each of the four quadrants at different times, who we are as people will influence which of the quadrants we find most natural to consider and comfortable to operate in. Two personality characteristics can help us better understand ourselves and our teammates when it comes to managing disruptions because they closely mimic the strategic tensions model. If you are using the Work Personality Index they are called Innovation and Flexibility.

work personality index innovation flexibility

People who are innovative and flexible will be drawn to the Adaptive Innovation quadrant, while those who prefer structure and established processes will gravitate toward Preventative Control. By recognizing which quadrant you and your colleagues may tend to over-do or over-look, you can build strategies to ensure that you manage these tensions strategically rather than instinctively.

Below is the distribution of Work Personality Index results for a group of banking professionals. This group had significant conflict between those focused on preventative control (32%) and adaptive innovation (24%). What was getting missed were the needs for performance optimization and mindful action.

banking professionals work personality

Each group’s natural focus was appropriate some of the time, but not all the time. Recognizing their individual tendencies and the make-up of the team helped these banking professionals better understand their colleagues while also recognizing the importance of each quadrant and the need to shift to them accordingly.

As you and your colleagues deal with disruptions, take the time to understand your natural focus based on your levels of innovation and flexibility. Then thoughtfully address the disruptions by shifting to the appropriate quadrant of the strategic tensions model, because to be successful you need to focus on each quadrant some of the time.


Filed under: Leadership Development