Trust & Organizational Resilience


A resilient organization is so much more than a group of resilient individuals


I became fascinated with individual resilience early in my HR career, when I saw firsthand the huge variation in how people go through – and thus come through – adversity. It was my first big layoff (alas, there would be many to follow), and watching people choose and then manifest their own outcomes cured me of the guilt that otherwise threatened to swamp my whole career.

I came to think of resilience as bouncing forward, with grace, to land in an even better place. That whole “bounce back” thing fails, in my mind, because so often there’s no “back” to bounce to.

Eventually I realized that organizations – organisms made up of multiple human beings, like businesses – can be resilient as well. They can bounce forward from the inevitable vagaries of macro forces like the marketplace and the economy.

In individual human beings, psychological studies suggest that about 1 in 3 is naturally resilient. (The rest of us are not a lost cause, however. Everyone can learn to be more resilient.) In my experience, organizational resilience is much rarer. And there seems to be precious little research or written material about how organizations can become more resilient.

(Or perhaps it’s more about how organizations can avoid losing their natural resiliency as they grow? Those macro forces have taken down many a behemoth that wasn’t able to turn the ship fast enough to miss the iceberg.)

The few organizations I’m aware of that have thought about resilience have assumed that increasing the resilience of the individual human beings within will automatically increase the resilience of the collective. I’ve seen plenty of evidence to contradict that assumption.

I don’t know all the answers about how to build a resilient organization. But one thing I know for sure is that psychological safety at the individual level must exist in order for an organization to be resilient. In other words, they need a culture of trust.

Here are some of the ways trust at the micro level supports resilience at the macro level:

  • Collaboration: Collaboration flourishes when employees feel comfortable sharing ideas, seeking feedback, and working together toward common goals. In turn, this open and collaborative environment fosters innovation, problem-solving, and the ability to adapt to challenges swiftly.
  • Communication: Employees have a safe space for open and honest communication; giving them confidence to voice their opinions, concerns, and aspirations. This transparency builds stronger relationships, resolves conflicts constructively, and enables effective decision-making.
  • Employee Engagement: When employees trust their leaders and colleagues, they are more likely to feel valued, supported, and appreciated. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, productivity, and commitment to the organization’s mission.
  • Risk-Taking: Employees who feel empowered to take calculated risks are more willing to step outside their comfort zones, explore new ideas, and embrace innovation. Trust reduces the fear of failure and encourages a growth mindset.

In short, trust acts as a resilient force during challenging times. When employees trust their organization, they are more likely to navigate uncertainties and setbacks with confidence. Trust in the team fosters a sense of security and the belief that together, they can overcome obstacles and adapt to change successfully.

Resilient individuals within an organization, especially leaders, will increase the capacity for the organization itself to be – or become, or stay – resilient. But to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, it also needs to foster a culture of trust so collaboration, communication, engagement, and risk-taking can flourish.

When the economy or the marketplace turn south, the organization with trust at its core has a much better chance of weathering the change and bouncing forward, with grace, to land in a better place.

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson is an expert consultant to businesses and a powerful coach to individuals. After a long and rich career as a strategic HR executive, she is driven to give back by changing the Human Experience in today’s workplaces, one business or human at a time.

Skip to content