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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Resilience in Individuals and Organisations

What is Resilience?

'...the ability of a system, from individual people to whole economies, to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shocks form the outside' - Hopkins (2008)

'Resilience is the positive adaptation to adversity, whether loss, challenging life circumstances or physical problems. It is the ability to bounce back, and to resist the pull of the worst effects of misfortune, abnormal environments, and such internal vulnerabilities as chronic illness. For children, it implies the successful negotiation of developmental tasks despite such problems. It is due neither to the absence of vulnerability nor to some inherent characteristic of a person; rather, it is the outcome of reciprocal interactions between the individual and environment' -  Bronfenbrenner, 1977

'Resilience means being able to bounce back from life developments that may feel totally overwhelming at first' - Siebert, 2005

Whilst this definition portrays some kind of inner strength or resource, it implies that people somehow “bounce back” to what/where they were before the event, whereas we talk about “life-changing events” from which we learn and grow.

Resilience is the quality that helps us . . . enables us to:

  • overcome past misfortunes
  • steer through everyday challenges
  • pick ourselves up and move on when events take us off course
  • reach out to new experiences and challenges and towards our potential.

HayGroup (2010)

Siebert (2005) argues that it is more useful to use the verb “to resile” since this stresses that resilience is not a quality that we possess, but results from what we do in response to a situation. There is a general truth to be made here about the use of active verbs rather than nouns:

  • Maintaining Your Emotional Stability, Health, and Well-Being 

  • Focus Outward: Good Problem Solving Skills 

  • Focus Inward: Strong Inner "Selfs" 

  • Well-Developed Resiliency Skills 

  • The Talent for Serendipity

Definitions of resilience frequently refer to “(inner) strength”, “elasticity” and “bouncing back” - which may not be helpful as analogies in the way they first seem. 

The strength comparison risks a rather macho, “Be strong” view of resilience, and the other two, as previously mentioned, imply a going back to a previous state of being, rather than growing and changing.

The literature on resilience whether regarding individuals or organisations often focuses on responses to extreme events. This may not be helpful in our efforts to understand everyday resilience, in more familiar stresses and changes.

Individual Resilience

The Resilience Workbook (Haygroup, 2010) talks of the following qualities:

  • Emotion regulation
  • Impulse control   
  • Causal analysis  
  • Self-efficacy       
  • Realistic optimism           
  • Empathy
  • Reaching out

Whilst Siebert (2005) describes the five levels of resiliency as being: 

  1. Maintaining Your Emotional Stability, Health, and Well-Being

  2. Focus Outward: Good Problem-Solving Skills

  3. Focus Inward: Strong Inner "Selfs"

  4. Well-Developed Resiliency Skills

  5. The Talent for Serendipity

Timeline - 4th Dimension

1) Past - our experiences, the meaning we made of those and the  beliefs and decisions about self and others we developed as a result of those meanings.

2) Present time - the current challenges, achievements, supports we are experiencing - to the extent that these are not clouded or distorted by (1)

3) the future - our projections about what will happen to us - influenced by our hopes, fears and predictions based on the script beliefs and decisions we made in the light of our past experiences

Locus of Control

  • Internal – person perceives themselves to be responsible, effective and able to influence/change things around them
  • External  person experience other people/world as "deciding" outcomes – they are powerless in the process

OKness and Resilience

One way of understanding resilience from a TA perspective is to see it as staying OK with self, others and “the world”. 

The OK Corral (Ernst, 1971a) as usually drawn, is a binary, “on / off” representation of OKness – as though it were a switch.  In reality, there are shades of OKness. 

We may have a strong sense of OKness from which it would take a great deal to shift us. In contrast, our sense of OKness may be quite fragile – it may not take much for us to shift to a Not OK position. There is a little known (by virtue of its being unpublished!) paper by Franklin Ernst (1971b) where he adds a scale to each quadrant:


This allows us to position ourselves within a quadrant – on both the “OK with Me” scale and the “OK with You” scale. Although it would be difficult to envisage a way in which this could be empirically measured, it nevertheless provides a way of visualising resilience – as a degree of OKness with Self and other

If I score myself as “1” on both scales of “I'm OK, You're OK”, then it would not take very much to lead me to move into one of the Not OK positions. 

By the same token if I am scoring myself 10 on both scales of “I'm Not OK, You're Not OK”, it is going to take a great deal for me to move to “I'm OK, You're OK”. 

Another subtlety here is that I may be the “I'm OK You're OK quadrant – and scoring myself high on the “You're OK” scale, but low on the “I'm OK” scale. Just why Ernst never pursued this is not known – it is an extremely useful elaboration on the original OK Corral.

To continue the OKness theme,

What is OKness?

OKness has been defined in many different ways. It has been variously used to describe:

  • a belief as to how we should regard other people. This is, in other words, an ethical goal - that we treat all people as "OK". We may not always live up to this goal, but it is arguably not only a worthwhile objective to work for, but also a pragmatic one. People, even those we do not like or agree with, tend to respond to us more positively when we respect them, and their right to be alive.
  • a decision we have reached, or belief we have about ourselves, which is linked to
  • a frame of reference governing a person’s whole outlook on life - a "life position". This is one of the four permutations of "I am OK, You are OK" - Berne, 1975.
  • minute-by-minute behavioural responses to what happens to a person.  The positions here are the same ones as the life positions, the distinction being the fact that we can also occupy any (and often all four) of the positions in quick succession - for instance in an argument (Ernst, 1971a).
  • OKness as somatic sense - with origins in early childhood OKness is a phenomenon from the very beginnings of our development – and therefore pre-verbal. 

Although it is super-imposed with later, thought out decisions about ourselves and others, it is first and foremost a body sense, which survives in this form into our adulthood. All these are traditionally referred to in two-dimensional manner.


One of the themes in Resilience literature, is the social context of the individual, and the extent that a person feels able to “predict” their world. 

So, if we are to pursue OKness in this respect, we need to introduce further dimensions of OKness. Chris Davidson (1998, 2005) has written about Three-Dimensional OKness – which allows for analysis of social situations, such as teams, organisations, society. Each of the original four positions on the OK Corral has two permutations – where a third person (or persons) is seen as OK or Not OK:

Parents talk to their children about how the world is - an exciting place, how people are - whether they can be trusted and so on. The child starts to build up a view of themselves, of the specific people they directly relate to around them and "people out there".

  • I (as your parent) am OK/Not OK
  • You (as my child) are OK/Not OK
  • They (people out there) are OK/Not OK

This leads, in terms of script decisions and beliefs, to the child's developing view of the world and people around them.

Whilst the diagram would become unwieldy by adding in yet another dimension, we can certainly add a fourth dimension, of the OKness of Life / the World. Marty Groder wrote an article (1977) which talked of “5-OK” - his fifth dimension was “We”. 

The article makes many interesting points – though the language he uses to refer to people is decidedly “Not OK”!

The OK “Mix”

OKness is a dynamic moment by moment set of invitations and interactions involving the people we are with at a particular time. These moment by moment changes are dependent on many factors:

  • how "resilient" we are in our response
  • who we are with - and what our “limbic antennae” say about them
  • the internal OKness state of the person/people with are with
  • how tired/energised we are
  • our physical health
  • any script / racket system beliefs we are currently "running"

Moment by moment, we are influencing others and being influenced by them in terms of our experience of OKness. 

We put out invitations for others to respond to us, whilst others are individually and collectively putting out invitations to respond to them:






This is relevant to resilience, since it represents the social environment that may support or undermine an individual, or be the backcloth to organisational resilience in a particular situation.

Need for Structure and Nurture in Work Context

In teams, it seems to be the case that in the absence of structuring and/or nurturing leadership, not-OKness is more likely to develop. 

Somehow in the vacuum of what people need, there is an out-of-awareness belief that something must be wrong and so someone must be Not OK (“someone around here is not OK – otherwise I’d feel safe and supported.”). The meaning that is attached to this will most likely relate to the person's life position. If, for example, this is "I am Not OK You are OK", then the person will tend to move to that position and believe that the problems at work are of their making.

Responsible, Effective and Psychological leaders (Berne 1963) and their life positions will be a factor here and the level of invitation they make of others to take up complementary positions.

An interesting question would be - what is someone's dominant position outside work and what is it behaviourally in work?

The Three 'P's

(Crossman 1966)

Although these are normally spoken of in terms of professional activity, they can also be applied to self:

  1. Protection - what can I do / How can I ensure that I "take care of myself" - evidence is that the more stressed people are, the less they take care of themselves
  2. Permission - what do I need to allow myself to acknowledge / do / assert?
  3. Potency - despite the difficult situation I am in, how can I remain potent

Organisational Resilience

Although it can be argued that an organisation does not exist as an entity – being made up of individuals – there are some structural qualities which have been shown to enhance an organisation's resilience.

Weick (2001) talks about sense-making, and describes "sudden losses of meaning" - fundamental surprises, events that are inconceivable, hidden or incomprehensible (all of which point to the low probability an event would occur) which is why it is experienced as meaningless. In contrast, are routine, things we take for granted and what we have so far come to terms with. 

When, in a serious incident, these are overturned, he says "a cosmology episode occurs when people suddenly and deeply feel that the universe is no longer a rational orderly system" This he says, could be described as vu-jadé – the  opposite of déjà-vu.

Organisations become important because they can provide meaning and order in the face of environments that impose ill-defined contradictory demands (Weick op cit, p.106). Also, where people's roles necessarily provide a high level of risk and danger, this can be also be tolerated.

Argyris (1999) talks of Defensive routines – these can be linked to discounting. The essence of these are that someone whose job it is to oversee some aspect of, say, production, sees something going wrong, but is worried about telling anyone about this (even though it is their role) in case the fact that it is going wrong might reflect badly on them. 

Their colleagues around them collude with this, and don't refer to the “cover-up” or discuss this subsequent cover-up either. In this way, major errors and disasters can occur in organisations, even though there were systems in place, and individuals responsible for making sure those disasters don't happen.

Mellor (1980) and later Macefield and Mellor (2006) wrote about the levels of discounting, a process by which we minimise or ignore some aspect of ourselves, others or reality:

Levels of Discounting


The latter article removed the problem and added responsibility to the types of discounting. This made the theory more applicable to organisational settings. 

They adapted the Discount Matrix, and produced the Route to Accounting – as the stages through which we move towards acting on whatever situation was being discounted:

The Route to Accounting

(Macefield and Mellor 2006)

The Route to Accounting

From Vulnerability to Resilience 

(from Weick 2001)

Improvisation and bricolage

Bruner – "creativity is figuring out how to use what you already know to go beyond what you currently think"

In TA terms, this is allowing/encouraging Playful Mode behaviours and Autonomy – creating the permissions for creativity and flexibility

Virtual Role Systems

Weick talks of replacing traditional order with improvised order - having the permission to do so. 

Freud argued that group disintegration induces panic (not other way round as McDougall argued in 1920). So, allowing for flexibility of roles in the light of challenging situations allows for some experimentation with structure. It does not mean abandoning structure – merely allowing it to be more fluid.

Attitude of Wisdom

Wisdom - "each new domain of knowledge appears simple from the distance of ignorance. The more we learn about a particular domain, the greater number of uncertainties, doubts, questions and complexities. Each bit of knowledge serves as the thesis from which additional questions or antithesis arise". 

So, wisdom is an attitude - never being too excessively confident or too excessively cautious (not about knowing facts) We have never seen precisely this event before - we need curiosity openness and complex sensing.

Respectful Interaction

Campbell's 3 imperatives for social life:

1) respect the reports of others and be willing to base beliefs and actions on them (trust)

2) report honestly so that others may use your observations in coming to valid beliefs (honesty)

respect your own perceptions and beliefs and seek to integrate them with the reports of others without deprecating them or yourself (self-respect)

In TA terms this is equivalent to maintaining an OK-OK stance.

Weick (op cit) talks of encouraging unmitigated speech. By this , he means talking assertively, and in TA terms not adapting what we say to please others. 

His argument for this is that people undermine their own authority (where they have it) by being tentative in what they say.


Argyris, C. (1999) On Organizational Learning, Blackwell Business

Barnes G. (1977) TA After Eric Berne, Harper and Row, New York

Berne, E. (1963) The Structure and Dynamics of Organisations and Groups, New York: Ballantine Books

Berne, E. (1975) What Do You Say After You Say Hello, London: Corgi. (Original work published 1972)

Bolles, R. N (annually published).What Color is Your Parachute?, Ten Speed Press

Conner, D. (1998) Managing at the Speed of Change Wiley

Crossman, P. (1966) Permission and Protection Transactional Analysis Bulletin 5:19

Davidson, C. (1999) I’m Polygonal, OK. INTAND Newsletter, 7(1), pp.6-9

Erikson E H (1950) Childhood and Society, Penguin

Ernst, F. (1971a) OK Corral, The grid to get on with, Transactional Analysis Journal, 1(4), pp. 231-240

Ernst Jr., F. H. (1971b)  Get On With, Getting Well and Get Winners - Position for Getting Well with Transactional Analysis, not published – “for limited circulation only” (there is a copy of this paper in the IDTA member library)

Groder, M. (1977) Groder’s 5 OK Diagrams, in Barnes (1977)

HayGroup (2010) The Resilience Workbook: Managing Change, facing adversity and bouncing back, HayGroup

Hopkins, Rob (2008) The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, Green Books

Jaques, Eliot (1989) Requisite Organisation - the CEO's Guide to Creative Structure and Leadership, Cason Hall and Co

Kahler, Taibi (1979a) Managing with the Process Communication Model, Human Development Publications

Kahler, Taibi (1979b) Process Therapy in Brief, Human Development Publications

Lapierre, D and Moro, J. (2002) Five Past Midnight in Bhopal Scribner (n.b. - fact-based novel)

Macefield, R., and Mellor, K. (2006) Awareness and Discounting: New Tools for Task/Option–Oriented Settings, TAJ Volume 36 No 1 pp.44–58

Morgan, G. (1997) Images of Organization, Sage Publications

Mountain, A. and Davidson, C. (2005) Assessing Systems and Processes in Organisations, TAJ, 35:4

Peters, T. (1987) Thriving on Chaos, Pan

Peterson, C. and Seligman, M E P (2004) Character Strengths and Virtues, OUP/American Psychological Association

Richmond, L. (1999) Work as a Spiritual Practice, Piatkus

Siebert, Al (2005) The Resiliency Advantage, Berrett-Koehler Publishers San Francisco (see also

Weick, K.E. (2001) Making Sense of the Organization, Blackwell Business