Where does Organisational Resilience end and where does Organisational Development begin?

Over the last six months, Tom Watson has been working with the Foundation to develop an Organisational Resilience programme. Here, he offers his reflections and where or not it ties in with Organisational Development.

An audio recording of this blog is available at the bottom of the page


Over the past 6 months, we* have been working with Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales to develop an Organisational Resilience programme with a particular focus on small charities. You can read more about that here. Resilience can mean a lot of different things to different people, and can sometimes be conflated with the ability to endure hardship.  Throughout this work, our guiding definition has been 

‘Organisational Resilience is the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.’ 

Cranfield Management School

Where we often fall down in sector support is a fascination with best practice or exacting approaches. There are so many factors that go into building resilience, so much context, that binary decisions are impossible. What works for one organisation won’t necessarily work for another in exactly the same way.

Take ‘income diversification’ as an example. Before the current pandemic it was THE go to goal, and then once the pandemic hit this approach was viewed as flawed. In reality, it’s neither, and both, and somewhere in between. It all depends on context.

So that is why for our work we have started with a set of 10 Principles which should be applicable to charities whatever their context.  In many ways, a Principle should inherently make sense, and seem intuitive. Principles don’t tell you exactly what to do in a situation, but should help you to think about how you decide what to do. 

As the Organisational Resilience programme has been developing, the Organisational Development work led by Shift has started to gather pace and I’ve spent time thinking about how they relate. I’ve been questioning where Organisational Resilience ends and where Organisational Development begins?  Are they the same? Where is there overlap? Does it even matter?! 


Organisational Resilience/Organisational Development

Through our discovery work with charities, it has become clear that many of the charities we have spoken to have pointed to a crisis as the catalyst for change within their organisation.

From this crisis, a resilience building response was ‘activated’. This crisis was their WHY, and they then undertook steps to figure out HOW to overcome their challenges.

One important part of this though is questioning what happened to the charities that hit a crisis but weren’t able to respond, in which a resilience response wasn’t activated? What if we could activate change without a crisis? What if we could equip charities with skills and tools to anticipate, prepare and adapt? What if they can be permanently ‘activated’? 

Resilience is dynamic and dependent on action, and that is why we were very clear that whatever we developed needed to lead to something practical and applicable.

Through our work so far, it is clear that there are both internal and external factors that affect a charity's resilience. Charities, we believe, can do things to build their own resilience, but they are also part of an ecosystem.

Every decision made about funding, commissioning or infrastructure within an ecosystem has a ripple effect of consequences, some intended, others unforeseen. That’s why our Principles were developed with both an internal and external focus. And this is where I see crossover with the Organisational Development work. In this blog they ask the question:

“What if we build capability collectively, through communities and sectors, rather than organisation by organisation?” 

This is a question, albeit, with a resilience focus, we are asking ourselves as we move into the next phase of our work, to pilot our ideas on resilience within two communities.

We are attempting to use our Principles to create different conversations, to move away from a siloed transactional view of resilience, towards one where decisions are understood for their intended and unintended outcomes.

Perhaps approaching funding, commissioning and organisational development collectively rather than as isolated transactions can build collective resilience, and within that, more resilient organisations? 

Listen to this blog

We have recorded a full audio reading of this blog. Listen below. 

Narrated by Tom Watson


* This work has been undertaken by Liz Pepler, Richard Frost and Tom Watson and commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation England And Wales. 

**The views contained in this blog are the opinions of Tom Watson. 

You can find Tom on Medium @tomcampbellwatson or @Tom_c_watson on Twitter


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