Team Resilience: Bouncing Back: Learning about Team Resilience

September 30, 2010

By Abraham Carmeli, Bar-Ilan University

While resilience has long been a major topic in psychology, organizational researchers are revealing ways to cultivate resilience at the team and organization levels.  Resilience research contributes to positive organizational scholarship (POS) by studying positivity in difficult times.  At the same time, a POS perspective has served as a significant platform for building theory and pursuing research aimed at answering these questions: What is resilience? What contributes to enhancing or diminishing resilience in teams and organizations? What are the performance implications of resilience?   

In our research on top management teams (TMTs), we refer, as Sutcliffe and Vogus (2003) do, to resilience as a team’s capacity to bounce back from adversity more resourceful and strengthened than they were before.  Our team research uncovers insights about the importance of team connectivity and decision comprehensiveness for cultivating resilient TMTs, and learning from failures for enhancing organizational crisis-preparedness.  Resilient teams are more flexible and respond more adaptively to difficulties in which the firm’s position, legitimacy, and image, as well as the status of the system, are at risk.

Connectivity captures the quality of team interaction (Losada & Heaphy, 2004).  It is marked by openness in the relationship and a generative space, which together enable the team to thoroughly process information, make sense of the emergent issues, and see the opportunities for effective courses of actions.

Strategic decision comprehensiveness refers to the extent to which a TMT is inclusive in making and integrating strategic decisions (Fredrickson & Mitchell, 1984: 402).

Our research (based on surveys from 74 TMTs) indicates that when TMT members have quality relational connection marked by connectivity, they are more comprehensive and inclusive in the decision-making process and tend to

  1. understand a given situation better and thus offer more adequate responses,
  2. mitigate biases such as those that limit their search for alternative courses of action, and
  3. more mindfully attend to work processes.


All three effects contribute to a TMT’s greater capacity to cope with, adapt to, and recover from adversity.

Our research (based on surveys from 106 TMTs) also points that learning from failures is important for enhancing organizational crisis-preparedness:

  1. By learning from experiences of failures, TMTs pay more careful attention to identifying weak early warning signals, and thus businesses can change their patterns to help prevent impending crises.
  2. Negative outcomes can make people both over-sensitive to specific events that occurred in the past (but which are unlikely to persist), and insufficiently attentive to potential emergent phenomena that do not fit neatly into any of their predefined conceptual categories.  A positive approach allows TMTs to engage in learning from failures by showing adequate sensitivity to specific events and by paying the right attention to potential emergent trends.
  3. TMT that engage in learning from failures focus on learning broader principles rather than unjustifiable specific beliefs that are potentially more damaging.

In other words, high-quality connectivity between team members facilitates team members’ ability to learn from failures, carefully attend to issues outside the firm in making and integrating strategic decisions, avoid oversimplification, and thoroughly evaluate situations, all of which contribute to enhancing the team’s capacity to withstand setbacks and crisis situations.

What can leaders learn from this research?

  1. Attend to the relational connection between team members: regularly assess its quality and nurture a relational space of openness and generativity.
  2. Build and use relational mechanisms, such as connectivity, to facilitate engagement in strategic decision comprehensiveness to better address complex and ill-defined issues.
  3. Avoid or at least mitigate common managerial biases – such as the limited search traps -by employing choice practices which are based on strategic decision comprehensiveness.
  4.  Improve team capacity to bounce back from adversity by building quality relational connections within the team and engaging in processes of learning from failures and decision comprehensiveness.

Positivity in difficult times is critical, as it helps team and organizational systems to develop adequate coping processes and capacities to respond to various jolts.  The challenge for organizational leaders and scholars is to explore mechanisms by which resilience can be augmented, and to understand its performance implications, such as fostering creativity and innovation.


Carmeli, A., & Markman, G. D. (Forthcoming). Capture, governance, and resilience: Strategy implications from the history of Rome. Strategic Management Journal.

Carmeli, A., & Schaubroeck, J. (2008). Organizational crisis-preparedness: The importance of learning from failures. Long Range Planning, 41, 177-196.

Fredrickson, J. W. (1984). The comprehensiveness of strategic decision processes: Extension, observations, future directions. Academy of Management Journal, 27, 445-466.

Losada, M., & Heaphy, E. (2004). The role of positivity and connectivity in the performance of business teams: A nonlinear dynamics model. American Behavioral Scientist, 47, 740-765.

Sutcliffe, K. M., & Vogus, T. J. (2003). Organizing for resilience. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 94-121). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.