Organisational ResilienceThe Archetypes of Resilience: A Flexible, Story-based Framework

In today’s fast-paced business environment, organizational resilience has become a key factor in ensuring short- and long-term success. Organizations that are able to adapt to change and bounce back from adversity are more likely to thrive in the face of uncertainty. This includes both short-term and long-term resilience, as organizations must be able to respond quickly to immediate crises, while also maintaining the capacity to withstand and recover from longer-term challenges.

Organizational Resilience is closely related to risk management, as it involves identifying and managing risks that could affect an organization’s ability to continue operating effectively. However, resilience bridges beyond risk management to focus on developing a culture, mindset, and capabilities of adaptability and flexibility.

The ‘how’ of Organizational Resilience has been vigorously debated, with policymakers, business leaders, and Resilience leaders alike painstakingly crafting a wide variety of frameworks and models to guide firms on this journey. However, these models often do not incorporate the cultural nuance in which Resilience is built. Even more, where it prospers.

Long Live…the Maturity Model? 

Organizational resilience maturity models have become increasingly popular in recent years as a tool for measuring and improving organizational resilience. Maturity models tend to build from a limited stage to a very advanced one, with a varying array of capabilities and outcomes defining an organization’s progress along a linear path. While maturity models can be useful in some contexts, they take a one-size-fits-all approach. Every organization is unique with its own set of challenges, risks, and opportunities. A standardized approach is limited in its ability to account these differences and may not be as effective in addressing the specific characteristics and needs of the business. 

These models often measure whether an organization is compliant with certain standards or best practices, rather than whether the organization is actually effective in managing risks and responding to disruptions. This can lead to a false sense of security, where an organization may think it is resilient simply because it is compliant with certain standards, even if those standards do not fully address its specific requirements and capabilities. 

Organizational resilience maturity models may not be as agile as necessary to keep up with the rapidly changing business environment. Risks and disruptions can arise suddenly and unexpectedly, and organizations need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to these events. Maturity models, with their fixed approach, may not be as flexible or responsive as necessary to address these types of challenges. 

 Implementing an organizational resilience maturity model can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, requiring significant investment in terms of time, money, and personnel. This investment may not be justified for all organizations, particularly smaller organizations with fewer resources. In addition, the process of implementing a maturity model can be disruptive and may distract from other important activities. 

 Finally, organizational resilience maturity models may not always engage stakeholders in the process of building resilience. Resilience is not just a technical or operational issue, but also a social and cultural issue, requiring the involvement and commitment of stakeholders at all levels of the organization. Maturity models commonly struggle with the stakeholder collaboration necessary to build this engagement. 

Archetypes: A Flexible, Story-based Framework

Archetypes are a story-based alternative to cultivating change. A representation of a recurring pattern of human behavior or experience, such as a hero, a villain, a mentor, or entertainer, archetypes are used in literature, art, and film to create characters and stories that resonate with audiences. For example, the Hero archetype represents the individual who embarks on a journey, faces challenges and obstacles, and emerges victorious, while the villain archetype represents the individual who opposes the hero and seeks to thwart their goals.

Archetypes are also used extensively in marketing and product management. An archetype can describe a type of customer. The use of archetypes in marketing is based on the idea that people are drawn to certain personalities or traits that reflect their own self-identity and aspirations. In product, they are used to define customer wants and needs, and how they use the solution.

By using archetypes, leaders create a more personalized and meaningful connection with those they lead and serve, by tapping into their objectives and behavior traits. However, it is important to note that archetypes are not fixed or absolute, and that people may identify with multiple archetypes depending on the context and situation. Therefore, archetypes represent a much more fluid approach to understanding and leading change, and are not as rigid as the set of rules or stereotypes associated with a maturity model.



Archetypes as a Tool for Building Resilient Cultures

So what makes an organization resilient?

While there is not one answer, archetypes can help us understand the differences in how we define resiliency, our desired state versus our current disposition, and how we can work with the grain of culture as opposed to against it when building our resilience muscle. 

Archetypes provide a helpful approach for describing organizational resilience because they offer a simplified and relatable way of understanding very complex concepts. 

By using archetypes, we better understand the different roles and behaviors that contribute to organizational resilience.  

Archetypes also allow us to identify common patterns and themes across different organizations, which can inform best practices and strategies for building resilience as a global ecosystem.  

Archetypes communicate information about resilience to a wide range of stakeholders, from executives to front-line employees. By using this flexible model, we create a shared language and understanding around resilience, a crucial building block for building a culture of resilience within an organization. 

 Archetypes can be used to describe the Resilience ethos of an entire organization, or subgroups, or even individuals. By understanding what these groups prioritize and how they naturally mobilize, we’re able to more effectively capture their inherent value and bridge key risks and vulnerabilities. 

The Methodology 

iluminr conducted a series of in-depth interviews and focus groups with individuals from a variety of organizations and backgrounds to gain insights into their experiences and perceptions of organizational resilience. These interviews and focus groups were supplemented with surveys, secondary research, and case studies and analyzed to identify common themes and patterns across different individuals and organizations. Finally, the archetypes themselves were tested with a variety of audiences to assess their value and how they could be applied from varied perspectives.  


The 4 Archetypes of Resilience 

 iluminr’s research indicated 4 patterns along 2 primary dimensions of Engagement and Systemization.  

 Engagement: Engagement is a measure of the level of emotional, intellectual, social involvement and commitment that an individual or group has toward Resilience. Engaged individuals are passionate, enthusiastic, and motivated to take action, learn, and grow. They are more likely to be proactive, innovative, and persistent in the face of challenges, and to work collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals. Engagement can be influenced by a wide range of factors, including organizational culture, leadership, communication, recognition, and personal values and goals.  

 Systemization: Systemization is the process of creating or implementing systems and processes to improve efficiency, consistency, and effectiveness in achieving specific goals or outcomes. This involves designing and implementing tools – such as procedures, protocols, guidelines, and technologies that provide clear instructions and expectations for how tasks should be completed. Systemization helps to minimize errors, increase productivity, reduce waste and redundancy, and improve quality and reliability.  



The Challenger 


The Challenger archetype of organizational resilience is characterized by a willingness to take on challenges and push boundaries. These organizations are not content with the status quo and are constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate. They do this more collectively than the Gambler’s individualistic style. They are often industry leaders and are not afraid to take risks in order to stay ahead of the curve. 

Challenger organizations tend to be innovators by design. Technology, Data, and Services organizations make up the majority of constituents in this group, but could hail from any industry disruptor or incumbent who has intentionally fostered a culture of continuous learning and improvement. 

Challenger organizations are able to maintain a strong sense of purpose and direction, even in the face of adversity. They are not deterred by setbacks or failures and are able to learn from their experiences to make improvements in their operations. By taking calculated risks and continually pushing themselves to improve, Challenger organizations are able to stay ahead of the competition and remain resilient in the face of changing circumstances. 

Because they are always seeking improvement, Challengers can be subject to analysis paralysis, poorly timed debate, or the paradox of choice. They may also focus too much on innovation and not enough on execution, which can lead to problems in the long-term. On occasion, they make take on a risk that ultimately proves damaging. In most cases, however, their focus on engagement and continuous learning allows them to stabilize a situation before it escalates. 


The Gambler 

The Gambler archetype of organizational resilience is characterized by a willingness to take risks and make bold decisions. These organizations are comfortable with uncertainty and are able to make on-the-spot decisions in the face of quickly evolving circumstances. They often focus only on the basics when it comes to planning. Conversely, they are often willing to go all-in on a particular course of action at a moment’s notice with informally structured insight, even when the odds are against them. 

Compared with Challengers, Gamblers can be the solo artists of operations. Gamblers work independently and leverage the tools they have on hand to address situations as they arise.  

Gamblers can be smaller and earlier-stage companies without the compliance obligations and restrictions of more mature firms, organizations with very agile cultures, or companies that need to be more fluid in their operations and focused on changes in customer needs, such as hospitals.  

Due to their fluid approach, they can often move faster than archetypes with a more structured dynamic. They are able to learn from their experiences and adjust their approach as necessary. But because of their independent style, they risk not aligning their team and essential partners in a common set of outcomes and actions. Still, by taking calculated risks and making bold decisions, Gambler organizations are able to quickly change course and pivot as the situation warrants, particularly when the individuals within the organization have shared individual priorities, such as the customer experience.  


The Architect 

The Architect archetype of organizational resilience is characterized by a focus on systemic planning and execution. These organizations are able to break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable pieces and are able to develop clear roadmaps for achieving their goals. They tend not to be as focused on the engagement aspects of Resilience. They are often highly organized and methodical in their approach. 

Architect organizations are able to maintain their focus and motivation even when working on long-term projects. They are not deterred by setbacks or delays and are able to adjust their approach as necessary. By focusing on planning and execution, Architect organizations are able to maintain their resilience and achieve their goals. 

Highly regulated organizations such as Financial Services, Insurance, and critical service providers such as energy and utilities, pharmaceutical, and increasingly, technology firms may fall under this archetype out of necessity.  

Architect organizations may tend to get too focused on planning and not enough on execution, which could mean missed opportunities or delays in response. They may also be resistant to change or new ideas, which may lead them to be less adaptable, particularly when change is rapid, constant, and complex. 



The Athlete 

The Athlete archetype of organizational resilience is characterized by a focus on high systemization through extensive engagement. Just as professional teams challenge the known limits of performance, these organizations are often highly competitive and are able to push themselves to the limit in pursuit of their goals. They are able to maintain a sense of discipline and focus, even when faced with challenges. 

They are able to bounce back quickly from setbacks and are able to maintain their focus and motivation throughout their operations. By focusing on the muscle memory of preparedness, Athlete organizations are able to maintain their resilience and stay ahead of disruption. 

 Forward-thinking regulated industries and companies with an innovative outlook on Resilience commonly fall under this archetype. This archetype also often includes manufacturing firms and professional services organizations, Highly distributed and engagement-focused businesses such as hospitality, retail, and entertainment can also tend to lean into The Athlete. 

 The Athlete archetype, however, can have a difficult time balancing individual resilience needs with team needs. Disagreements and misunderstandings can lead to tension and conflict, which can damage team dynamics and affect the team’s ability to work together effectively. While Athletes are highly collaborative and supportive, it can be challenging to maintain productivity in a team setting. Team members may get caught up in discussions and debates, or may struggle to balance their individual workloads with their team responsibilities. Further, it can be common for this archetype to fall into the trap of groupthink. 

Athlete organizations can have a tendency to overheat – becoming too focused on performance and results over keeping a balanced pace.

Bring Your Resilience Archetype to Life 

In conclusion, these four archetypes of organizational resilience provide a framework for understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to Resilience. By understanding their strengths and weaknesses, organizations can develop strategies to leverage the benefits of their natural tendencies, while mitigating risks and addressing vulnerabilities.  

Whether it is by engaging teams, taking calculated risks, maintaining a strong sense of purpose, or focusing on planning and execution, these archetypical patterns can provide guidance for organizations looking to improve their resilience and achieve long-term success in a way that is consistent with the fabric of their culture.  

In the coming weeks, we will explore each of these archetypes in detail, along with tips, strategies, and technology considerations for building the muscle of Resilience.  



Paula Fontana

VP, Global Marketing, iluminr

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