What is organisational development and resilience?

Organisations have a purpose. For example, Fauna & Flora Internationals (FFI’s) purpose is biodiversity conservation. To achieve that purpose, organisations set up structures and processes that manage, govern, direct and assess their action and resources.
What is organisational development and resilience?
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For example, this might include systems to manage your finances or maintain the health and safety of your staff, but also includes less tangible things, such as good leadership and a culture of learning. 

Organisational development is about strengthening these functions and operations to improve the organisation’s overall efficiency and maintain growth. Organisational development should involve everyone who works in the organisation.

The world, however, is constantly changing. When organisations encounter crises and changes, they require resilience to adapt and continue working toward their purpose. Organisational resilience is the ability to anticipate external and internal circumstances, cope with the unexpected, and adapt assertively to the challenges.

Example 1: Organisation Y received almost 70% of its funding through tourist revenues to the area. When COVID-19 arrived, tourists stopped coming almost overnight, and income dropped. From being a prosperous organisation one month, the next month they were struggling to pay salaries. Whilst even a resilient organisation might have struggled to predict a global pandemic, they could have prepared for uncertainty or crises- in this case by diversifying funding sources, ensuring that no single source contributing a majority of its income and building financial reserves.

Commonly, resilience is mostly referred to in relation to external challenges such as natural disasters, political instability, and pandemics. However, resilience is also necessary for anticipating and mitigating internal challenges or crises, such as those caused by poor internal communication, or staff burnout.

Example 2: Organisation X has very clear roles for its staff, who are skilled at carrying out their individual roles. However, a long-term member of staff suddenly leaves the organisation, and they cannot find anyone to replace them.  Other staff do not have the necessary skills to cover the role, and a major project starts to fall behind in its deliverables. A resilient organisation might have predicted this and mitigated its impact through, for example, ensuring that staff have enough overlap in skills and knowledge to support each other’s roles.

Because every organisation is unique, every single organisation has a unique resilience process, built on a range of organisational capabilities. It takes time (years!) to develop effective organisations, and, with many external and internal changes and pressures, organisational development and resilience can never be an exact science: it should remain flexible and adaptive as context changes.

It may be helpful to think of building resilience in two ways:

  • Readiness and preparedness (defensive)
  • Response (offensive)

Readiness and preparedness work can help your organisation identify potential risks, and take preventatives steps to either avoid them or mitigate (soften) the impacts if they do occur. The creation and regular updating of a risk register and risk management strategy would help identify and avoid certain risks.

For example, a risk assessment may identify gaps in cyber security and prompt the organisation to purchase anti-virus software and put in place a secure firewall to prevent a cyber-attack.

Strengthening your response to crises means putting systems and process in places to ensure your organisation can cope and adapt if something unexpected happens. For example, by:

  • Establishing unrestricted financial reserves as a flexible funding source during crises
  • Established a process for sharing threats and response action plans with staff and other stakeholders during a crisis
  • Putting agreements in place with partners/neighbours for sharing resources during crises to allow for continued operations (for example, sharing information, staff or infrastructure)

How do I help my organisation become more resilient?

If you are interested to start to explore your organisations resilience, FFIs Organisational Resilience Check (ORC) may be useful. It is designed for any type of conservation non-profit organisation (NGO) whether small or large, growing or well-established.

The ORC includes a variety of statements under 12 themes that reflect international aspirations for institutional capacity and resilience. Considering all these areas will help your organisation identify both strengths and areas to build on and develop, so you can focus efforts for strengthening your organisation. Access the Organisational Resilience Check here, with detailed guidance on how to use it here.

Strengthening your organisation's effectiveness and resilience will allow you to achieve and build on your conservation goals, maximising your impact. No organisation is perfect! The purpose of this tool is not to ‘score’ 100% in everything. It is to prompt discussion and to support planning for how and where to continue strengthening. If your organisation works well, then there is a greater chance that you will deliver effective biodiversity conservation.

Following the ORC, you may have lots of ideas for things you want to focus on developing in your organisation- use this Organisational Resilience Plan template to help record and monitor your plans as they develop.

And remember- a key element of creating a resilient organisation isn’t just identifying risks and putting systems in place to mitigate or avoid these (although this is a key element)- it’s also about, when the totally unpredictable happens, having an environment where staff at all levels are empowered and resourced enough to survive and prosper. Paying attention to staff well-being, strong internal communication and sense of team, clear shared values, and leadership, for example, can support an organisation's resilience even when it encounters crises. People are an organisation's most powerful asset - enabling their resilience and well-being will enable the organisation's.

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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
6 months ago

Hi Chloe, very helpful post you shared here. I like how you put people (staff) at the centre of this piece by highlighting the importance of empowering them and allow sufficient access to resources for them to thrive. I look forward to reading your next posts!

Another useful feature you may have come across on our platform is the option to schedule posts which helps members to maintain their presence in our community through regular contributions. Let me know if you have any questions about this. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and insights with our community! 

Go to the profile of Lize Gibson-Hall
about 2 months ago

Thank you for sharing this Chloe. I have previously struggled in finding a clear definitions for Organisational develop and resilience but I found this very easy to follow with the addition of the examples.