How to Build Resilient People [Yes! And. Blog #175]

 What are the dimensions of challenges and how might you begin to build resilience? 

Build resilient people

Build resilient people

“There are no rules and regulations so rigorous, no organisation so hierarchical, no bosses so abusive that they can prevent use of your energy, ability and ingenuity.

They may make it more difficult but they can’t prevent it. The real power is yours, not theirs.”

Dee Hock – founder of Visa

Do you or your teams need to be more “resilient”? This is a popular term in organisations at present and a recent Open University alumni course on the topic of Motivation, Mindset and Resilience stimulated my thinking on it.

A while ago, I wrote a practical article  (find it here), which explained a Solution Focus way to facilitate teams through difficult times. It did not though, refer specifically to resilience, which is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” However, some people on the course thought that “recover” should be “recover and move forward quickly from”.

I wrote this article to encourage you to think about resilience and also to help me reflect on the course. I realise I could read a book on resilience, but I like to think topics through myself before turning to the experts. Your constructive feedback on my thinking would be most welcome.

During the course, Barry Russell, from the Environment Agency, gave a talk on motivation and resilience, using the severe flooding in the UK  as his context.

He explained that Environment Agency staff had been so motivated to help, many had worked too many long and repeated shifts, to the point that there was a need to take action to prevent physical exhaustion and build their resilience. One way they did this was to draft in more resources,

Four Dimensions

From this talk I sensed four dimensions of challenge that we can use to assess the need for resilience. The:

  • Type, mental or physical?
  • Duration, acute or chronic?
  • Intensity, high or low?
  • Frequency, frequent or not?

Can you identify other dimensions?

The Type

Is the challenge one that requires mental or physical resilience? Or both? In the case of the flood response, people were more likely to need help with physical resilience, to cope with long hours, rather than the mental resilience to deal with loss of life. In the case of other disasters where loss of life is extensive, e.g. in earthquakes, people may require additional support for mental resilience.

The Duration

The medical terms of acute (a condition that comes on suddenly and is over relatively quickly) and chronic (a condition that builds and sustains over a longer time) seem appropriate for this. Although acute is often associated with conditions such as heart attacks, it can also apply to a cold. Equally, a chronic condition can be a minor skin rash or a life threatening disease. Therefore, we need a dimension for intensity.

The Intensity

Is the challenge high intensity, e.g. dealing with a serious traffic accident or low, e.g. dealing with customer complaints or high volume of work?

The Frequency

A flood, is a relatively acute challenge (unless it rains heavily over months, as in the UK floods) but occurs infrequently. A person working in a police force is likely to face frequent acute challenges over their working life.


These dimensions of challenge are of interest because they can influence how leaders help people to be more resilient. Some questions we might ask are:

  • Do people who work in the Accident and Emergency department of a hospital (mixed type, acute, mixed intensity, high frequency), need a different level of support to someone who works in a poor office environment (mental challenge, chronic duration, low intensity, mixed frequency).
  • Do emergency workers naturally develop coping mechanisms but have a temporary need for help when their personal life also has challenges?
  • Should leaders and peers develop antennae to spot symptoms of temporary low resilience amongst colleagues?

If so, there is no “one size fits all” solution. However we should be able to create a model that categorises a job on the four dimensions and provides leaders with a “catalogue” of responses.

Before that though, there are some simple first steps they can take, described later.


Think about the roles of your team in terms of the different dimensions. How would you categorise them?

To Close

Resilience is of great of interest to commercial companies and government. It seems ironic that leaders have created work environments that require them to build peoples’ resilience to work in those environments.

However, if this is the situation they are in, helping people to be more resilient is a good start… though we need longer term solutions.

Most people have an innate ability to cope well in difficult circumstance. So here are three small steps for leaders to take, to start building resilience at little cost:

  • Acknowledge the natural resilience people have displayed in the past and affirm the times they have coped well
  • Consider the acronym CHER when leading: Care (about), Help, Empathise (with) and Respect, the people you lead
  • Have people read Dee Hock’s words at the start of this article.

Have a resilient week. If you would like to know how we can help your team be more resilient using Solution Focus, please contact us.

John Brooker I Yes! And. Think Innovatively.

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