This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, was originally published September 10, 2019 on the
When organizations – whether they are small or large businesses, nonprofits, schools, camps, or congregations – endure impacts by critical incidents within their groups, or nearby, or experience a community-wide disaster, they can encounter more dynamics than only what is experienced through individual trauma or collective trauma.
To explore these dynamics further it will help to first go over a few definitions and distinctions.
So, what happens when an organization encounters a critical incident within its boundaries or a disaster within its vicinity? How can what the organization experienced be distinctive from other experiences of individual or collective trauma?
In some cases, what occurs within the organization may not be that different from other examples of individual or collective trauma. The determining factor, in our experience, often is the extent to which what has occurred challenges the organization's mission.
We, at the Institute, sometimes talk about collective trauma and healing in the context of how a group's spirit can break and mend.
For example, when a kids' camp sees its mission as providing youth with one of the best experiences of their lives, and then a critical incident occurs in which youth become severely injured or, tragically, die, the organization's staff and leaders may experience compounding pain related both to their grief for the harm or loss of life incurred as well as the seeming assault to their mission. They may feel great feelings of guilt or remorse at having not achieved their mission in such a devastating way.
In another instance, a natural disaster may cause such massive destruction that requires months or even years of rebuilding that an organization's mission may become completely thwarted in that area. This obstacle can be immensely challenging to take in and accept, let alone to adapt effectively.
For second responders, including disaster responders and organizational coaches, who are walking alongside organizational leaders in these types of circumstances, it is important to be aware of the three (at least) aspects of trauma that a leader may be experiencing in a widely spread post-trauma setting: individual trauma, collective trauma, & organizational trauma.
If you are interested in learning more about specific ways to support leaders impacted by critical incidents or disaster, we encourage you to explore the trainings and resource guides we offer or to reach out for a free initial consultation.
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