Needs, motivations and trauma: rebuilding and sustaining community resilience

All human beings have the potential to be motivated by any of the possible motivational states. But within organisations and communities the roles we occupy will require us to be operating from certain motivations in order to fulfil the needs of the role.

Then, since humans, and human organisations, are conscious complex adaptive systems, we can apply understanding of such systems to enabling transformation of negative motivations. We can work to recover the different motivations needed to enable the community to function positively again. This recovery will require us to understand the different motivations that enable best practice in the different roles in the organisation.

We have adapted Zohar and Marshall’s formulation to use it in thinking about the impact of trauma on community resilience, and how we can rebuild and sustain resilience in times of social adversity. A functioning human community is held together and works well when its members are positively motivated. This is true whether we think of place-based communities or communities of service such as schools, hospitals, social care provision, early years services, police forces or prisons. People in these different communities operate within roles which operate from different motivations. All human beings have access to all levels of the hierarchy, but certain roles within organisations and communities call upon certain motivations.

For example, across fifty years of work with services for children and families I have, at different times, filled the roles of foster carer providing permanent family care for traumatised children, of social worker with a range of operational duties, and of a leader within an organisation providing training and consultancy. As a foster carer my role required me to pay attention to the day by day lived experience and wellbeing of each child, to be motivated by exploration (+1), connection and co-operation (+2) and by personal power or autonomy (+3). As a social worker my role required me to apply a range of research and theory to making sense of families and other social networks (+4), to be creative (+5), and to find energy and enjoyment in providing service to others (+6). And as a leader my role required my to have a sense of the needs of the wider community (+7) and to be able to engage positively with people from across the whole spectrum we served (+8). Each role is important, but requires different motivations to work well.

Trauma changes the way the brain and nervous system work, having a huge impact on motivation and on behaviour. Using the Zohar and Marshall concept, what we can then see is that different people in different roles within an organisation or service may flip to the mirror image negative motivational state, and this can lead to painful misunderstanding and conflict.

To take our example again, as an organisational leader I could find myself feeling adrift and depersonalised or guilty and ashamed, when traumatised by the impact of compassion fatigue or moral injury or secondary trauma. It is clear that the long traumatic event of a pandemic has left many leaders in public service with experiences like this. As a social worker I could find myself feeling anxious or anguished or apathetic at times, so that I would develop stress symptoms or become avoidant of facing problems. I know, and have conducted research which demonstrates, that this has also happened for colleagues in similar positions not only in social work but also in health, education and other service professions. And as a foster carer I could be left with a sense of entitlement and anger, or develop cravings and addictive behaviour when trauma got into the mix, as it did at times. And again I know that I was not alone in this, but could see it in colleagues in similar practice roles – foster carers, support staff and so on.

In these circumstances Zohar and Marshall can provide some useful pointers to ways of promoting recovery, building and sustaining community resilience by recognising the different needs across the community not just in relation to each individual but also in relation to the particular requirements of their role within the community. When trauma has had an impact on motivation we need the support of others within the community to recover our motivation, just as we need others who will co-regulate, guide and support us to recover from trauma.

So, as a foster carer, I needed support to set aside my own sense of disconnection and reconnect with others as people of equal importance in the care of this child or young person. I needed to work with others to affirm our shared vision and values and recover that sense of community that sustains the relentless hard work. And this would be true not just for foster carers, but for anyone whose role requires this sort of motivations. As a social worker, when trauma left me demotivated I needed the support of others to recover my ability to make positive use of adversity, to celebrate rather than be oppressed by diversity, and to get back my sense of vocation, to remember why I came into this work. Again this would be true for any front line worker in a role requiring these motivators to drive good practice. And leaders need the support of others to recover their sense of being part of a living community and to reconnect with their own compassionate reason. Leaders also, of course, have to be able to recognise these different motivational needs within their own organisation and community.

The principles of transformation are vital during times of adversity to ensure that we can enable groups within the community to transform the negative motivations that are the indicators of trauma, but are also very important when motivation is high, in order to sustain this resilience. So when we are resilient, as individuals and as a community, then constant practice is needed to maintain that wellbeing and sustain our positive motivations. The principles of transformation require, always, acts of consciousness and acts of will, shared practices that keep us functioning together and able to play our part in the wellbeing of the whole community.