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Guest blog: Organisational resilience - should I use the word love?

The purpose of a recent study undertaken by our university was to explore the conditions and considerations for facilitating organisational resilience in a professional sport context.

Developing a resilient environment and culture is important in order to maximise both performance and well being in increasingly complex and competitive circumstances. It can also be linked to a positive impact on athlete recruitment, retention and career transitions.

Following a review of the existing research, resulting in a notable snapshot of the body of knowledge, a number of interviews were undertaken with a representative sample from a case study organisation to explore and understand both the theoretical principles and the current reality of organisational resilience.

Resilience was defined as the ability to cope, recover and thrive under pressure and was based on a sense of individual and collective optimism, confidence and support. Actually, while we faithfully documented the consistently important, but slightly bland, concept of support in our definition we also found some powerful examples from Spartan warriors to the All Blacks and “our” case study organisation that drew resilience and cohesion from a deeper (parental and sibling like) love – hence the title of this blog.

In summary, our study suggested that the six concepts of organisational resilience were;

  • clear role expectations yet an active athlete voice in job design;
  • genuine and tailored opportunities for personal development;
  • generally supportive & constructive social relationships;
  • a fair, consistent & collaborative leadership style;
  • an aspirational and inclusive organisation culture and finally,
  • a considered and consultative approach to scenario or forward planning.

Three other interesting things emerged from the study.

Firstly, there was much discussion around the (oversimplified and rather narrow) concept of winning at all costs although, without much doubt, it is a political, commercial and professional reality of elite sport. However, there was much support for the concept of winning as a consequence (or focusing on process rather than outcome) as a “better” longer term approach to personal development, player performance and building organisational effectiveness. In addition, taking considered risks and actively recognising and learning from loss are central to any ambitious and successful organisation. In this regard we proposed the notion of a high expectancy culture where a team might initially explore and agree on the wider sources of meaning from participation in elite sport and membership of a playing group and then actively consider the methods of winning (and learning from losing) and how these insights might be operationalised into daily habits and routines.

Secondly, there appeared to be some consensus around the notion that, in general, the current assumptions and language used in the field (e.g. always being in control and unshakeable belief) oversimplify the realities and complexities of elite sport and could actually hinder the open discussion and development of realistic and tailored coping strategies.

Thirdly, resilience (and the concepts of mental toughness and emotional intelligence) while important considerations and discussion points for the modern professional athlete are but part of the requirements for a balanced perspective on expert performance. Participants emphasised, in particular, the importance of scientific conditioning, technical excellence, tactical decision making and work ethic.

Mark Lowther is an academic at the Cardiff School of Sport with a particular interest in high performance teams and leadership.


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