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Mark Lowther
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Coaching Skills

Organisational Resilience: Should I Use the Word Love?

Research from the University of Cardiff offers insight into how coaches can use love and empathy to build resilience

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.

Building a culture of resilience

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 which drew resilience and cohesion from a deeper (parental and sibling-like) love. Hence the title of this blog.

Six concepts of organisational resilience

In summary, our study identified six concepts of organisational resilience:

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

Three other interesting things emerged from the study in relation to elite sport and resilience.

High expectancy culture

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.

It would then actively consider the methods of winning (and learning from losing) and how these insights might be operationalised into daily habits and routines.

Complexities of elite sport

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.

In fact, they could actually hinder the open discussion and development of realistic and tailored coping strategies.

Resilience as one tool of many

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.

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Mark Lowther