Is Resilience about Relationships?

In my recent RSVP Design blog “Resilient Learners + Resilient Educators = Resilient Organisations?” I asked the question,

Can we create a sustained learning environment, that has as its explicit purpose the development of resilience at an organisational level, whilst being entirely supportive of the development of personal and professional resilience in its membership?

This question has provoked a great deal of attention and debate, and it seemed appropriate to respond to some of the issues that have been raised.

 

It appears that we can relax in the knowledge that resilience is being developed at an organisational level. Many of the responses I received suggested that, in these challenging times, survival depends on the capacity of the organisation to develop this resilience; that without this ‘stickability’ there isn’t much by way of a future for any organisation. Whilst not being entirely comfortable with this bleak picture, I’m prepared to let that one go and focus on what most of the respondents seemed to want to consider, i.e. the importance of relationships in nurturing resilience.

 

It seems that, in the minds of many, the greatest value of developing resilience is in personal wellbeing and the amelioration of stress. This was a major theme in the responses I received from Europe and US but it was the overwhelming emphasis from other parts of the world. For example, fromAustralia I heard,  “The overarching theme (in resilience development) is all about self-management and taking a holistic approach to wellbeing” and from India it was suggested that resilience must be about how we “manage stress and help employees manage themselves.”

 

Of interest to me is that virtually all of the responses allude to the importance of positive relationships in fostering resilience. This makes resilience a quality that is highly compatible with the ideas embraced by Emotional Intelligence. So, if in considering resilience we are to keep the focus on learning, what are the features of these positive relationships?

 

Part of my initial reading was to look at the work of Emily Heaphy and Jane E. Dutton (High-quality Connections John Paul Stephens, Emily Heaphy, and Jane E. Dutton in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship (2011)

 

They examine positive learning-relationships as examples of High-quality Connections (HQCs). Their work suggests that resilience (they use the more specific term ‘tensility’) relates to the capacity of the connection to bend and withstand strain in a variety of circumstances. HQCs respond to conflict by changing form (whilst maintaining strength) to accommodate changes to either of the connected parties, or changes in the tensions between them.

 

I remember that when I first read this my reaction was “Yes! That’s exactly what I want effective learning relationships to demonstrate - both strength and dynamic responsiveness to change”

 

Reconsidering my original question, here’s a suggestion. Perhaps what we should be working towards is “a sustained learning-environment that develops Organisational Resilience by strengthening the high-resilience learning-relationships in its members”. This gives the organisation a more pro-active role, not just supporting internal learning relationships, but actively working to establish and support them.

 

If this is accepted then it presents several compelling arguments.

 

  • Adopting a strategic focus on building robust, internal learning-relationships will pay dividends in developing overall organisational resilience.
  • An investment in developing emotional intelligence across organisational members will optimise the value of any other learning activities that they undertake.
  • Wherever possible we should be specifying experiential learning approaches in that they place the greatest emphasis on relationship-building.

 

Interestingly this creates in intriguing loop back into one of the other hot-topics we’re currently working with in RSVP Design…it sounds a lot like a move towards a Learning Organisation.

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