Is making time to think part of the organisational resilience puzzle?

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August 12th, 2016

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With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its implications, now seemed a good time to think about organisational resilience – the capacity for organisations ‘to investigate, to learn, and to act without knowing in advance what one will be called to act upon’¹. Now more than ever our world is one in which it is impossible to prepare for every possibility; where it is ever more important to develop the capacity and capability to meet whatever challenges emerge with a sense of confidence; where we need to look outwards, seeking to expand networks, and exploring others’ thoughts, ideas and perspectives. Through this organisations will be able to “absorb the stresses that arise from such challenges and not only recover functioning to a normal level, but also learn and grow from the adversity to emerge stronger than before”2.

This made me wonder how can this type of organisational resilience be fostered? What sort of capabilities might support this sense of capacity and confidence? What might be happening within organisations who have this type of confidence? And to what extent do I see it in the organisations I work with?

On reading further about organisational resilience, one of the factors that stood as making a positive difference to organisational resilience, was the notion of ‘conceptual slack’. Largely, I think, because the notion of slack in any organisation these days seems to go against the grain. Prefaced as it was by the word ‘conceptual’ I also made a link to having time to think and reflect, something which seems painfully absent from most organisations I have encountered, where busyness and activity rule the roost – as my colleague has been writing about in https://www.roffeypark.com/leadership-and-management/relax-dont-do-it-tips-for-overworked-executives/ and https://www.roffeypark.com/leadership-and-management/relax-dont-do-it-tips-for-overworked-executives-part-2/ .

‘Conceptual slack’ as it turns out, refers to: the diversity in organisational members’ perspectives; the willingness to question what is happening rather than simply feign understanding; and an enhanced use of respectful interaction to enrich communication and to really take on board what is said. So a notion that implicitly, rather than explicitly, needs time and space.

“Respectful interaction to enrich communication” caught my eye, as I have been reading Nancy Kline’s ‘Time to Think’ 3. For those of you who don’t know it, she advocates ten conditions under which human beings can learn to enhance the quality of their thinking and access a wellspring of latent good ideas. Whilst I’d recommend reading the book to get a full understanding of all ten conditions, a number resonated with me:

  • First is the insight that the quality of our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other. How much in our busy lives do we really stop, slow down and really give our full attention to others, especially at work where each of us has our own agenda and ever lengthening to-do list?
  • Related to this is the condition of ‘Ease’, an absence of tension or rush. It’s not uncommon to hear in my work of heavy workloads and people doing things the same way they have always done as they do not have time to think, let alone be at ease. Urgency and rush keeps people from thinking clearly and ultimately being more productive. And by more productive, I mean come up with better ideas and solutions that generate revenue, save money and have greater impact. I say this as at times it seems as if there is an implicit, perhaps unconscious belief, that busyness is productivity. It’s not.
  • Finally, the condition of ‘Equality’. Every person in an organisation, regardless of their position in the hierarchy should be valued as a thinker. They should be given the same time and space to air their thoughts and opinions as others. Again, I wonder to what extent this principle holds true in most organisations today.

I’m not suggesting that creating time to think is the only thing that we need to attend to in order to make our organisations more resilient. But enhancing the quality of attention we give to others is likely to go some way to improving the quality of ideas we have as to how we can best meet the challenges we face, which will expand rather than narrow our thinking, and ultimately make ourselves and our organisations more resilient.

 

[1] Wildavsky, A (1988) ‘Searching for safety’. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.

[2] Kline, N (2010) ‘Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind’. Ward Lock.