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Organizational resilience: stop, collaborate and listen…

Luke Bird highlights the requirement for many different organizational departments and professions to work together for effective organizational resilience and provides some ideas for how to overcome the associated challenges.

Organizational resilience is a highly complex and sometimes controversial term. It comes with a variety of challenges in trying to understand how it works (or potentially how it could work) in organizations. The likes of the BCI and Continuity Central have worked tirelessly to generate wider discussion and thought leadership on this topic.  However, our ongoing dialogue in recent years has barely progressed beyond reaching an agreement for a simple definition (despite many of us helping to produce the British Standard 65000).

The recently published BCI Position Statement certainly highlights that we’re still not quite there in our understanding as to how to take this forward.  Hopefully their official line will provoke a second wind of debate as many of us take the time to decide whether we agree or disagree. Although much of my own focus and interest is on the subject of multi-disciplinary collaboration and some of the challenges that we could potentially face.

Can’t we all just get along?

David Honour’s recent article in response to the BCI Statement already recognises that BS 65000 specifies 21 separate operational disciplines that will need to be integrated to enable effective organizational resilience. In having such a high number of representative groups, there will almost certainly be some opposition ahead. There is a plethora of research already available which explores the barriers for interdisciplinary collaboration but usually the key obstacles tend to be jargon, leadership and protectionism. Finding a way to overcome these obstacles and then work effectively across a wide range of expert groups will be our greatest challenge. In my own experience of working in diverse resilience teams I’ve been expected to engage with the following disciplines as a bare minimum:

  • Business continuity
  • Risk management
  • Disaster recovery
  • Health and safety
  • Supply chain management
  • Information security
  • Facilities (including physical security)
  • Human resources
  • IT.

Each department would bring to the table their own best practice, glossary of terms and more often than not conflicting views of how to approach key risks. As you can imagine this created endless debate and we perhaps weren’t as effective as we could have been. In addition, there regularly seemed to be an undertone of self-preservation in most meetings. This would usually involve protecting their own department’s interests by either not fully sharing information (after all knowledge is power), or conversely trying to take a strong lead in the project from the outset while enforcing the exclusive use of their own methodology.   I can only assume from my own experience that this is because some departments were keen to avoid having their own position diluted or downgraded by not appearing to be as specialised. In any case it would often lead to challenging and drawn-out collaborative experience and with a limited output. 

The BCI’s Position Statement acknowledges that for organizational resilience to evolve as a concept it requires a range of disciplines to be on the same page and we’ve discussed this is no easy task.  I’m instantly reminded of an overheard conversation between a risk management practitioner and a business continuity professional who simply couldn’t agree on simple terminology for a basic risk assessment tool. This is only one example of a shared tool being used by two neighbouring disciplines and it continues to be confused and debated on. If you haven’t already, try to imagine how difficult it might be to establish a fully agreed and implemented doctrine across those multiple specialisations? I’m sure for those of you with experience of developing the associated standards will know that it doesn’t happen overnight.
So how do we overcome the challenges of engaging over 21 disciplines as the standard suggests? I think it’s going to take some time.

Come together now

I was pleased to read in the BCI’s statement that they were proactively reaching out to the wider disciplines to get this going. Who they intend to approach and how things are coordinated is yet to be made clear but this is no doubt a crucial step in collaboration process and the BCI are making the first move. I think for wider collaboration to be a success we still require further engagement at every level to develop those interdisciplinary relationships.  I would expect to see perhaps some of the following in the BCI programme in the near future:

  • Another round of game-show type debates between disciplines at BCI World (always good fun!);
  • ‘A day in the life of’ – where a business continuity professional writes up a day journal as they shadow another discipline and visa-versa. It could maybe run it as an info exchange week or a presentation at BCI World?
  • Presentations at other conferences on behalf of the BCI to raise awareness of our profession and how we might work together (and likewise further invites to alternative practitioners to BCI World).
  • Appointment of specialised leads to the BCI management team/ committees from other disciplines as representatives if not already done so.
  • Peer review articles from other professions.
  • Promotion of more multi-disciplinary special interest groups.
  • Interdisciplinary speed dating at networking events.

If we look to increase the level of general engagement across the board by perhaps using some of the above ideas it could help to build better relationships with different professions, and encourage greater collaboration.

The author

Luke Bird, MBCI, SIRM, received the 2014 BCI Global Award for Best Newcomer. He is a self-published author on business continuity and is part of a recent BCI publication ‘20 in their 20s’, a paper on the future of business continuity. He has experience of successfully delivering a full program of ISO 22301 certification and work area recovery arrangements in financial services. Luke is also widely known for his ‘BlueyedBC’ brand where he uses his online presence to share learning and experience among professionals in the industry and often attends universities to provide guest lectures to undergraduates studying the discipline. Contact Luke at [email protected]


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