Resilience and Operating in Complex Contexts – (Part 2) Operations and Resilience


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What does operational resilience in volatile contexts mean to you? Is it about the response time of a team or the capability to endure a physically and mentally challenging environment? Perhaps something else? Pia Horttanainen Croxford & Matthew Croxford, Myelin LLC, investigate.

For us, operational resilience is the main engine and lifeblood contributing to the overall resilience of an entity.

As discussed in Part 1: Strategy and Resilience, the strategic foundation sets the tone, emphasising the importance of tailored strategies and advanced analytical capabilities.

However, as we move closer to the operational surface, the significance of a contextually tailored approach becomes evident.

Navigating volatile contexts requires more than tactical prowess; it demands a cohesive and diverse organisational structure and a team capable of interpreting the operational landscape with profound analytical and interaction skills.

If operational functions falter or lack the necessary resilience, the reverberations are felt throughout every tier of the organisation.

To achieve ideally functioning operations, accurate and timely information flow, swift decision making and supporting organisational structures are as important as team capabilities.

However, the lack of a contextually tuned approach can lead to a negative spiral of dysfunctional communication, delayed responses from the strategic level and overall dissatisfaction and disconnect between operational reality and strategic/decision making levels.

As we continue this trilogy, we aim to bridge the gap between strategy and hands-on operational resilience, emphasising the contextual uniqueness and holistic nature of this dynamic journey towards organisational strength.

Forging internal foundations to enhance operational resilience in volatile contexts

Operational resilience demands not only adaptability to immediate disruptions but also the capacity to transform operations for sustained preparedness against evolving changes.

The flow of accurate, relevant and timely information between operational and strategic levels, coupled with swift decision making, lies at the core of resilient operations.

However, despite these internal factors emerging as pivotal contributors to either the success or detriment of operational performance, bottlenecks seem to exist.

The question arises: Why do operational reports sometimes fall short in capturing the broader context and relevance of critical shifts in dynamics on the ground?

Why does the feedback loop from strategic levels to operations lag or, in some cases, remain absent? Or why do the decision making processes not support the operational needs?

Firstly, the gap persists. Frontline operations possess an acute awareness of challenges, an awareness not always mirrored at the strategic level, particularly in larger organisations.

Effectively managed operations should be the sources of essential data and in addition, they should also possess the capability to analyse and forecast changes.

The type and frequency of information required depends significantly on a case-by-case assessment of each unique context.

Operations serve as the linchpin for steering an organisation’s course, providing viewpoints, analyses, forecasts and alternative scenarios crucial for decision making at both operational and strategic levels.

Secondly, when operations fulfil their ideal function as a proactive and analytical source of information, for operations to be resilient, one necessitates the creation of a dynamic feedback loop.

Therefore, the flow is not only upwards, but also downwards to enable rapid feedback reception.

An agile feedback system becomes instrumental in managing the demands of swift decision making especially in conflict and post-conflict surroundings, ensuring the delivery of pertinent and timely information and decisions throughout the organisational spectrum.

Thirdly, in conflict environments, the ability to make rapid decisions underscores the importance of adaptive decision making structures.

Resilience may therefore require restructuring decision making and hierarchical structures, such as flattening organisational hierarchies or establishing task forces to anchor decision makers in operational reality.

The need for advanced analytical capabilities to produce information, a constant feedback loop and dynamic decision making structures holds not only during crises but also when initially establishing a presence in a volatile setting.

Failing to lay the groundwork during the rush and urgency of entry can prove detrimental.

Therefore, tailoring structures and processes to match contextual reality and operational needs is crucial not only for immediate success but also for sustained performance in dynamic environments.

Fundamentally, resilient operations in volatile contexts go beyond identifying threats and having tactical preparedness; it involves advanced communication and information flow, rapid decision making and adapting organisational structures to support operations intricacies to match the contextual demands.

Crafting operational resilience: Team composition in skills, knowledge and experience

Operations serve as the embodiment of a company or organisation on the ground, representing its face to the world.

The skills and professionalism of operational teams add an extra layer of responsibility, as they become the living manifestation of the entity’s values and goals.

Resilient operations extend beyond the tactical or technical layer; they encapsulate the ethos of the entire company or organisation.

Navigating volatile and intricate environments is often viewed merely as a testing ground for tactical or physical capabilities. However, we recognise that resilience extends far beyond this single dimension.

The true essence of operational resilience lies in understanding the dynamic realities and swift transformations characteristic of volatile surroundings.

Achieving this demands a team with the right composition of knowledge, skills and experience.

The team’s composition must be a reflection of the contextual demands, incorporating specific talents tailored to the unique challenges at hand.

Conventional recruitment approaches, if not attuned to the specific needs of analytical capabilities and diverse skill combinations, risk sidelining essential aspects.

Moreover, attention should be directed towards diversifying capabilities and considering factors such as age, experience and interpersonal skills to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the context.

Relying solely e.g. on a team’s rapid response capabilities may inadvertently lead to recruiting only young team members overlooking the need to balance the team composition with deep expertise, analytical facets or a broader skillset heavily needed in conflict-affected environments.

In a context characterised by constant flux, the operational team has to be able to keep a finger on the pulse of the environment, comprehending changes and distinguishing between true novelties and recurring patterns.

This requires an ability to interpret the operational landscape with profound analytical and interaction skills.

Without this capability, teams risk being ensnared in a perpetually reactive stance, lacking the foresight needed to navigate the intricacies of an ever-evolving landscape.

In the worst case, the weak team may pull also strategic decision makers into a constant reactive mode solving acute problems.

When the command bridge descends to the engine room trying to fix the challenges, there is no one left to keep track of the horizon…

True operational resilience is not solely defined by the technical or tactical response capabilities; it also encompasses broader intelligence and behavioural skills.

For instance, in the face of heightened local level unrest, the capacity to understand conflict dynamics and proactively seek mitigation strategies can position the company in a significantly advantageous position.

This response therefore goes beyond mere physical capabilities, enabling the organisation to navigate challenges with a strategic and nuanced approach that aligns with its core values.

Conclusions: Forging operational resilience

In the pursuit of operational resilience, success hinges on more than tactical preparedness and extends beyond crisis response.

Operational teams, as the embodiment of the organisation, must possess diverse skills and analytical capabilities in fragile and volatile contexts.

In addition, an organisation’s higher decision making level’s capability to support operations by swift decision making may require a critical assessment of the strategic approach and even context specific tailoring of the organisation’s internal decision making mandates and structures.

The resilience of operations in highly volatile contexts demands adaptability, transformation and a proactive approach to rethink and tailor the already existing capabilities, frameworks and processes to better match the needs of a volatile context and operational reality.

Myelin LLC

Myelin LLC is a consulting company that specialises in providing tailored services to businesses and organisations that operate in complex and unpredictable environments. The company’s expertise is in security, politics, law, governance and human rights domains as well as their interconnections.

Myelin LLC offers strategic and operational consultation, analysis, forecasting, advisory and planning services extending also to crisis management and conflict resolution, negotiation and mediation consultancy.

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