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Professor Chris Greer and Dr Jutta Mortlock with panellists and moderator of the 'Mindfulness, Wellbeing and Performance in High-Stakes Contexts: The New Frontier' event
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How can mindfulness help teams perform under extreme pressure?

The panel event explored the role of mindfulness in situations where stakes are high and where conventional ways of managing personal and organisational well-being and performance are stretched to the limit.

by Shamim Quadir

What can individuals and teams do when they find themselves in extreme situations, where information can quickly become outdated and irrelevant, when there is no time to relax and regroup, and where the risks are high and the consequences incalculable?

This could be in the context of a military operation, whilst delivering healthcare, or in many high-pressure business environments today.

Questions about these complex issues were posed to a panel of experts from industry and academia at the panel event on ‘Mindfulness, Wellbeing and Performance in High-Stakes Contexts: The New Frontier’, recently hosted at City, University of London.

Excellence in mindfulness research

The event was organised by the University's new Centre of Excellence in Mindfulness Research (CEMR) in collaboration with Beta Gamma Sigma, a US-based Honor Society dedicated to bringing together the Top 10% of Business School graduates around the world, including Cass Business School.

Professor Chris Greer, Dean of the University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS), welcomed the audience and reminded them of the university’s long-standing connection to business and enterprise in the heart of the City of London.

The panel discussion was moderated by Dr Andrey Pavlov, Associate Professor of Organisational Performance at Cranfield University and President of the Beta Gamma Sigma London Chapter.

Panellist Louise Hosking with Professor Chris Greer, Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at City

Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at City, kicked off the panel discussion, demonstrating how mindfulness can be considered a way to pay attention to your situation, with the intention of managing your awareness in a way that stops you judging the situation prematurely – and she invited the audience to practice doing just that as they started participating with the panel.

Is mindfulness 'right' to use in war?

Discussion highlights included a debate on whether mindfulness is ‘right’ to use in war. The Panellists discussed the moral tension around mindfulness, developed three thousand years ago in a Zen Buddhist context, and whether it is right to ‘use mindfulness’ to prosecute war?

Panellist, Sir Tim Boughton, Defence Policy Lead for the Mindfulness Initiative and member of the Ministry of Defence Steering Group for Mindfulness, reflected on an extremely stressful experience he had whilst a young officer in the armed forces, leading a team during the Bosnian War. An experience he and his team found hard to process.  He shared that he would later, in Afghanistan and Iraq, bring in five minute mindful breathing practices with his teams before going out on mission, and expressed the positive influence that had on aligning their focus to the various types of task they had at hand.

Addressing the moral tension involved in ‘using mindfulness’ in these contexts, Sir Tim shared:

Well, the argument I give is that we are not using [mindfulness] to prosecute war.  We are using it to ensure that the people we are taking out there are in a position where they can give their best to whatever it is they do.

Panellists Sir Tim Boughton, Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock and Steve Potts

Another highlight in the debate revolved around applying mindfulness techniques in a team context.

Louise Hosking, Vice President at the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, commented on her work with teams in patient safety and care, and engineering contexts. She discussed some of the barriers to pick up of mindfulness based practice, including a reluctance to communicate openly about feelings and said:

Those teams that do actually start to have a mindfulness approach, to switch on to what their minds are doing, to be more mentally agile, and mentally resilient, work smarter, work more productively, and they work more efficiently. So, in our modern world it’s something we need to start switching on.

Dr Tobias Mortlock also reflected on the evidence supporting the benefit of mindfulness in teams, and said:

Science actually has the answer to what mindful teams look and feel like, but it’s not actually known very well by the general public, and it’s up to you [the audience] to help spread that message.

She shared how her current research involves helping Armed Forces officers learn to bond together quicker, feel they have each other’s back and therefore work together through highly stressful situations as a whole unit, rather than leaving each individual team member struggling with the emotional turmoil of traumatic challenges alone. This, she argued, enables entire teams to become more mindful and ultimately more effective.

Panel moderator, Dr Andrey Pavlov, Cranfield University

Steve Potts, Director of SHM, helped conclude the discussion by sharing his extensive experience of helping teams overcome complex challenges, asserting:

In the workplace leaders need to constantly help their teams balance 'humanity' and 'edge'.  Teams that can strike that balance right, those teams have fun, support each other and get a lot of work done together that they enjoy.

The panel

The panel included Louise Hosking, Vice President, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at City, Sir Tim Boughton KCN GCM CStJ, Defence Policy Lead for the Mindfulness Initiative and member of the Defence Steering Group for Mindfulness, and Steve Potts, Director of SHM, a consultancy firm helping organisations solve complex human-centred problems.

Centre of Excellence in Mindfulness Research

Find out more about City's new Centre of Excellence in Mindfulness Research (CEMR), register your interest in attending its launch event on Wednesday 3rd April 2019.

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