09 Jun

Relationships and Mental Health

Daughter and father

The Mental Health Foundation have released an excellent report, which you can read here, which sets out further evidence that investing in relationships is at least as important to our health and wellbeing as not smoking. Their argument, like that of Relational Thinking Network, is that  both as a society and as individuals we need urgently to prioritise relationships and tackle the barriers to forming them.

The importance of relationships for health

Looking at a range of evidence, the authors show that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected.

Indeed, a review of 148 studies concluded that:

the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.

They make reference to a longitudinal Harvard study, that began in 1938 and published in the 2012 book ‘Triumphs of Experience’, that found that that relationships are the most important factors for health and happiness.

Factors causing relationship problems

The report discusses a number of inter-related factors that negatively affect relationships. For example:

  • Moving away from one’s hometown, family and friends can have a very real impact on our relationships. Moving means having to adapt to a new physical and social environment. Studies suggest that one of the biggest challenges facing individuals when they move is building relationships and connecting with others.
  • Social media and other online technologies have many positives. However, the report notes that almost half of internet uses in the UK reported that the internet had not increased their contact with friends or family who had moved away.

Indeed, while they have increase our sense of belonging, online relationships cannot replace our offline relationships.

The neurochemical response that occurs during face-to-face interactions contributes to our sense of connection, understanding and ultimately wellbeing. In other words, face-to-face communication still matters.

  • Bullying can have a negative effect on people’s health. Conversely a positive experience at school, particularly with teachers, can “act as a buffer and help protect young people during this difficult time.” This is something that Relational Schools has been researching on.
  • Loneliness and isolation are a significant issue for older people. See an earlier blog post we wrote about this here.

Actions to be taken

The report ends by calling, as the Relational Thinking Network has done, for “a sea change in thinking”. We need to not only recognise the importance of relationships, (which we instinctively do), but that we take an active approach in the way we build and maintain relationships, and to tackle the barriers that prevents strong relationships from being built.

 

04 Mar

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?

Who-would-you-most-like-to-meet

It’s an interesting question you may have heard before or even asked others yourself: If you could invite (say) six people, living or dead, to eat at your dinner table, whom would you choose? Read what Barbra Streisand said recently when she answered the question and then tell us what you would say…

For some inspiration, why not watch the video below:

No need for my pithy thoughts: the video says it all…

Relationships matter!

By Dr Rob Loe, Director of Relational Schools. It was originally published on their website here.

15 Jan

When a Society Falls Madly in Love With Hating Enemies

Trump

Robert Hall, an author and consultant and recent speaker at the Relational Thinking International Conference, recently published an article in the Huffington Post entitled When a Society Falls Madly in Love With Hating Enemies. He writes:

Enemy: it is the ascending relationship of our time. Terrorism, a Presidential election, and racial strife are but some of the forces that propel “enemy” as today’s hot stock in a turbulent relationship marketplace. The list of enemies seems to grow endlessly…Increasingly we are defined by the enemies we hate. We express love by how much we hate our common enemy.

We risk becoming an enemy-mongering culture as our ability to wound overwhelms our ability to heal. When our political engagement is primarily animated by our disdain for enemies, civil communities transform into angry tribes driven by endless conflict…

In fact, research shows that those most educated and informed are the ones most staunchly divided and least susceptible to influence. It seems enlightenment has been hijacked for the cause of division.

Hate always carries this risk: that we become what we disdain in others. A person recently posting on Facebook asked everyone who supported Donald Trump to de-friend her adding “we have nothing to talk about.” In the name of wanting more love and inclusion of other religions such as Islam, this post expressed contempt and exclusion of supporters of Trump. Hating haters is still hate.

Robert Hall suggests three keys to reversing this course:

New Language

We need language that outs those who mass-produce hate and enemies. Let’s invent a word that captures what is going on. ‘Enemiation’ (enemy+ation): the process of transforming differences into hate, objects of our differences into enemies, and the wounded into victims by blaming those enemies for all that is wrong.

‘Enemiating’ leaders probe wounds and seize power by trading on victimization. History provides many examples: Hitler blamed Jews and Russians as the source of Germany’s ills. ‘Enemiating’ leaders are dependent upon wounded followers as emotional fuel for their own empowerment. Time to call them out.

New Intention

The decision to disagree is a completely different decision than to hate. To reverse our state of hate requires a new intention regarding our differences. It is simple: we don’t condemn the color red because it is not blue. We don’t hate one of our children because he is different from his sister. We don’t criticize our hand because it is not like our foot. Differences have the potential for great synergy – hybrid mostly outperforms in-bred. A culture that espouses love of racial and ethnic diversity must apply it also to political and religious thought. If boxers, football players, and basketball players can physically battle for a couple of hours and then hug afterward, surely we can embrace our differences without making bitter enemies.

New Leadership Model

A new direction will require new leadership. We must upgrade our broken ‘enemiation’ leadership model to Relational Leadership – intent on engaging diverse groups/stakeholders to build productive relationships and outcomes. Relational Leaders prioritize bringing people together versus being wedge-merchants promoting issues designed to produce division, victimhood and dubious outcomes. Oracle’s Meg Bear calls empathy – standing in another’s shoes, acknowledging their perspective even if you disagree – the critical skill of the 21st century. Unfortunately empathy scores among college kids has declined 10 percent since 1979. As voters we can start by electing a President with Relational Leadership skills including empathy and rejecting ‘enemiating’ leaders who use leadership as a weapon to grow hate.

We must lose our love for hate and find our love for productive relationships and leaders who help produce them.

Photo: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (By Gage Skidmore from Flickr)

28 Oct

Giving increases wellbeing

Hands

Making time for people brings us happiness on the side. That’s what I wrote in my post on 20th Feb 2015, “In pursuit of happiness”. But just how powerful is this link? Are we really better off when we give into the lives of others? Are other people better off? Are we all as a community better off?

We can test it out by looking at data from the ‘Citizenship Survey.’ Over 38,000 people in England and Wales were interviewed face to face between 2007 and 2011. They were asked questions about their giving, and also about their community. The Citizenship Survey also included official statistics regarding the deprivation levels of every ward in which the people were interviewed. With this data then, we can make some credible assessments regarding whether giving behaviors in a region relate to how well those regions are doing (see fig.1).

Giving Charter - article Lorna Zischka

Fig1: The correlations between giving behaviors and community welfare (all correlations are statistically significant).

Key:Table LZThese diagrams give a flavor of just how closely giving behaviors are linked to community wellbeing. Firstly we see that giving and trust go together. ‘Giving’ sends a message of care for others, which is a trustworthy behavior and stimulates trust in others. Having said that, ‘giving’ and ‘trust’ are also mutually reinforcing and neither is likely to keep going for long without the other. Secondly we see how giving is linked to reduced deprivation. For a start giving is a way of counteracting deprivation and so people in giving/supportive networks are likely to be doing better than people without them. As before though, ‘giving’ and ‘low deprivation’ might also be mutually reinforcing; well situated people in a pleasant social environment are freed up to give.  (Source: Citizenship Survey data, 2008-2011. Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Supplied by the UK Data Archive. Calculations drawn from a paper presented by Zischka at ‘Relational Academics,’ September 2015, Cambridge.)

We can test the same trust and deprivation data against other variables that might potentially explain why welfare differs in different regions. Try for example average income, health, education, employment or ethnic mix – all of which are known to be important social variables affecting welfare. The data indicates that none of these could predict trust and deprivation quite as precisely as giving behaviors could. In other words, whether or not people ‘give’ is right up there with the very most important socio-economic indicators of wellbeing.

And these figures are just a start. Many other studies have been carried out to show that people who give time or money away to others actually feel better afterwards than those who spend that same time or money on their own private consumption. Personal consumption makes people feel good for the moment, but (unless that consumption is essential to life) the feeling does not last for long. However, small, repeated expenditures of time and money with or for other people stack up to a greater sense of wellbeing over time.

So why is this? What is it about giving that makes such a difference? The key is the link between giving and relationship. Relationships take time and money to build, and they won’t go far without a bit of give and take. Giving, when it comes down to it, is an indication that the giver is including other people in the decisions they make over the way they spend their time and money, and it’s this consideration for others that comprises the heart of relationship. To turn this around, we can tell how good a relationship is by whether or not a person is putting time and money into others instead of spending exclusively on him or herself. Good relationships and giving people go with better outcomes for the community. Note that giving does not guarantee a return to the giver, and to expect one is to miss the point, but we can see that our giving makes the world a little bit better for someone else. This leaves the eternal question of priorities for every individual to grapple with: what really matters to me, me or us? We shouldn’t just be looking at what we get out of the system – let’s also measure what we put into it!

By Lorna Zischka

 

14 Aug

Work is about relationships

Three machinists in workspace by machine talking

Work. Many people dread the Monday morning when they are heading back to their work place. Others are looking for work and don’t seem to be able to find any. For many different reasons (the need for) work can sometimes feel more like a curse than a blessing. But what if there is virtue in work in and of itself, not because of what it can or cannot do for us? Are we then not missing something? What if work is valuable because it is…. well, relational? Passing on our experiences expertise to others, helping colleagues to grow and develop their skills, serving clients with good products and service, producing items that others benefit from. Not to mention the fact that we work with colleagues, managers, distributors, clients, suppliers…

In an essay that British MP Jon Cruddas wrote for and which was published in “What’s love got to do with it: 14 ideas for putting relationships at the heart of policy” (Relate, July 2015), he expands on the notion of work and relationships. A somewhat shortened version of this follows here:

“Love and work, said William Morris. The purpose of life is to employ one’s talent to useful, beautiful and meaningful ends. Work is about relationships. We inherit knowledge from the past and we shape it with others into new forms of value. Work creates hope.

Morris describes it as worthy work. It carries with it the hope of pleasure in rest, the hope of pleasure in our using what it makes, and the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill. All other work he said is mere toiling to live that we may live to toil. (1)

Today the value in work is neglected. We have got to the point where everything other than work generates value: capital, technology, risk-taking, innovation, anything other than accomplished work and skilful cooperation with others. Both the market and the state have undermined the conditions of meaningful work.

The crash of 2008 revealed the problem with relying upon the financial sector and state administration as the drivers of growth. It was not just the private debt and the public deficit. It was the neglect of vocation and virtue that led to an economy too often rewarding vice in the form of cheating and greed, and excessive self-regard.

In an economy that values work and workers, the old mentor the young and pass on their wisdom and experience, as well as technical skills to the younger apprentice. Workers associate in order to strengthen their knowledge and skill and where it is valued and upheld by vocational colleges. That is why I am committed to the restoration of vocational training so that we can fix and mend, innovate and create.

In work we will value quality and equality. We need to ensure employees are represented on the remuneration committees of large companies, with real status within the firm. It should not be ignored as peripheral. Building partnerships and dialogue between management and workforce creates mutual responsibility and accountability. Management would need to justify their bonuses and the workforce would need to understand the realities of the company.

We will deploy the idea of ‘skin in the game’ to extend accountability into the market. Instead of tying up business in complicated rules and regulations, ‘skin in the game’ reforms incentives in the market. People who make decisions on behalf of others should share in the risks, not just enjoy the rewards. Only then can we start to truly align power and accountability.

It is not just the private economy that has become disconnected – and threatens to disconnect society from itself. Our system of government and our public services are the same. The state is over-centralised and out of touch. It lacks the trust we need to hold society together. Some of our public services have pursued ‘value for money’, and ‘customer satisfaction’, but neglected the human relationships and trust that lie at the heart of public services.

Public sector reform has failed to give frontline staff and users a sense of ownership and control. Instead, it has transferred power from an unaccountable state to unaccountable big corporations. Too much power has been concentrated in the market and the state. There is too little accountability, and too little transparency. People are left feeling powerless and often humiliated. The market and the state have been used as instruments of reform without any transfer of power to people.

The consequences are insecurity at work and low pay; falling living standards; high levels of immigration; and for many a sense of loss of belonging. We need a stronger and more connected society to reform our economy and share our prosperity more fairly. No Whitehall target will create it. People and politics have to make it.”

(1) Morris, W, (1884) Useful work versus Useless Toil, November 1884 https:// www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1884/useful.htm

Relational Thinking is a movement that is not affiliated to any political party. On this website we publish articles and opinion pieces that  align with our values. If you like to respond, why not leave a note here?

08 Jul

Why money can’t buy well-being

friendship

Iceland. A nation of geysers, vulcanoes, its people and financial systems shaken up by a banking crisis and with very satisfied people. At least, according to a study by the UK based Office for National Statistics (ONS) into the general well-being of countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It’s an interesting study that once more underlines that it’s not all about the money. It cannot buy happiness or life satisfaction.

The report underlines this by highlighting that although all OECD countries have experienced an increase per capita since the economic crisis set in, “life satisfaction scores have not recovered to pre-economic downturn levels for more than half of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries”. This includes the UK that saw a nearly 5% increase in GDP per capita but not more satisfied people between 2007 and 2014.

The idea that prosperity and money were intrinsically connected came up after WWII and while the world worked in its recovery, it held true. Until in the 60s when other voices started questioning this proposition, as they were calling for other things to be valued such as human rights and the environment. This ‘change of mindset’  is captured in a well-known quote from Robert F. Kennedy from his speech at the university of Kansas in 1968:

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.

Although not immediately recognized, Kennedy had a point Harvard Business Review says in an article called “The Economics of Wellbeing”: “It gives succinct voice to almost all the major criticisms of GDP. The three main strands have been these: (1) GDP is, even on its own terms, a faulty measure; (2) it takes no account of sustainability or durability; and (3) progress and development can be better gauged with other metrics.” The last point has especially received support since his 1968 speech. Especially from those involved in the field of behavioral economics and the psychological research connected to it.

But where money cannot buy happiness or life satisfaction, it can help to create and sustain it through things like the delivery of services, access to good education and health care. The long queues in front of the banks in Greece and panicking pensioners, not knowing whether they will receive their pension this month, is a very current and clear illustration of this.

Checking in: How are you doing? 

The ONS compiled and organized data from different countries in a range of areas, from education to health and from employment to relationships. Regarding the latter the OECD is quoted as saying that “beyond the intrinsic pleasure that people derive from spending time with others, social connections have positive spill-over effects for individual and societal well-being. People with extensive and supportive networks have better health, tend to live longer, and are more likely to be employed”.

In the area of relationships/social networks the ONS gathered data around three questions:

  1. All things considered, how satisfied are you with your family life? A) Completely satisfied; B) Very satisfied; C) fairly satisfied.
  2. How satisfied, on a scale from 1 (being the lowest) – 10 (being the highest), are you with your social life?
  3. Who would give you support if you needed advice about a serious personal or family matter?

Why don’t you let us know how you score on these three points by emailing us at office@relationalresearch.org? In a few weeks’ time we will then report the results and give a ‘real time’ idea of how Relational Thinkers score when it comes to their relationships. Of course we’ll handle every contribution on the basis of anonymity.

24 Jun

Social Capital: we’re nothing without it

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Relate, the UK’s largest provider of relationships support, have launched a Best Medicine campaign “to put relationships at the heart of the NHS”. Their report details how “good quality relationships matter for our health and wellbeing and can improve health outcomes; but long-term health conditions can also have a significant impact on our relationships”. It goes on to argue that “it is important to ensure our relationships are resilient and robust if we are to draw on such relationships as assets to health and wellbeing.”

The evidence for the link between relationships and both physical and mental health is strong. Weak relationships can lead to unhealthy behaviour (for example substance abuse), whilst supportive relationships encourage health promoting behaviour, particularly for men (who are more likely see a doctor or change diet if encouraged to do so). Relationships also buffer stress with significant physiological benefits, whilst loneliness is known to damage health. A meta-analysis concluded that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death is greater than that of physical inactivity and obesity and comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol.

Relationships are also essential in the provision of care: 6.5 million people in the UK currently care unpaid for an ill, frail or disabled family member or friend. But 75% of carers were found by Carers UK to have difficulties in maintaining relationships and social networks due to the demands of caring. As one carer put it: “Friends have drifted away so I am exhausted from caring and have little support. I am becoming increasingly isolated and depressed.”

Over the last five years the Relationships Foundation has consistently argued for a more comprehensive family policy with clearly designated responsibility. Rather than it being seen as a narrow agenda around parenting, childcare and the funding of relationship support services, it needs to recognise how policy in all areas can both influence families and depend upon them. We’re therefore encouraged to see more relational approaches to policy being adopted across the political spectrum. The ConservativeHome website has just run a series on the family as the missing link in policy to promote ‘aspiration’ which quotes our assessment of the costs of relationship breakdown. Earlier in the year the Labour MP John Cruddas spoke at an event organised by the Relationships Alliance (of which Relate are a part). In referring to the problems that can be caused by weak relationships he concluded the:

“These problems aren’t a failure of public services or even the economy – though both these play their part. They are a failure of relationships. So we need to stop making policy as if grandparents, mothers, fathers and children exist in separate silos and not as part of a whole family. Throughout our lives we are dependent upon others for our wellbeing and sense of identity. Relationships give meaning to our lives. They bind us all together into society and give us our sense of belonging. We are literally nothing without them. …  We need government that helps create the conditions for families and people’s relationships to thrive.”

The Best Medicine campaign should therefore be seen as part of a wider movement to recognise the importance of our closest relationships, and the potential for many government departments to play a part in supporting them. Too often social capital, and particularly that which resides in families, is an invisible and neglected resource in policymaking. Relate make ten recommendations for ways in which relationships could be better addressed by the health system. These illustrate the kind of specific changes that are necessary of relational thinking is to turn into relational practice.

  1. The UK Secretary of State for Health becomes Secretary of State for Health and Wellbeing
  2. Couple, family and social relationships become a core part of the work of local Health and Wellbeing Boards
  3. Government establishes an inquiry into how relationships can be included in health policy frameworks, including outcomes frameworks
  4. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing commissions research into long term health conditions and relationships
  5. Public Health England establishes a National Health and Relationships Intelligence Network
  6. Directors of Public Health consider the best ways to gather data on the quality and stability of relationships to inform local authorities and commissioners
  7. Clinical Commissioning Groups and local authorities have a duty to undertake a ‘Family Test’ when considering new local policies and in the commissioning cycle
  8. Relationship support and impairment-specific charities partner to provide support
  9. Public Health England supports local authorities to embed plans to strengthen relationships and incorporate relationships into Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies
  10. The Department for Work and Pensions pilots a local ‘family offer’ with a focus on health and wellbeing, particularly on the couple, family and social relationships of people with long term health conditions.
22 May

Changing the Game for Drug Addicts

drugs for web

In January, we posted an article that briefly discussed a new book by Johann Hari about drug addiction. Today, Andre Van Eymeren, who worked for one of our member organisations ‘Partnering for Transformation’, writes a more in depth article based on Hari’s work.

What comes to mind when you think of drug addiction? Spaced out people, down and outers, alley ways littered with tags and needles, mental health issues, violence, the drain on society, people experiencing a lack of purpose and meaning, runaways. I guess for the most part the term conjures up fairly negative images and causes us to hold people suffering from drug addiction at arms length or further.

Some of the outcomes can of course be very scarey. People addicted to Ice for example can become violent at the slightest (perceived) provocation and the researchers are saying that the drug even begins to change brain chemistry. Currently they are not sure if this is reversible. All of this paints a pretty grim picture.

Enter into this dark landscape an article by Johann Hari, featured recently in  The Huffington Post. Based on the research for his book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, he “learned… that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.”

For Hari the journey has been a very personal one, beginning as a child trying to wake up a relative and not being able to. From that time he has mulled as I’m sure many of us have on what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? Learning from friends who have first hand experience, the pain of seeing a loved one battle with the ups and mostly downs of addiction and attempting to loose themselves from it and falling over and over again is excruciating. And in no way to blame them, for self-protection, eventually most family and friends remove themselves from the lives of the addicted person. Unfortunately this tends to have the effect of further cementing a lifestyle of addiction.

Hari writes, “if you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: ‘Drugs. Duh’” As you would be aware drugs have a strong chemical hook and so if we were to take them for a period of time and suddenly stopped the belief is our body would crave them.  This theory was established through tests on rats, carried out in America. A rat placed in a cage on its own with two water bottles, one plain water, the other laced with heroin or cocaine. Time and time again the rat would become obsessed with the latter bottle till essentially it killed itself.

In the 1970’s some alternate experiments were run by, Vancouver Professor of Psychology, Bruce Alexander. He built what came to be known as Rat Park. This cage had coloured balls, the best rat food, tunnels and friends. And again the two bottles were set up. This time the results were significantly different. The rats residing at Rat Park mostly shunned the drug laced water bottle, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. None of the rats living in the second happy environment became heavy users.

According to Hari and the studies he uses as evidence, returning soldiers from the Vietnam war provided a useful human equivalent. Many soldiers on deployment (20%) understandably used drugs to combat fear etc. When they returned 95% of that 20% simply stopped without the use rehab. What was different? Their environment. From being terrified everyday the soldiers returned to relatively pleasant home lives which left the need for the drug redundant.

Professor Alexander made a fascinating observation challenging the view that drugs are a moral failing as well as the more liberal opinion that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. He argues that addiction is an adaption. It’s got more to do with your environment than what is going on inside you. Of course your reactions to your environment may be another story. He re-ran the old experiments with the isolated rats, they became hooked, then he placed them in Rat Park and after a few twitches they got on with a happy life, addiction free, with no desire for the drug.

A further case for this theory of addiction is pain relief in hospital. For severe pain, patients effectively receive heroin at a much higher purity and potency than addicts on the street. After months of use hospital patients can simply stop. It virtually never happens that a patient then transfers their addiction to the street and they leave hospital trying to score on the way home. But the same drug wreaks havoc in the lives of users on the streets.

Hari points out, “…the drug is the same but the environment is different.” The hospital patient for the most part is going home to an environment where they are loved and cared for. The street user suffers continual isolation and rejection.

The issue then, according to Professor Peter Cohen, is not the drug but human bonding. We are created to bond to others, to form attachment, relationship. If these essentials go missing then we will bond with other things. For some this includes drugs of all sorts and others gambling and alternate addictive behaviours.

If we accept this theory of addiction then it is a huge challenge to the way we work with addicts. By in large the social services are not equipped to adapt to a relational approach to service delivery. Professionalisation of care and the perceived need for professional distance has meant in some cases a de-personalisation, particularly around people with complex needs, which are often compounded by drug addiction.

If we are to believe the points that Hari raises and take on board people’s need for bonding relationships, then as service providers the concern will not only be for the individual but for their network of relationships, their community if you like. Now many of these might be burnt but focusing on their relational web will be a starting point in the recovery process. Quite often people addicted to drugs will find themselves homeless and in boarding houses. How can housing providers work to ensure positive environments where relationships and attachments will form, which will negate the need for the drug. In Melbourne there are an increasing number of rooming houses that focus these concerns. Servants of Hawthorn and Magpie’s Nest are two examples.

This approach to working with people addicted to drugs also provides a window for churches, Rotary, Lions and other welfare minded community organisations. People with addictions often need new networks of relationships, opportunity to connect with people who will share life and journey with them. Obviously if there are family and friends left in the addict’s life who can provide these relationships in a positive environment that is a better option. But if these relationships have been burnt alternate connections are needed.

As humans we have an innate need to connect meaningfully with others, why then do we seem to have the propensity to deny this connection to people who it could be argued need it the most?

15 May

Is talent enough?

Germany celebrating

This week England cricketer Kevin Pietersen was told that he won’t be considered for selection for England this summer, thus effectively ending his England career. This announcement was made on the back of scoring an astonishing career high 355 not out for Surrey. Andrew Strauss, the new England Director of cricket, made the announcement, citing a “massive trust issue” as the reason.

This whole saga has brought the issue of team relationships in sport high up the agenda. How important is trust in sport? More broadly, how important are relationships in sport? Is it enough just to have the best players? Should coaches and managers care about team relationships?

With Kevin Pietersen, many ex-players have expressed their dismay at the decision, arguing that all that matters is that you have the best players on the pitch. Cricket itself however, is a different sport from many other. No-one bowls to a team mate or hits the ball to a team mate in cricket. Players play very much as individuals. It is well known that the great Australian team of the 1990s and early 2000s did not get on particularly well, yet they were incredibly successful.

Nevertheless, it is being increasingly recognised that strong team relationships are fundamental to team success. In invasion sports (sports where you invade the opposition’s side of the pitch), skill and talent are not in and of themselves enough.

Gain Line Analytics

Ben Darwin is a former Australian Rugby player who has recognised the importance of relationships. He has set up a company called Gain Line Analytics which looks at team cohesion and unity. He argues that there is a basic misunderstanding about how teams work. The general public and many sporting journalists look only to player skill and talent and a coach’s ability as indicators of sport success. The reasoning often goes that if a team is successful, it’s because their players are so talented, or they have a fantastic coach, or a mixture of both. What people are missing though, is the importance of relationships between the players within the team.

Gain Line Analytics have developed something called called the Teamwork index (TWI), which measures cohesion and unity of a team through the strength of the relationships between the players. They have found that the “higher a side’s TWI, the more unified the team, the more likely the club is to enjoy sustained on-field success, off-field stability, and heightened brand engagement.” Talent, skill and an excellent coach are therefore not enough. Indeed, team cohesion is so important that they calculate that you have to spend vast amounts of money to overcome the poor cohesion in a team.

Manchester United provides a good example of the importance of relationships in sport. After 26 years in charge of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and chose David Moyes as his successor. David Moyes had an excellent record at Everton and was Ferguson’s choice of successor, but he failed. There are a number of reasons for this, but a major factor seems to have been relationships. He failed to realize the importance of continuity in a team and the importance of relationships the players have with the coaches. When he came in, he immediately sacked the assistant Manager, the first-team coach and the goalkeeping coach. He also changed the way that Manchester United played. And the team ceased to be the world-class team it had been, dropping from first in the Premiership in Ferguson’s last season, to seventh.

Continuity

This cohesion is based primarily around ideas of continuity. For example, the length of time players have played together, whether they played together at Junior grade level etc. For example, the Canterbury Crusaders, one of the most successful sporting teams in the world over the last 15 years, have an exceptionally high TWI, built up on the fact many of them grew up playing rugby together. Their work shows how important continuity is for teams and organisations. To have effective relationships, whether that’s your understanding with your fellow centre-back in the football team, or an effective working relationship with colleagues in the office, continuity is needed.

Building these strong relationships, requires time. It’s not something that can be built in a few days, weeks or even months. It can take a long time for new players who have been brought in from another club, to reach their peak again, because relationships (and fruit of those relationships like trust, motivation and understanding), take a long time to build.

Therefore, high staff turnover is a particular problem, because it stops strong relationships being formed. In business,this decreases efficiency and hinders innovation, as well as bring additional costs in the form of recruitment.

Ben Darwin also argues that when you lose a player, you don’t just lose that player’s skills, but you lose that player’s relationships with others as well. You break the relationships that person had in the team and there by reshape the whole network of relationships within the team. Without knowing, you can replace several players on a team with more talented players and actually undermine the success of the team.

Margaret Wheatley warns about this in business. Writing about the dangers of reorganisations, she argues that many “strategists focus on rearranging the boxes of the organisation without realising that they’re ripping apart the networks of relationships employees constructed to help them perform better.”

To return to our question, Gain Line has shown that in sport individual talent is not enough. We are so often preoccupied with individual skill, that we miss that it is relationships that make teams and organisations work. Relationships need continuity over time to work and if we focus on this, for example by reducing staff turnover, or keeping in touch regularly with stakeholders, we can create healthy relationships that drive organisational success and ultimately personal happiness.

 

 

12 May

Migration and the issue of trust

South_African_flag_from_the_constitutional_court

Migration is an often discussed issue but in the last weeks it dominated the headlines. As the British public tried to make up their minds ahead of the General Election, with immigration one of the key issues, thousands of people from the Middle-East and Africa, desperate for a better future, lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, forcing Europe’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs into ‘crisis talks’. At the same time, ‘xenophobia’ raised its ugly head again in South Africa, with the government sending in the military to protect migrants from violent mob attacks by locals.

Mike Batley from the Restorative Justice Centre in South Africa writes that sending in the military, although perhaps necessary to restrain violence, will not fix the problem: “What is needed now more than ever is the understanding from the field of conflict transformation that incidents of violence cannot be understood in isolation from the deep historical, structural, cultural, relational and personal contexts within which they occur. It is only when these roots are identified that a horizon of the future can begin to be imagined. Such an approach goes beyond negotiating solutions and builds towards something new, to quote John Paul Lederach, a pioneering thinker in the field. This approach indicates the need for reflective inquiry, for opening up spaces for debate, dialogue and conversation.”

Talk to each other

At a symposium held by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in South Africa, participants acknowledged that South Africa is still a deeply traumatised nation that needs the kind of leadership from government, private and public sector that will help it to find healing. Another important outcome was the call for engagement, “to begin to have difficult conversations”.

South Africans, IJR says, “need to honestly and openly talk about race, racism, white privilege, xenophobia and the social capital of a white skin. We encourage you to talk to each other and not to use online platforms to share your opinions about these topics. And not to talk about the issue from the outside – but have debates and engagements in township communities. It is easy for outsiders to propose solutions if they stand outside the lived realities on the ground.” Engagement also “actively contributes to up-skill less fortunate communities through engaging with local community and culture groups. And understand your country – act not only when things happen but be involved consistently and participate on an ongoing basis to contribute to change in South Africa.”

Not to be trusted

Talking to each other and engaging with the issues together with those are who affected by it most are all tools for building trust and strong relationships. Sociologists Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley go a level deeper and argue that it is the lack of relationships that has fueled the kind of violence South Africans and their foreign guests have witnessed in the last weeks.

They write:

The breakdown of family cohesion in mostly fatherless township households has eliminated shame and neutralised moral inhibitions. Overburdened mothers, often without maintenance payments by the absentee fathers, are unable as sole breadwinners to provide the emotional intimacy and security needed by youngsters. Gangs function as family substitutes and identity enhancers. Underqualified township teachers have utterly failed to instill in pupils the political literacy that would help them comprehend global migration.

South Africans of all hues cultivate the exceptionalism of being in Africa but not of Africa. Newcomers from the alien, dark continent are not to be trusted. Well-qualified foreign science and mathematics teachers could function as role models, besides raising standards, but the teachers’ union does not welcome cosmopolitan non-nationals into its ranks, let alone being lectured on political education.

Competition for jobs by unemployed youth amounts to a cliché. Looting schoolchildren are not yet in the job market. Neither does alleged inequality between foreigners and locals explain the antagonism. Somali tenants mostly start from scratch with loans from relatives; they frequently employ locals, extend credit to customers and pay their rent on time. They work longer, harder and sell cheaper, because of the small profit margin and an ethos of “collective entrepreneurship”.

Self-hate by locals fuels envy of successful foreigners. In economic terms, societies around the world have benefited from the skills and hard work of newcomers. Yet such reasoning does not persuade losers in the competition for scarce resources, which is perceived as a zero-sum game.

Why can’t locals emulate the foreigners and learn from them? Why can’t they also buy wholesale and introduce smaller mark-ups? “We don’t trust each other,” answered many local respondents in our research. In an atomised space of marginalised people, mutual trust of responsible citizens amounts to a delusion. The very notion of community is problematic. At the most, an exclusionary solidarity exempts local shops from being looted, but not equally poor blacks from outside being attacked.”

Although very complex in some communities, to counter the ‘fear of foreigners’ (which is what ‘xenophobia’ amounts to), there needs to be a concentrated action on building trust between people, a foundational aspect of any relationship, whether it is in Africa or in Europe.

Question:  Is there anything you can do to build trust in your family and community?

Image of South African flag from the Constitutional Court by arboresce, Wikimedia