So often meetings are seen as a waste of time or a waste of energy. it is such a shame, since in reality people coming together is one of the ancient ways we as humans have been able to harness our group wisdom. Meetings can be a catalyst for creativity and connection. It’s time to take them back. Find out more here
There is a simple fact: Change is Constant, and we as a species have been doing quite well at living in it. It is time to re-examine the conventional wisdom that says otherwise. I have found that opening my mind to this fact has profoundly influenced how I work with organizations. You can read my Guest Bog posted on the Genuine Contact website to find out more
When I began working as a consultant, it was with a commitment and desire to make things better for people and the organizations in which they worked. I was idealistic and wanted to make a positive contribution. As I began to learn and work in the field, I was taught to look for the problems that existed within people, organizations, and teams. I learned to work with many tools and develop interventions that helped me put my finger on “the problem that needed to be fixed,” and then create ways to “fix” them. Along the way, I took on attitudes and beliefs, mostly implicitly, that helped me to quickly see the problems presenting themselves in the world
Does this sound familiar? You are tired, overtired, at the end of your rope? You have too many things going on, you haven’t eaten well or moved your body in hours. And just at that moment, something important comes up. Perhaps it is a difficult conversation you have to have with a colleague, client or friend? Perhaps an unforeseen opportunity crosses your path requiring quick action? Or maybe you get a flat tire or run out of printer ink? And there you are, exhausted unclear and unprepared physically, mentally and emotionally for what is in front of you. You go on anyway, but at what cost?
You may get through it all, you may even have results you are okay with, but at what cost to your spirit, body, emotions, and mind? At what cost to your friends, colleagues, and family? If you are always in overdrive, how sustainable is that? How much better would things work if you were working and acting from a state of increased wellness?
Now, this idea is not new and it is happily gaining increased traction. Many people, especially young people entering the workforce, are no longer willing to sacrifice their health and well-being for a job. Organizations are implementing mindfulness and fitness courses on site, they are encouraging staff to be careful of their personal health, and that is a welcome shift.
However…what about the health of the organization as a whole?
Healthy Organizations are like healthy people, more able to handle what life throws at them.
With the increased understanding that when someone is healthy they are better able to do their work and to flourish in their life, it should come as no surprise that if the organization is also healthy it too will be more able to thrive.
Often organizational health has been seen in narrow terms such as within finance. We pay the bills have made a profit, increased market share, thus we are healthy. However, how healthy can an organization be, if these material results are obtained at the sacrifice of the health and well being of the people within the organization? How can organizations with endemic burnout and depression of their staff be considered healthy? What sort of health is there when people are mercilessly bullied by co-workers and their superiors, sometimes even to suicide and homicide? It is impossible to speak about organizational health when one of the most important parts of the organization, the people who make it up, are living in an environment that is not healthy.
Materially you can look at:
Are the physical conditions in which people work conducive to life and health?
Are finances in order?
Are the structures within the organization actually supporting the organization to do its work, or do they stand in the way of that process?
Are the products and services able to be produced without excessive harm to those who are producing them and to the environment?
Human Relations wise you can look at:
Are there good, clear communication lines between people?
Is there transparency about what is within and without someone’s authority?
Is there time and space for colleagues to speak, to work our their ideas together and to reflect?
Are the purpose and values of the organization clear to people? Is it clear how each person’s contribution is part of the larger whole?
And…Organizational health transcends the material
Organizations are more than just human relations and physical things, there is any number of more numinous factors that can influence the organization’s health, just like they can an individual’s health. These are more intangible factors that nonetheless have a powerful impact on the health of organizations, just like they do on people.
Some of these intangible factors include the sense of connection to deeper meaning, the sense of alignment and the sense of passion for what the organization stands for in the world. One way you can say it is that the organization is infused with a sense of soul.
Do people feel connected to the organization’s greater purpose?
Is there a sense of connection and genuine support of one another within the organization?
Do you see involvement and engagement that allow people to take action in service of the organization?
In short, does the organization feel alive and courageous?
As with people, when there is a focus on these issues that aid in creating an environment of “health” throughout the organization, there is a greater chance that the organization as a whole will be able to confront unexpected challenges in an elegant and effective way, just like you and I when we are rested and in strong and feeling healthy.
In a social environment that is asking of us to constantly react to unexpected, challenging and often difficult circumstances, focussing and building organizational health can be the best way to ensure that your organization can rise to challenges it faces. Indeed it may even lead to difficulties becoming almost like “rites of passage” for the whole system, as it rises to the tests that it faces and works in a courageous way to address what may even be insurmountable hurdles.
Some time ago a colleague mentioned a sales team she was working with. They were constantly under pressure to raise their sales goals in a highly competitive market. The goals set often seemed unattainable, and sometimes downright mean. Since the team was healthy they would have morning staff in the form of a rugby huddle. When they heard the next challenge they would a great chant together, something like: “like let’s go for it,” before they moved out into the store, with a will and exuberance to make the impossible happen — often they did, sometimes they didn’t but that didn’t matter, they knew they were doing what they could. Their team was healthy, that is what organizational health can do.
(You can also find this article and more of my writing at Medium.com)
Especially in our hectic and future oriented societies, it is important to remember and practice reflection. In this guest blog I speak about the way good reflection supports action in the future. Read more
Collective wisdom is all around us when we create the conditions for it to show up.Read More
Thinking the same is not a pre-requisite for being able to find alignment on approaching challenges and tackling difficult issues. Open Space Technology is a method that enables you to allow difference to create transcendent knowledge and great solutions.Read More
“Thank you for helping to remind me that the people I work with are human beings.”When you do you can resolve an ongoing conflict by recognizing the full humanity of each person.Read More
In October I had the opportunity to give a talk at conference organized by the COS Collective on the subject of Wise Action and Uncertainty. During a stormy week in October we explored how people from different sectors of society both personally and professionally can address the question "What do you do when you doing know what to do?"
The question triggered me to think deeply about this question, not only what do I do, but what is it that has helped me to find the deeper wisdom hidden in those moments where it seems that there is no clarity on what to do, or even on what may be happening.
What I have realized is that in these moments the best support, the best action to take is to let go of wanting to "know what to do" and focus and rely on the CONDUCT that the method I use prescribe, to live fully the behavior, values, protocols and structures that form the foundation upon which "knowing" can be built.
I'm very grateful to have taken part in the conference and all the deeper insight the experience gave me: Set aside the illusion that you can ever "know" anything on an analytical level when you are engulfed in a moment uncertainty and radical change and let the knowing come out of what you do and the way you do it.
Years ago I moved to the Netherlands to work in a Dutch professional University. I was surprised that many students had real difficulty with even the basics of writing academic papers. In talking to my colleagues, I found out that were very frustrated about this. Their explanation for it was that it the students weren’t intellectually curious.
Being new, I asked what sorts of support they had for learning academic writing at the school. Did teachers offer guidelines to help students understand what they wanted? Did they give them any kinds of explicit help? It turned out that the answer to these questions was consistently no.Read More
Have you ever noticed that when when you’re not feeling well nothing goes right? Maybe it’s physical, a flu or dealing with the flair up of a chronic condition. Maybe it’s emotional, you had a disagreement with a friend and it is wearing on you. In these moments almost everything is just one thing too much? Even needing to make an extra phone call or taking an extra trip to the store can be complicated.
When you feel healthy and happy these same ‘problems’ can even be fun challenges, not to mention how much better able you are to deal with the big stuff that comes your way. Let’s face it, when you are healthy, in body, mind, spirit and emotions, life is easier and you’re better able to deal with whatever life brings you. Given this knowledge it only makes sense that we invest our time and energy in our own health.
So what would happen if we applied this same idea to organisations?Read More
In 2009 I was at a Summer Leadership Intensive from the Genuine Contact™ Program. The facilitator, Birgitt Williams, invited the group to reflect on this question: “How much structure do you (personally) need in order to feel free?” I have carried this question with me ever since. It informs my work facilitating emergent, participative and co-creative organisational development.
At that time, we were staying at conference centre near a lake deep in the German countryside. Along with the human participants, many animals seemed to also be “participating” in the learning. This particular day, Birgitt had seen a slug on the path. She mentioned that when se saw it — totally unprotected, it’s soft flesh fully exposed — making its way across to the grass she wondered if that sort of open structure would be comfortable enough for her to go out and explore the world. Would she feel free or would it paralyse her.Read More
All around there is a powerful message that we need to change — change our consumer habits, change the way we work, change how we eat, how we organize, CHANGE. Combined with this CHANGE is that we need to do so NOW. There is a powerful credo that change and innovation is key to our organisations, our lives, our planet.
As a consultant and facilitator working with social innovation and dedicating my life to transformation, I can’t say that I disagree with this desire to see organizations, people, and our earth be healthy and balanced. I also long for a more peaceful, sustainable world operating in harmony both among people and with the rest of nature. It’s not only the way I earn my living, it’s something that arises from a deep sense of passion within me.
And yet….bombarded with all of these messages every day, I notice that something disturbs me. Increasingly I feel the shrill tone that whispers of desperation and judgement, that we are somehow ourselves insufficient, that we are not enough.Read More