Work is Changing
The way people view what work is, what it is for, and how to collaborate with each other inside an organisation is changing. The result of these changes is growth of a fascinating tree of “new work”, with branches of self-organisation, agile reaction to changes, wholeness and self-realisation at work, more humane work spaces, coworking, worcations and many more, and what’s most exciting of all is the trunk of this tree that seems to be our deep need to do meaningful work. We certainly like the sight of this tree and believe in the importance of its further growth, and so in this article we would like to take a closer look at this phenomenon, its roots and some of its branches, as well as discuss this in the context of the personal and societal change towards what we like to call the Embodied Culture.
Some Precursors of Change
The changes happening around the concept of work span many levels of magnitude - starting with the question of what work is, what forms and ways of collaboration between people in an organisation are emerging, as well as considering what an organisation as such is actually about, questioning the business models and trying to find a lever for subjects as immense as economy and society at large.
Let’s throw out there some of the buzzwords and names that we should be familiar with as we move forward. Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco, an industrial conglomerate in Brazil, shares in 1993 and 2003 in his books Maverick and The Seven-Day Weekend the success story behind turning his business from traditional top-down control shop into a place where trust and self-organisation of employees played a decisive role in taking the company through hard financial crises and coming on the other side as an incredibly successful business. Agile Manifesto is published 2001 following a mountain retreat of 17 software engineers, who all felt a critical need to rethink the way software companies at that time operated, and thus defined simple but profound principles that were to shape the culture of several generations of software companies in the following years until today, and significantly influence (be it for some indirectly) the thinking of each startup or existing business nowadays around how they should treat their staff, products and customers. And finally, in 2014 a Belgian management consultant Frederic Laloux releases his book Reinventing Organisations, in which he does a brilliant job of summarising innovative organisation management principles of a dozen of companies on both sides of the ocean that he interviewed, where these organisations are presented by the author as all following the Teal paradigm - a form of consciousness and worldview, which is the newest stage in psychological and social development according to the theories of social psychologists and philosophers like Ken Wilber.
As much as these references certainly influenced many organisation leaders and employees in the past years, the urge for changing the work experience is also simply part of the zeitgeist and many organisations found themselves changing their operational principles and culture out of what probably seemed pure common sense to them. Whatever the case, others got curious and started to pick up on the success seen in companies that adopted such agile and teal thinking, hopeful to replicate this success to a new area. This interest can be purely pragmatic, as many companies started talking about agile in teams and projects or business agility, often treating the need to create a more humane work environment as a necessary evil on the path to faster and higher profits, or the last hope to survive in an extremely dynamic market. At the same time, many forward thinkers and practitioners in the field of education were happy to see agile principles as they were researching and experimenting in making schools more agile too. Projects like Agora Roermond sprang out of this desire to create a more meaningful and child-centered learning experience, and its founders joined forces with other education innovators internationally by creating Agile in Education Compass in 2016.
The community around principles of new work culture has been developing in the last 5 years faster than before. Some companies have chosen to contribute actively to this development such as XING, who is clearly showing leadership in this context in the German speaking space - running a New Work Portal, organising their New Work Sessions in several locations across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well a yearly New Work Experience event, which has grown to bring together hundreds of people from companies who have inspiring stories to share, or those who need this inspiration to start their own transformation journey.
There are also many businesses that sprung out of this new market demand, some clustering around the needs for team or individual trainings in existing (agile) methodologies, others going further to explore new terrains where agile-minded thinking is still relatively new, such as HR, or top level portfolio management.
Other companies have come into existence with the main purpose to support this change of work culture and ambitions to influence a larger societal changes as well. Last month we met with Simon Berkler from TheDive and sat down to talk about the new forms of collaboration and running organisations in their office in Berlin Wedding. Simon is a co-founder of TheDive - Berlin based transformation hub for new forms of leadership and organisations, involved in a multitude of activities, from business consulting to a rich program of workshops and courses for the community of leaders willing to change their companies to Teal model. Talking to Simon inspired us to write this article, and reflect more about the nature of New Work and some of the core principles involved in shaping this experience, both on personal and organisational level.
Simon met us in their well-lit, personally and beautifully designed office in one of Berlin’s historical backyards in the neighbourhood of Wedding. The whole space seems to have been a factory floor in the early 20th century, now turned into an open space, limited by cupboard walls with a couple of big spaces for community events, surrounded by noise-protected rooms with large windows.
Simon immediately enkindled us by his thoughtful and mature attitude, grounded attention, humility and sparkling energy of someone who is determined to move forward being in tune with what wants to emerge from the dance between reality and his vision. He found himself early in his career doing brand marketing from the end of 90s until 2011. Even if this work was strategically intriguing and even if there was a lot of positive energy around being an entrepreneur and working with a team of supersmart people, there was always an aftertaste of emptiness and an unconscious thrive for contributing to “something bigger out there”. It took him several years and an eventual personal crisis, before he had the chance to step out and look around. When he returned after a year of traveling, several impactful encounters and an intense personal journey, he started doing systemic organisational development training, where he met his future TheDive partner. Simon says it felt then like a flow bringing him to the right places and discussions with the right people, and the collapse of earlier business and personal life structures made way necessary for new structures to emerge. In between those, like a lobster in between changing skins, it was a very vulnerable and therefore sensitive state of being, which helped him sense what he really felt was important for him to do in life. “Together with other future founders we found ourselves engaged in inspiring discussions on transformation and evolution of the way we work and the economy works, and the ingredients that play role in such transformation”, says Simon, and before he knew it, TheDive was organically there.
TheDive Purpose and Activities
What drives Simon and his 18 team members as well as 25+ partners behind theDive is the idea of being “a part in this overarching path of evolution which is going on, contributing as much as we can”. TheDive is trying to leverage the economy lever, yet their path to transformation of the economy and thus society at large lies in a chain of smaller consequent steps:
transforming collaboration, how people relate to each other and do things together in an organisation
transforming organisational structures, processes, and culture as a whole
changing business models
transforming economy and thus having an impact on evolution of society at large
To accomplish these steps, TheDive are conscious they need to be involved in a broad variety of activities. One activity is helping companies to transform their work culture, whereas they prefer to call themselves “organisational therapists” rather than consultants, as the key focus is on assisting the organisation to undergo the change using all the existing company’s resources and creativity. Another one is designing and building physical spaces that enable change to happen more naturally. But an even larger and most impactful activity TheDive is engaged into is growing and driving the community of like-minded people, aiming to connect people with each other and provide a fertile soil for new projects to spring out from. There is a rich curriculum of learning experiences of different formats, from an evening meetup to multi-day courses happening in TheDive’s rooms almost daily.
Living the principles of self-organisation and following up on new ideas pretty much instantly, there are many more final products TheDive members have been bringing into life: a monthly magazine, an audio book of Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations, interviews with other companies experimenting with New Work put together as an interactive map, and certainly others in progress we don’t yet know about.
The Triangle of Change
There is more in the foundation of TheDive’s work than the idea of creating a happy working place and healthy collaboration culture. Simon is clearly looking deeper into the subject of life-serving economy and the ethical focus being primary in any business activity, rather than its purely rationalistic business gain. As we spoke, he drew a triangle with his hands to explain the mental picture that describes three aspects that are important for him. One external - the collaboration that happens between you and other people in the organisation, the organisational models that a company can implement to drive further change. Next one is personal, or what he called “internal infrastructure”, and this one is more subtle. It’s easy to design a new org chart and start a new process, but as long as our personal values, habits and belief systems are old, it’s just going to be cosmetics and would hardly bring us to a significantly other place than where we are now. And as many examples show, when times get rough one tends to fall back into the old habits. The third aspect is about the business model, and it needs to be integral and avoid to create what the Swiss economist and proponent of the ethical economy Peter Ulrich describes as the kind of schizophrenia where one would leave her or his personal values at home when coming to work to run the business. “Integrating economic and social/planetary success is the key, and it is possible”, continues Simon. It is normally perceived in “either-or” dichotomy, the image we all have is that one is either a successful bastard, or planet-loving loser. “Both can be integrated and you can earn as much as you want, as long as you don’t harm anything or anyone, or better even when you contribute.” Once we are on this path, it becomes crucial to review how we define success of a company - a bottomline of black and red numbers isn’t going to work anymore, and as a company we start talking about the impact we have, worldwide as well as on the local community.
For TheDive, the art of transformation lies in balancing these three aspects, and also acknowledging that each has their own tempo. External aspects are faster to change. They need to be supported by internal aspects. The more people turn towards their honest personal transformation, the faster the system changes. As much as we cannot have responsibility over the others’ lives, we do have responsibility over our own. Simon is aware that as “curators of change” they can provide space for transformation to happen in an organisation, but then everyone is responsible for their own personal change.
Let’s now take a step back and reflect on some fundamental topics, such as the nature of work and organisations.
Work in the early days of human civilisation used to be (as much as we can trust historical research) a simple daily mundane activity aimed at personal survival or that of a family or a bigger community. In the following centuries work was more and more formalised and even institutionalised to support society’s growth, but the widely shared understanding of what work is and what it is for doesn’t seem to have developed much further from its original meaning of pure survival. Most people today even in so-called developed societies tend to look at work that way, and therefore clearly separate it from leisure, hobbies and fun. Work is a race that education systems prepare us for, from early years of kindergarten to school and universities, and the higher we climb this preparation ladder the clearer is the message we hear - once out there in the world of work, you can either succeed or fail, and now is the time to prepare to have more chances for success.
As we (authors of this article) were growing up in the former Soviet Union this kind of thinking about education and work was given to us as kids as something not to be doubted. Later moving around the world and meeting other people we were both relieved and appalled to realise that this mindset is quite universal, and unless you grew up in an indigenous tribe or went to a Waldorf school you are doomed to think that way regardless where you live on the planet. This starts to be especially disturbing as you realise that half of your school friends ended up in unsatisfying jobs, and many of those who seem to be enjoying their professional lives in a healthy way initially were not qualified as “future success” by the systems they grew up in.
There have however always been professions who did their work out of a larger vision than personal survival - artists, philosophers, some scientists. Paying one’s bill was always present as a motivation, but was never a driving force and thus many of these people would find themselves doing multiple jobs for survival and dedicating themselves to one work, for its importance.
What is happening now is that the luxury of thinking about the bigger purpose of the work we do is becoming available to more people, more companies, possibly even to the majority of small and mid scale businesses today, in the so called developed countries.
If you think of it, the economical conditions for this development have been available for a while now, and it’s as if by some inertia that businesses have been operating as soulless machines designed to bring profit to the few shareholders. Some markets are different than others, but if you take IT and more specifically the software development sector, the conditions for turning away from survival as raison d’être of a business have never been more perfect than these days. Almost anyone working in the industry - developers, IT architecture or security people, graphic designers, digital marketing and other digital skills specialists, as well as coaches supporting the development of digital companies today can find well-paid positions easily, so survival risk is no longer playing its former dominant role. This is very close to the unconditional income idea, which has been circulating for a while now and started taking experimental shape in countries like Finland lately. Living in a country like Germany and working in the digital sector you can relax from the stress of survival instinct on the background of the good social system and a favourable market that needs you all the time, and think why the heck you are spending most of your time coding anyway, and whether there is anything you could do now that would make your overall existence on this planet slightly more meaningful and easy to grapple with when you are looking back from your deathbed.
New Work is New
The movement of New Work that TheDive is part of could hardly be imagined 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. Our thirst to re-think what work is could be a reaction to soulless work experience that was established as norm in the 20th century pretty much throughout most countries. There is certainly a way to look at this trend as part of even bigger picture encompassing the development path of the entire Western civilisation and although it would probably be too simplistic to think of it as a linear historical path, it is exciting to see how developmental psychologists and philosophers like Abraham Maslow and Clare W. Graves, and later Ken Wilber present it in their models where “Teal” or “2d tier” development phase of human consciousness takes a fresh and mature new look at most of life phenomena including work, while integrating many diversities. From this new perspective, both life and work as part of life, are seen as a journey of personal and collective unfolding towards our true nature, rather than survival, compliance to orders or achievements - as would be the case in the previous developmental stages.
Certainly, one must be lucky to be born in one of the economically developed and stable countries today, to relish this perspective. In countries like Belarus, Serbia or even Latvia that enjoys the EU membership status, the traces of earlier hardships are not only images in the grandma’s photo album - despite the outer appearance of capitalistic abundance and a growing bubble of software startups in the country capitals, the generations in their 50s and 60s still remember the frequent ups and downs of economy and don’t trust themselves to let go whatever even half-stable business they have now, and think about work as anything but necessary evil that supports their family’s survival. The younger generations in those countries would also be able to relax into the experience of New Work only if they have worked in prestigious sectors, such as IT or banking, and could fall back on some savings in the light of a non-existent social care system. New Work is clearly a phenomenon of the richest countries, even if examples like Brazilian Semco or FAVI in the poor north of France demonstrate that principles like trust and respect at work are able to yield universal results.
Most work in the past 50-100 years happened in the context of an organisation. Recently probably due to the economic conditions, the Internet and a diversity of digital jobs freelancing has been growing to unprecedented numbers, with multiple statistical sources reporting at least 40% of Generation Z to be freelancing, and these folks are going to be half of the world’s working population soon.
The majority of work however still happens in companies or non-profits, and this is where the culture of these organisations is what undergoes many mutations, due to or in parallel to the New Work phenomena. What is an organisation in the first place? Why do all these people come together to spend most precious hours of often most productive years of their life together, and often literally together - sharing same space or even same desk? The simple answer to these questions is money. Younger people join an organisation to exchange their talent and time for money that they could then use to pay their rent or financially support their newly created families. People with a little more work experience would add to this formula the working environment, as they know that stress and disrespectful attitude can quickly undermine the absolute value of the monthly wages. Some of us take a step further and start talking about the mission of the organisation as something that helps making the choice of your future employer. Either from consonance with one’s personal values or in order not to spoil your social image fewer people would choose nowadays to work for a company with questionable ethical base. An honourable mission is however a luxury not every company can be lucky to have. What if you happen to produce tyres? Or some industrial network devices? In FAVI, Laloux is telling us in his book, the company of 500 people is in the business of copper parts for automotive clients, and brainstorming for several days as a whole company about the bigger purpose of their organisation the best they could come up with was creation of a favourable and respectful work environment in the north of France, where work is scarce in general, and in addition to that all they do they do with love to their clients. Probably, this is the best most organisations out there can come up with when looking for a bigger meaning of their business. At Targetprocess, a software company in the business of agile portfolio and project management and headquartered in Minsk, Belarus, the questions about bigger purpose never came up until 10 years down their company history, when the company was living through difficult financial times and had to look closer at what people are the right people and what values unite them. The best answer that surfaced after a series of internal workshops was that their software should support the bigger change of agile transformations and New Work in the modern organisations by offering a visual and intuitive work management solution. And create a good working environment in Belarus - a secondary mission that always works unless you are in a silicon startup mecca surrounded by unicorns.
How many companies out there do ask themselves the question about their purpose, and how many investors behind such companies share this thinking and are ready to invest into an organisation with good culture, hoping for natural results due to innovation coming out of a healthy working environment, rather than cutting “soft” expenses on self-organisation workshops and firing the CEO who talks too much about the unpractical and esoteric stuff? We don’t know. Judging by rather diverse examples from Reinventing Organisations and more and more stories popping up in the New Work community, there may be not too few.
Each organisation has its culture. Normally it is there from the start and depends a lot on the personal values and norms of the company’s founders, as later people who join the company usually follow the atmosphere that is already there; the bigger the company grows the fewer chances remain to reset these norms and values anew.
At TheDive Simon talks about their culture as an Operating System, which defines how the core team and the network of contributors work together. TheDive OS is inspired by existing systems for mature organisations like holacracy, but instead of copying it they have rather appropriated multiple elements they found fitting, such as its structure of semi-autonomous circles or several meeting types (feedback, governance, operational).
TheDive OS also integrates an embodied attitude by trying techniques that help to stay awake and attentive. For example, most meetings have small rituals that help its attendees to be centered in themselves and mindful of their own intentions, the bigger perspective, and messages coming from others. As a result, one finds herself combining the competency of doing concrete work (e.g. designing a workshop) and self-reflection through mindfulness (what am I doing, why am I doing it?). What often emerges in such cases is the possibility of holding paradoxes or tensions and working with multiple perspectives. For Simon it is clear - with different roles he has within the organisation he has to wear different hats, and this is something that takes time to learn. For instance, that as a founder one is not the boss of everyone. Founder’s circle is the only place where being a founder is relevant.
Each meeting at TheDive starts with a proper check-in and ends with a proper check-out. This helps to let everyone arrive with all that is there, instead of pretending it isn’t. To bring this properly into your OS it helps making such a practice into a routine. Following such routine process is a path to becoming a master of something. Other meetings start with mindfulness meditation in silence. Techniques like Clearing the Air are practiced often to help address tensions (which Simon admits always come up, and it is best if you don’t avoid them but rather use for evolution and consciously learn from them).
At some point in the history of the Western civilisation human quest for a bigger meaning in this world became so critical that many religions, smaller sects and philosophies emerged competing in answering this question. Christianity happened to win this race and satisfy the thirst of the philosophic quest of people of that time. The mystical and totally poetic work of some among the many of spiritually inspired individuals made their way into the Bible - a book that probably only Harry Potter can try to compete with in terms of spread or influence. We won’t attempt here to further explain the certainly complex and inscrutable influence, which Christianity has had on the current mainstream mindset dominating the way we build and run organisations and collaborate in teams. Let us however propose that as much as Christianity helped humans to answer questions around the meaning of our existence and thus alleviate the stress coming from the need of daily survival and suffering, this new cosmogonic structure it created made us ironically both to slaves of a larger order and to masters of this planet, by giving nature and other living forms only a subordinate practical place (“...They will be yours for food.”) Thus, living in hierarchies probably felt so natural to most of us, as long as we lived in that paradigm.
So can we work together without hierarchies? Laloux is talking about natural, fluid hierarchies of recognition, reputation and skill, often called Actualisation hierarchies, which normally come in place of subordinate hierarchies of Domination in a teal organisation. Indeed, the hierarchies we know from many traditionally managed companies, but also from hospitals, academic world or schools we went to as children - are hierarchies of domination, based on power games, discrimination and often lack of respect. Looking at this pattern long enough we cannot help the feeling we am watching a movie about old times. We are lucky that these times are gone and that hopefully where we live today looking out of the window we see democracy’s advance of our society. Even if it feels like a lot more could be done, the achievements in most democratic countries today truly allow us to say farewell to this pattern of disrespect and sex-, race-, age- or title-based subordination. And even if legal systems, trade unions and pure common sense are all there to support new ways of organising people’s collaboration, we sometimes keep falling back to the old paradigm we learned from school, old films, or our first job, and ask our boss what we should do tomorrow.
To come to this type of relationship with colleagues in an organisation, it is crucial that the organisation’s leadership sets the stage where all individuals are considered as equally valuable and worthy of respect. Healthy collaboration is however also a skill that can and must be trained, in order to grow the new culture and not fall back on old patterns of competition, politics and elbowing your way on a career ladder. Laloux comes back to this again and again in his book - teal organisations are not governed by chaos, there is a lot of structure in place, this structure is however based on healthier and more sensible foundation, and is strengthened by a variety of existing practices, such as conflict resolution trainings, tools like advice process for autonomous decision making, and embodiment trainings that foster more trust in yourself and each other.
Since the times of industrial revolution specialisation became the way to organise and control the quality of the complex whole, by controlling its pieces. A lot of this complexity is only a result of us looking at organisations as other kinds of machines, which if designed and maintained well, should operate properly. Laloux is giving us beautiful examples where the need for such complexity falls apart as soon as we trust each other to do the work we came here to do, and introduce only the cultural aspects that should help self-organisation to thrive, thus removing all the redundant roles. Culture should be mature for self-organisation to happen. Training in how to run meetings, how to listen, to coach each other - is something they do for all new teams at Buurtzorg. Especially in a fast growing company self-organisation isn’t easily adopted - hiring process should filter for individuals who have this skill, or else provide proper onboarding and training in it.
So how does that work for an organisation where multiple (sometimes hundreds) of projects have to be prioritised, planned and run in parallel? Laloux gives examples of Sun Hydraulics and FAVI - two engineering companies of several hundreds employees, where radically simplified project management works miracles. People choose where to spend their time based on the culture of continuous improvement, common sense and transparency. Nobody’s full time job is it to have a master view on all the projects running and make a heroic decision to stop, start, approve funds for or reschedule a project. This is even harder to imagine knowing we are talking manufacturing here, not a software startup. So where are all the Data Freezes, approval and validating cycles, and the frenzy and reciprocal blaming games between departments as the SOP (start of production) date is coming near? A mature culture of self-organisation may be the answer to a lot of project management problems, especially around so-called resource planning and capacity management. Mature agile companies have found that self-organising and motivated individuals have an enormous capacity for planning for right things to happen in the right time and avoid bottlenecks.
There is a lot of evidence from other spheres of life which support the notion of self-organisation and emergent organisational structures. In his book “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software” Steven Johnson brings multiple exciting examples for collective wisdom to appear in places we hardly expect, our vision blurred by the hierarchical model we once were told should explain how things get done in this life. Not only ants and bees can function without a central command role and be very effective - our human body is a place where these phenomena happens every second, if only we can acknowledge this for a moment.
Boundaries of an Organisation
Many of us work in coworking spaces these days. At Foresta we certainly do like to navigate in the multitude of coworkings, be it in our hometown Berlin or other cities across Europe as Foresta is a nomadic soul and we like to be invited to bring our work to new places. And being in a coworking is mostly a positive experience, as you get to work in a well designed space, in a productive atmosphere, with good quality Internet and a possibility to meet diverse new people over tea or lunch. In Berlin the places you can find us at are Factory, AgoraCollective, Betahaus, and Co-creation Loft.
Coworking doesn’t always mean great culture. Especially now that coworking culture is turning more and more into a mainstream approach among freelancers and small startups, it is easy to come across places where outer appearance plays too big of a role - fancy design, good coffee barista, Friday beers and a table football is an easy recipe to follow, especially when there is investor money behind and a pressure for fast results. In such coworking places people don’t invest into the experience of work as much as they may do in their own organisation. An organisation is often more alive, it has soul, and people to care about why they are together. But what if they don’t? Then a coworking may be more like a living organism, or often even more alive and integrating experience for its members. Several coworking hubs we encountered have truly been able to create a space where even as a scattering of freelancers people share a lot of values, and end up jointly creating new products or services that can easily leave behind any traditional organisation, which runs on earlier glory and hardly produces anything new and exciting, nor has anything in its mission its members would like to identify with.
Where is then the true boundary of an organisation? And does it need to exist at all in the economy we are part of today? In Reinventing Organisations Laloux brings up an idea that when living in the Teal mindset, an organisation does no longer have the concept of business competition - if several companies share the same purpose, they will act as allies, supporting each other on their journey towards their common goal, not elbowing their way or trying to put each other out of business. When this happens, and if both organisations can even exchange experience, what remains to be called an organisation is a group of people with their unique culture and talents, which cannot be copied. What if two organisations of a completely different nature merge their efforts? When Jan Fasen, director of Agora school sat down to discuss with Seats2Meet, a Dutch platform for sharing workspaces inspired by the notions of social capital, what happens next is that Agora’s main school lobby becomes a coworking for local freelancers and companies - but one where the kids and adults mix together, too.
A lot of the change we are talking about here starts on a personal level. La Foresta was born out of this realisation, as well as out of our fascination with the beauty and diversity of living systems we find around us in nature. Life is full of organisms cleverly designed and put into this world out of the purpose we can be better off reflecting in our art than creating theories about. And so all the work we do at the Foresta Academy is dedicated to helping individuals and organisations develop the basis for personal and global sustainability. Talking about the concept of personal sustainability we mean one’s attention to the multitude of expressions we find moving inside each of us - emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical. Laloux writes that in the Teal paradigm we will find ourselves more directed by our inner compass than external factors, as well as striving for wholeness - both internally (integrating our rational with emotional, spiritual and physical selves), as well as with other humans and nature around. We find that this integration is deeply rooted in the kind of embodied awareness and attention that allows for noticing this inner compass and bringing it into the daily life when making own decisions or coming in relationship with others and the world around us. We call this embodied culture.
Below we would like to zoom in on some of the more specific principles of embodied culture that have been driving our work at La Foresta and which we found reinforced when both reading Frederic Laloux and talking to Simon Berkler at TheDive.
Wholeness is about bringing our full self to work, not just a functional persona required to perform specific tasks described in the job contract. As soon as I am fully myself at work, I will find myself more eagerly and naturally engaging with topics that really matter to me, be it related to the organisation’s culture, or the impact we have on the local community, or bigger topics around environmental, societal, political and economic changes.
Living systems theories tell us that everything is connected. The world is comprised of systems nested within other systems that are nested within other systems that are all interconnected with each other. The relationship between them is where the meaning and power lies. Everything exists in a continuous unfolding relationship to each other. If we look at people as holistic systems within their environments, physical wellbeing cannot be separated from the emotional, mental, social, or environmental wellbeing. Our wellbeing is inevitably connected to the wellbeing of the world around — the quality of food we eat, water we drink, air we breathe, the qualities of what we perceive, sense and interact with, including our relationships with other people. Learning to see any issue not separate but in a web of other issues it’s related to, is crucial to a holistic mindset and outlook.
If we look at an organisation as an organism, which has a life of its own and a life in a broader context, then not only sincere interactions with partners, customers and colleagues is what defines wholeness at work, but also how the organisation sees itself in the context of the local community (or larger global community). Is there anything we as an organisation can give to the community to contribute to its healthy development? Hosting meetups is something many companies do these days, probably partly from this feeling, and partly from the marketing and brand promotion strategy. Some others make a step further to start working with schools and inviting kids to hang around and learn some skills or broaden their horizon of potential future work opportunities. Or organise a dinner for elderly people living in the neighbourhood of the company’s office.
A step towards a greater wholeness, and therefore a greater integrity, is rooted in attention. It comes from the deep awareness of the diversity of human intelligence. Another word for attention is presence, referring to a state of being and perceiving grounded in the present moment rather than operating within some preconceived categories. To be there when we are there. This outlook has emergent qualities rather than fixated ones. There are multiple intelligences working in us, and the trick is to acknowledge that not only our mind’s story deserves to be listened to. In fact, a lot of deep and truly important realisations we have happen when the mind is more quiet and the doors open to hear other voices, such as sensations and feelings, intuitions and instinct.
Frederic Laloux talks a lot about emergent purpose of organisations, at the same time citing Parker J. Palmer, an educator and author of several books that we found inspiring. “Life is not asking us to become anything that isn’t already seeded in us”, Parker writes. So deeper listening is what is needed to uncover those seeds.
There are different ways to practice attention. Practices of embodiment help train this ability to become more attentive to one’s own experience, and also art and creativity in a larger sense, echoing the perspectives of Joseph Beuys, teach attention to the inner and outer world. Out of such a state of attention a different kind of action can take place, one that makes meaningful change possible. One that is based on seeing what is happening around us and understanding how we can contribute and take care of the world we are part of.
Collaboration is the art of working together with empathy and respect. We are most of the time surrounded by other people, and in an organisation we spend a lot of time with these people, sometimes more than we spend with our friends and family. One key element here is empathy - in the sense of really seeing the other person as he/she is, and be aware of each other’s values and needs. I see you and you see me - as we are in this moment, current situation, and not as projections of our unfulfilled wishes or old fears. Collaboration with other people out of a place where we are attentive to ourselves and to others does not call for subordinate relations.
Team-based work and the power of good teams is a message one hears a lot when reading success stories of companies who have adopted agile culture of work, or teal mindset. Many traditional companies treat employees as resources that are hired or dispensed of as needed - in those cultures collaboration is hardly possible. Organisations with collaborative culture put big value in creation of team spirit, growing environments of trust and collaboration. Collaboration is a blessing, but also a skill to learn. Honest and healthy criticism, ability to face and resolve conflicts are things that should be trained. These things are not that hard to master though if we come with the attitude of self-respect yet humility and genuine interest in the other person. The result may as well be that we agree we cannot work together - an outcome that can be respected and addressed by either changing teams or even leaving for an organisation with a more suitable culture. Deers and tigers can’t always have a peaceful meal together.
Yet in most cases conflicts just help release tensions or surface topics that have to be discussed, and when dealt with - the team moves forward enjoying the flow of collaboration with a shared goal, just as a jazz band is enjoying the jam, attentive to each other’s voices and excited about what may come next.
As much as specialisation helps raise great professionals, its by-products are deformed individuals and dysfunctional systems with a lot of bureaucracy and waste created by transition effort. Acknowledging diversity as our nature and source of more creativity, as well as seeking to see the big picture and beware of the sucking in effect of silos is what helps create energising and more humane working environments.
In New Work interdisciplinarity has established itself in the form of agile cross-functional teams and the desire to remove traditional silos and rather regroup around the value flows of the organisation, or value delivery to a customer. It also has to do with the concept of continuous learning and self-realisation strategies that many new companies like to foster in their culture. At Targetprocess, as well as many other companies we know, one of the important questions during hiring interviews is “How do you learn?”, and when on-board newcomers get support in learning new skills or explore new avenues of self-actualisation, following personal motivation in the context of what the organisation can benefit from. At FAVI, Jean-François Zobrist when still company’s CEO, has spotted a young employee with immense thrive for learning, and allowed not only to complete unfinished studies at company’s cost, but also invent his own new role in the company based on personal interests - as Laloux describes in his book.
Talking about their OS Simon uses the abbreviation PPP+P. The first Ps stand for People, Planet and Profit, whereas the last one was just added lately and stands for Poetry. Poetic aspects of life are often being underestimated in our daily lives, and especially in business.
By poetry we understand the feeling of wonder at the beauty and mystery of intrinsic qualities of life. Poetry is used here in the broader sense of the word, not necessarily related to the work of poets per se, but as an attempt to acknowledge and express the wonder and the intangible in our lives. Contrary to the linear, rational and explainable, poetry is about the feeling part of us, and attention to beauty. Beauty doesn’t have practical sense, despite attempts to explain it from evolutionary perspective.
Poetic attitude to life, also in the context of an organisation, helps in creating the culture which is more alive, and doesn’t have to be measured by pragmatic measures only.
The way we work today and all the changes happening around Agile, Teal or New Work is only part of the search for the new forms that we see happening now, and that we attempted to discuss in this earlier article. Many talk about change of paradigm from that of scarcity to that of abundance, which may sound counter intuitive in the times of ever growing world population and its claims over the limited resources of this planet, but sometimes the least intuitive approach brings the best results, especially as what we often refer to as intuition often feeds on the known phenomena, and a truly innovative leap can easily be accompanied with true discomfort. Are we really facing the growth of a new (teal) paradigm that could give an impulse for solving a variety of today’s challenges?
For us a more embodied culture is not only something that feels natural in our individual lives, but also something crucial nowadays, when technological progress has conquered the spirit of so many makers due to democratisation and the easy access to becoming a digital maker, and when more and more results of this progress become part of a daily life for billions, and if not taken with a mature attitude, can contribute to more personal and societal disembodiment and therefore a remaining gap between our visions and reality and persistence of unsustainable practices, individually and globally.
But those are also exciting times at the same time. Never before does humanity seem to have been at a level of maturity and scale of spread in questions of self-realisation, and systems - educational, organisational (and hopefully political and economical coming with it) that promote self-realisation and attention to personal and collective purpose and well-being. Values of collaboration, wholeness, and interdisciplinarity are popping up at an unprecedented frequency. We will share the spirit in which Laloux finishes his book, and which we felt when talking with Simon, by saying we want to contribute to this change with what we can, and only wonder what we all as a society could be capable of doing if we come with all fullness into what could be the new era for this planet.
As we can all be gardeners contributing our part, we hope that this tree will grow into a forest that bears plenty of new fruit of creative and meaningful products that can certainly change how we live. Can we make it together and see this forest grow?