Monday, June 15, 2009

In praise of organizational dissatisfaction

Are you frustrated with an organization that you are a part of? Irritated by the gap between the ideal and the reality in the organization? If so, hallelujah!

My understanding is that Ignation spirituality tells us that a feeling of dissatisfaction in our life can be a sign that God is actively pursuing us, seeking to draw us closer to what is true and life-giving. From this perspective, the dissatisfaction is something to celebrate. The longing for something more might be a seed that God has planted inside of us.

I believe that the same can be true in our experiences with organizations that we are a part of. Dissatisfaction that we feel with the current state of the organization might be a sign that God is actively drawing the organization towards healing, towards a truer calling.

Of course, dissatisfaction might also be a cynical pattern that we are stuck in, which keeps us from moving towards what is good around us. In my work with organizations, I like to focus on noticing what is the good, life-giving core to the organization, and build on that. But I also believe that actively paying attention to dissatisfaction can also be life-giving.

I recently facilitated a series of community meetings that left me feeling "brought low." In facilitating these cross-cultural, cross-generational dialogues I felt humbled by my personal and professional limitations, noticing my urges to withdraw when conflict emerges. In the meetings, we also felt some of the dissatisfaction that members of this organization had, such as frustrations about cultural gaps and tensions within the building. When I came home after these meetings, I felt reminded that my own limitations can be a helpful reminder to turn things over to God and to the community around me. I want to be supportive of God's movements in organizations, and not just try to fix things on my own.

Last week I had the chance to think about ideas like this as I participated in a seminar about the "Theology of Institutions," which was organized by a group called Seeing Things Whole. Several papers published by Seeing Things Whole lay out five premises about the theology of institutions:
  1. Institutions are a part of God's order
  2. God loves institutions.
  3. Institutions are living systems.
  4. Institutions are called and gifted, they are fallen, and they are capable of being redeemed.
  5. Faithfulness in institutional life is predicated upon the recognition and management
    of multiple bottom lines.
What do you think? Does God love AIG?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

15 ways to cultivate spiritual grounding in work with organizations

Most of the work I'm doing now is Organizational Development consulting--usually contracting with organizations to facilitate long-term planning and goal-setting. In doing this work, I'm seeking ways to integrate my interest in the spirituality of organizations into that consulting. I want to incorporate spirituality into what I'm doing, while also respecting that most organizations I work with are not explicitly spiritual or religious groups. I am also keeping in mind that I have lots to learn.

This is a list of 15 ways I'm aspiring to begin this integration. They aren't all appropriate in all circumstances, and I certainly don't do all these things well--but I have found each one of these meaningful in at least one project.

1. Don't take myself too seriously. Remind myself that it is not up to me to fix any organization. There is a Higher Power up to something much better than anything I could come up with, and many in the organization are listening carefully for what is true and right for the group. If I listen carefully, I can play a small role in that larger movement.

2. Return to purpose, both for the organization and the individuals. Reflect on what is in sync with it, and what is not.

3. Affirm the gifts in the people and organizations that I am working with--both practical and spiritual gifts.

4. Pray for people and the organization--by myself, with friends, and, if way opens, with people in the organization I'm working with.

5. Frame decision making in organizations as discerning the calling of the organization--where the world's pressing need meets the organization's deep joy.

6. Notice who is on the margins of the organization system (and systems connected to the organization). Go to them, listen, and incorporate that input in planning.

7. Meet individually with key leaders in the organization and other involved staff. Ask how organizational changes and challenges fit with their own personal and spiritual changes and opportunities.

8. Support deep and effective collaboration among organizations and individuals that is not ego-centered or self-centered, so no one organization self-interest is dominating a partnership.

9. Call attention to professional development in those I work with (and myself) that includes ways to open our hearts, minds, and wills. Reflect together on the mental models and emotional habits that could allow more effective action in the workplace. The language of "personal mastery" in some work cultures taps into this.

10. Focus on values they'd like to guide the organization. Build consensus about what these should be and how they apply.

11. Ask for stories of where the life-giving energy is in the organization, using Appreciative Inquiry language and processes.

12. When individuals and organizations are hitting walls, look for openings where we can notice and trust new ways of being that are emerging, letting go of ego and control.

13. Invite community building within the organization, at whatever stage of community they are at. Look to conflict as a way to deepen community, drawing on circles and other forms of community-building.

14. Ask about the organizational and individual shadows that hide behind the strengths. Ask how these shadows are related to, and what they can teach us. Acknowledge my own shadows.

15. Develop a shared vision for the communities they are seeking to build. Allow that vision to bring together diverse gifts to make it happen.