Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stories of Faith and Organizational Life: Audio

I'm grateful for the many people who helped make the December 3rd event about Stories of Faith and Organizational Life happen. I'm happy to share these audio files from the night with you. Click twice on the play buttons to listen to the audio files.

The evening set out to explore the tensions between one's faith journey and the pressures of organizational leadership. We looked at how these tensions change us as individuals, and we also looked at how these tensions change organizations.

Welcome from Michael Bischoff (Clarity Facilitation) and Kyle Smith (President and CEO, Reell Precision Manufacturing)

"Thinking Institutionally, Thinking Theologically"
Michael J. Naughton
is the Moss Chair in Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas and the director of the John A. Ryan Center for Catholic Social Thought. He also serves on the board of directors for Reell Precision Manufacturing and Seeing Things Whole.

The panel, speaking about the topic from their own experience:

Patty Diamond worked for many years helping to develop and manage family attractions--venues where families come for entertainment, shopping, and dining. Her developments included the LEGO Center at the Mall of America. Patty’s first position in the field was at the MN Children's Museum, after managing Creative Kidstuff toy stores. She originally planned and studied to be a rabbi. But with two kids to raise on her own, she needed to get to work fast. Patty decided her work better be something interesting that she enjoyed, and it certainly was that. Patty also got an MBA along the way. Eventually Patty turned to teaching business ethics to adult MBA students at St Thomas. She now teaches Philosophy and Ethics to students at North Hennepin Community College.

Damon Drake is a community-oriented professional with a passion for building and nurturing relationships between the community and community organizations. He is currently the Community Connections Manager at St. Paul Youth Services. Damon has been a staff member with many community agencies, including Workforce Solutions, the Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Hired, and Bevans and Associates. Damon is very active as a community volunteer—currently serving with the Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition, the Guardian Project, and as an Islamic Advisor for the Stillwater and Oak Park Heights prisons. Damon was also formerly the Outreach Director with the Council on American Islamic Relations. He is also a U.S. Army Veteran, husband and father.

Lori Tapani, along with her sister, Traci, is a Co-President at Wyoming Machine, Inc. Wyoming Machine is a woman-owned family business that operates with 55 employees at their plant in Stacy, MN. Their clients represent the cross-section of metal fabrication requirements—from medical equipment to heavy machinery manufacturers.

John Wheeler was General Manager of Mall of America for 18 years. He is currently Director of Business Incubators for Neighborhood Development Center, a St. Paul-based non-profit.

Jim Emrich is the Chair of the Board of Directors for Seeing Things Whole, the group that organized this event. Jim gave an overview of Seeing Things Whole's work.

.Kate Moos, the Managing Producer of the radio show, Speaking of Faith, also wrote this blog post about the event.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stories of Faith and Organizational Life, Dec. 3

I'm helping organize and moderate this event. I think it will be a fascinating combination of stories and people from many sectors of work and faith traditions. Join us if you can.

You are invited:

Stories of Faith and
Organizational Life

  • Explore the tensions between one's faith journey and the pressures of organizational leadership.
  • How do these tensions change you as an individual?
  • How do these tensions change the organization?

December 3, 2009
6:00 - 9:00 pm

The program includes a light supper, a panel of organizational
leaders reflecting on their personal experience with the topic,
and group discussion.

Introduction: Michael Naughton, Director, John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought


  • John Wheeler, Former General Manger, Mall of America; Currently Director of Business Incubators for the Neighborhood Development Center
  • Lori Tapani, Co-President, Wyoming Machine, Inc.
  • Damon Drake, Community Connections Manager, St. Paul Youth Services; Former Outreach Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations-MN
  • Patty Diamond, Ethics Teacher, Former Family Attractions Business Developer

Location: Reell Precision Manufacturing, 1259 Willow Lake Blvd, St Paul, MN)

Free registration. Please RSVP: or or 612-234-1122.
Donations accepted at the event, for dinner and to support Seeing Things Whole.

Organized by Seeing Things Whole

Co-sponsored by:

  • John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought,University of St. Thomas\
  • The Islamic Center of Minnesota
  • St. Paul Interfaith Network
  • Center for Faith and Learning, Augsburg College
  • Faith and Work Program, St. Olaf Catholic Church
  • Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning
  • Jewish Community Relations Council
  • Magis Ventures
  • Clarity Facilitation

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What does it mean to be a nonprofit in a declining empire? Part 2

In my last post, I made some sweeping statements about what it means to be a nonprofit organization within a declining empire. So what might it look like if nonprofits were taking "proactive and transformative steps from domination systems to partnership systems"?

1. We might start building alternative forms of community and ways of meeting needs that will survive after the "phantom wealth economy" economy collapses, after oil is not affordable, and after the effects of climate change have increased. These initiatives might rely less on government or foundation funding. These ways of working might organize volunteers and communities for mutual support,relying less on professionals providing services to clients and more on participants serving each other. Local barter networks, like Hour Dollars, are one encouraging example of this to me.

2. Initiatives might be very locally-based, but also globally interconnected.
I imagine small, local, and decentralized work that is also highly networked. Local Community Supported Agriculture farms and the networks that tie them together are one form of this. Through the Internet, sites like Caring Bridge help develop and strengthen very personal networks, so people can support each other. How can these type of networks, that have small, local bases, and that are also globally connected develop to meet many needs?

3. New cross-sector collaborations will be developed. The resources and strategies from nonprofit, business, government, education, and other sectors will all be needed in this shift from domination systems to partnership systems. The capacity for this cross-sector collaboration can be built in any type of work. At the nonprofit/foundation conference that I went to recently, I was happy to hear Steve Gunderson's call for increased public/philanthropic/private partnerships. The urban/suburban and nonprofit/government partnerships at the Peace Foundation in Minneapolis is an encouraging local example to me.

4. New forms of organizational structures and management are developing, that reflect adaptive and decentralized collaboration. The book, the Starfish and the Spider, talks about many "leaderless" companies, that are not based on central control and hierarchy, but on wide-spread collaboration. Wikipedia, for example, has millions of volunteers writing and editing encyclopedias. How might this broad, "open source" type of collaboration apply to other types of businesses?

5. We might start sharing more of what we have and learning to live on less. We have enough food and shelter for everyone. We just need to get better at sharing it. I'm encouraged by groups that distribute the excesses of society, for the benefit of those who are in need. In the Twin Cities, Sisters' Camelot shares organic produce for free.

6. We might cultivate purpose and meaning from things other than material and career acquisition. For example, MetLife Insurance's Mature Market Institute studies and education emphasize the importance of having purpose in one's life as an essential part of satisfaction as we age.

7. We might fit more naturally into ecosystems we are a part of and learn from processes in nature. In addition to reducing the environmental impact of our organizations, we might learn from the biomimicry that many science organizations are learning from. For instance, this group is learning from termites about how to heat and cool homes.

8. And, some of us are called to help the current domination systems crumble. There are many innovations being developed in nonviolent action, to withdraw support from broken banking systems, corrupt governments, harmful environmental practices, and much more.
Most of us in the nonprofit sector aren't ready for this active, large-scale confrontation. However, we can still build alternative ways of meeting needs and being community for each other--developing now what will work after domination systems fade or fall away.

The nonprofit field has a reputation of being a couple decades behind for-profit management in cutting edge developments, but nonprofit management has the ability to lead the way through the shift from domination systems to partnership systems that we are in the midst of.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What does it mean to be a nonprofit in a declining empire? Part 1

We, in the United States, live in an empire that is not sustainable--ecologically, economically, or ethically. Despite the current recession, we are still one of the richest countries in history, with as broad of global influence and control as any other empire in history. The extreme gaps in wealth, between countries and between individuals within this country, are maintained by military and economic force. I think that this current economic downturn is a small movement compared to the eventual collapse of current economic systems. Behind most existing economic and political systems is a worldview that some call the "domination system," which assumes that society works by having groups control and dominate others. I think that the worldview of the domination system is slowly and painfully failing. I see an essential role of mission-driven organizations as being a bridge from societies based on domination systems to societies based on partnership systems. (1)

Last week I was at a conference put on by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Minnesota Council on Foundations called "Transforming our Work." At the conference, I didn't hear us talking like I just did in the last paragraph. I heard us talk about ways to adjust our fundraising and management methods so we can survive these lean times. We hope and wait for the economy to come back, but I largely heard us leave the domination system in place.
We were looking for ways to get big enough pieces of the pie of current systems (from corporations, wealthy individuals, government, etc.) so that we survive organizationally and individually, and so we can continue to serve our clients.

I liked the conference, and found it useful. It also left me longing for ways that I and the broader fields of nonprofits and foundations could take proactive and transformative steps from domination systems to partnership systems. Of the conference speakers that I heard, Steve Gunderson's call for increased public/philanthropic/private partnerships came the closest to what I was longing for.

I'm going to continue writing about this topic in future posts. In the meantime, please challenge and respond to the many assumptions in this post.


(1) This paragraph contains oodles of assumptions and jargon. These books by Walter Wink and David Korten spell out much more about the idea of a "domination system" and alternative systems.

Monday, October 12, 2009

From ego-centric to eco-centric organizations

During my son's last soccer game, I was talking with a Mark Haase, a friend who is very active with the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition. This coalition advocates to support the second chances of those with criminal records. As we talked I mentioned an article by Otto Scharmer about leadership development that "ignites a field of inspired connection and action." In the article, Scharmer talks about the impact a leadership development program had on one participant:
One of them, a leader in a global multinational company, put it this way... "I no longer work for my company. I am working from my company." The difference between working "for" and working "from" is in the level of awareness and consciousness that moved from a single company (ego-­system-­centric) to the whole social and ecological context that this company operates in (eco-system-­centric).
The conversation made me realize that many people in the Second Chance Coalition also appear to also work just as much "from" their organization as they do "for" the organization where they are employed full-time. Of course, I think that working for the interests of your own employer is important. I think that honoring the commitments, values, and accountability of an organization is often a pre-requisite to acting in true collaboration. At the same time, a narrow focus on those interests can often get in the way of really forwarding the broader purposes and causes that are supposed to be driving an organization. Among nonprofits I work with, we can sometimes get lost in fighting for limited money and recognition. Even among "collaborations," we often get stuck in either fighting for control of the collaboration, or in not really developing a shared responsibility for the partnership. From my experience with the Second Chance Coalition, this group has created a kind of collaboration where several individuals work effectively out of their own organization, on behalf of a broader movement and purpose (or ecosystem, as Scharmer described it). I have seen this kind of ecosystem-centric leadership from Mark, who is based at the Council on Crime and Justice, Sarah Walker at 180 Degrees, Melissa Froehle at Minnesota Fathers and Families Network, Jonathan Maurer-Jones at Take Action Minnesota, Anna Meyer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness--Minnesota, and Lori Stee at Rebuild Resources. There are many others in the Second Chance Coalition who also operate with this kind of leadership.

I give thanks for the individuals who can operate with this kind of leadership, and also for their employers, who are able to support this kind of collaboration.

What do you think makes ecosystem-centric collaboration possible?

Friday, October 2, 2009

My "end of sabbatical" presentation

A couple days ago I had an open house and presentation about what I've learned about the "spirit of institutions" in the past year. I am very grateful for the feedback, support, and challenges from that those who gathered with me that evening. I also had a lot of fun. Some people who weren't able to be there requested a video of the presentation. Here is a 3 minute "trailer" for the presentation:

You can watch the full video (56 minutes) here. During the presentation, I used the following diagram to talk about four layers involved in the spirit of institutions (you can click on it for a larger version):

I "unveiled" my plans for integrating what I've learned from the sabbatical in my consulting business--supporting the spirit of organizations by facilitating strategic planning, program development, and leadership development. Here's a handout describing those services:

At the event I gave out these "Spirit of Institutions Awards," acknowledging some of the people I have learned from this past year. I asked people at the event to write down their questions and comments. I got a great list of questions, which I think will keep me busy for the next year. As I said in the presentation, I'm still very passionate about this topic. I'm going to continue to learn, share, and apply what it means to bring more of our own spirits to organizations, and how organizations can create cultures and structures that access deep sources of creativity and effectiveness. I welcome your dialogue and collaboration!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Planning on uncertainty

"Leadership through command and control is doomed to fail. No one can create sufficient stability and equilibrium for people to feel secure and safe. Instead, as leaders we must help people move into a relationship with uncertainty and chaos. Spiritual teachers have been doing this for millennia. Therefore, I believe that the times have led leaders to a spiritual threshold. We must enter the domain of spiritual traditions if we are to succeed as good leaders in these difficult times."
Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way

I was recently at Faith Mennonite Church when a protester burst into the sanctuary as a woman was preaching and said, "This is an abomination!" The protester believed that women should not be ministers. He aggressively came into the sanctuary two different times, seeking to make his voice heard and to disrupt the service. Both times he came in, a group of people in the sanctuary gently but firmly surrounded him, making sure no one was hurt and that the service could continue. Some people in the congregation moved close to him and prayed. Others talked with this man before, during, and after the service. From an outside perspective, it looked like the congregation had done planning and training in how to handle disruptions during a worship service, so that the response was both firm and nonviolent.

But this congregation had not anticipated or planned for disruptions like this. The response from the congregation grew out of shared values and trusting relationships among the congregation, but not a pre-meditated plan. The congregation strongly values nonviolence, relationship-building, and listening. During this tense situation, a natural expression of these values happened. I believe that the congregation was prepared for this type of response because of the rituals, community building, and mentoring they did with each other before that day.

In the past year, I have facilitated strategic planning with several organizations. In doing this planning, I want to both be precise in the plans we make, and also recognize that the best expressions of the organizations might arise spontaneously and be impossible to plan for. And many times, committing to intellectual plans and strategies are not enough to make things happen. A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don't change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. (From the book, Immunity to Change)

At a strategic planning retreat I facilitated this summer, one of the participants said that the mission and goals of the group seemed to "organically arise" out of the experiences and input from several groups. I think that much of the best planning does naturally arise out of our experience--and sometimes the planning for something comes just as we are doing it, and not before. But before the crisis or opportunity arises, we can build the common purpose and values of groups we are a part of--and we can be open to the opportunities and relationships that arise.

I started this post with a quote from Margaret Wheatley. I think that she is right--both about the need to make friends with uncertainty and also about the resources we can draw from spiritual traditions as we learn to do that. I know that it is true for me. I often want to cling to predictability and control, and I need spiritual practices to help me relax and listen to what is arising. I recently heard a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke (on a friend's outgoing voice-mail). I think the Rilke quote also points toward the essence of this trusting:

"May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What have I learned in the past year?

As I'm preparing for my open house and "report back" on Sept. 30th, I'm reviewing the interviews and writing that I've done in the past year. I've been on a quest to discover how to engage the spiritual dimensions of organizational leadership and change. I pulled out 12 themes from what I've been learning. Under each theme, I put links to writing and video clips that relate to that idea.

Thinking humbly, boldly, and long-term about shifts in organizations
Kay Pranis: This shift is so big... in all of our institutions
Greg Boyd: What is our role in taking on the Powers? Don't get too cocky.
Charles Simmons: Just remember that God is ultimately in control of everything.
The Great Turning and the Evolution of Organizations
Roland Sullivan: A challenge to YOU to stay in step with the pace of change in the world

Seeing organizations as living systems
Monica Manning: We don't think about institutions; we think about ourselves as individuals
Monica Manning: It is easy to feel the institutions aren't that important, even though we take advantage of them all the time
Greg Boyd: The science of the whole, soul of a group, and prayer as social action

Recognizing the invisible dimensions of organizations
Sondra Samuels: The battle we are fighting is not one the eyes can see
Greg Boyd: Layers of spiritual warfare and authorities described in the Bible
Al Quie: The realities of the invisible and learning the language of the invisible

Discernment of the current reality and of the future that is seeking to emerge
Drawing on Quaker practices and testimonies within secular organizations
Lissa Jones: Do I really make the just and right decision, or do I do what the world calls me to do that might cover myself better?
Roland Sullivan: Spirit is truth / I try to get organizations to find their truth in a safe way
Al Quie: Listening to God is like deciphering a bad accent
Planning on the uncertainty

Ways of opening to the sacred
Language for bringing our deepest inspiration to work
Seven doors into the spiritual development of organizations
Marnita Schroedl: The deeply personal is sacred space
Sondra Samuels: Everyone wants meaning; tapping into the God in people

Working with power in ways that let the sacred emerge
Greg Boyd: Power over and power under / Always understand that 'the Powers' are trying to play you.
Kay Pranis: Things you achieve through authority are not sustainable.
Al Quie: Moving towards those who don't have power. God wants us to pay attention to those we neglect.

Working with the shadows and underbellies of organizations
Living with joy and challenge within unhealthy institutions
In praise of organizational dissatisfaction
Does "Evil in the Workplace" Exist?
Lissa Jones: A searching and fearless inventory
Monica Manning: If people can find what is good in the organization, they are better able to enter into exploring its darkness
Greg Boyd: Living faithfully in corrupt organizations. The Kingdom of God is impractical.
Al Quie: Most organizations are fearful of sharing what went wrong

Personal and collective demons that we must face
Jin Kim: Anxiety is Empire
Lissa Jones: "The greatest weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed"
Marnita Schroedl: Almost everyone feels like they have their face up to the glass and aren't having an authentic experience

Personal spiritual grounding in the workplace
Lissa Jones: Avoiding despondency and burnout
Roland Sullivan: The value of self-transformation
Sondra Samuels: Things that a human would run away from, God says run towards
Roland Sullivan: Competencies of a change agent: Being, Skill, Knowledge
Sondra Samuels: If I hold onto the need to be right, nothing can work
Kay Pranis: A responsibility to be hopeful
Kay Pranis: Values that guide me

Cultivating and transforming the spirit of an organization
15 ways to cultivate spiritual grounding in work with organizations
Lissa Jones: Cultivating the spirit of an organizations / Welcome to the first day of your liberation
Marnita Schroedl: People have a high need to come together in celebration and ceremony
Monica Manning: What is institutional formation? What is the institution being called by the world to be?
Al Quie: Leaders set the tone for organizations
Roland Sullivan: How I transform an organization
Sondra Samuels: Focused on the solution, not the problem

Prayer in and for organizations
Prayer is... (fill in the blank)
Returning to praying for the healing of organizations
Al Quie: Praying with Congressmen and the President

Assessing the spiritual formation of organizations
A Quiz: What is the Spiritual Character of Your Organization?
Marnita Schroedl: If we try to measure it, it changes the outcome
Monica Manning: "You can measure the worth of an organization by the number of lies you have to tell to belong to it."

In summary...
A mind map of how I approach spirituality and institutions
A video summary of what I'm learning
I'm not alone: Other groups integrating spirituality and organizations

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lissa Jones: Cultivating the spirit of an organization and of a culture

Lissa Jones is the Executive Director of African American Family Services. I've had the chance to work with Lissa on a couple projects, and I've experienced her leadership as a combination of challenging, appreciative, and spiritually grounded. It was an honor to talk with her about how she engages the spirit of her organization and also the spirit of the broader African American community. Here are some video clips from our conversation:

"The greatest weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed" / A belief in the goodness of people / We will endure this too / Putting our faith in things unseen

Welcome to the first day of your liberation / People look around ... "what drug is she on?"

A spiritual crisis in Black America

Do I really make the just and right decision, or do I do what the world calls me to do that might cover myself better? / I mostly find the strength I need ... in difficulty

Avoiding despondency

A searching and fearless inventory

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'm not alone: Other groups integrating spirituality and organizational life

When I left my job a year ago to learn about the "spirit of institutions," I imagined I might be the only one with that particular focus. One of the most fun things about the past year has been discovering many other people and organizations that are also on this path. This month I went to a spiritual retreat in Chicago that was organized by the Religion and Spirituality Interest Group of the Academy of Management. For three days, I did spiritual practices with a group of academics who study management. I came back home feeling less alone in my path.

Here are some of the groups that I've been very happy to discover this year. They all have some focus on the intersection of spirituality and organizations. I see these groups as resources for both engaging more of our individual's spirit in work and leadership--and also resources for how whole organizations can integrate spiritual principles into their management and operation. As an expression of my geographic bias, I noted the groups that are based in Minnesota (MN).

Nonprofit Organizations:

Seeing Things Whole "A network for bridging faith and organizational life."

Institution Institute for Spiritual Leadership "Our objectives are centered around maximizing the triple bottom line through the application of the spiritual leadership paradigm, personal leadership coaching, planned retreats, consulting and keynote presentations.

Holacarcy One "Holacracy integrates the collective wisdom of people throughout the company, while aligning the organization with its broader purpose and a more organic way of operating."

Center for Contemplative Mind in Society "integrates contemplative awareness into contemporary life in order to help create a more just, compassionate, reflective, and sustainable society."

Presencing Institute, "a global action research community that applies Theory U to societal transformation by shifting the social field from ego-system to eco-system awareness."

Stone Circles: "Sustaining activists and strengthening the work of justice through spiritual practice and principles."

The Management, Spirituality, and Religion (MSR) Interest Group of the Academy of Management (AOM), "focuses on research related to the relevance and relationship of spirituality and religion in management and organizational life."

Center for Courage and Renewal, "nurtures personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it."

Center for Contemplative Dialogue, "assists both groups and individual leaders in engaging the 'Collective Mind' or 'Spirit' of their organizations."

Heartland (MN), "convenes conversations, programs, trainings, and communities of engagement, dedicated to creating a world that works for all."

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, "promotes the awareness, understanding, and practice of servant leadership by individuals and organizations."

Foundation for Workplace Spirituality, "raising spiritual awareness and consciousness in the workplace."

Spirituality at Work

Based in Academic Institutions:

The Yale Center for Faith and Culture, "promote the practice of faith in all spheres of life."

Center for Ethical Business Cultures (MN), "encourages current and future business leaders to build ethical cultures in their organizations and high standards of integrity in their communities."

Center for Integrative Leadership (MN), "develop a better understanding of how collective action across sectors (business, government, nonprofits, media, academia) and geographic boundaries can solve some of the world’s most pressing and complex societal problems."

Center for Faith and Learning (MN), Augsburg College

Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace, at the University of Arkansas, led by Judith Neal

Center for Workplace Spirituality and Business Values, "promote the understanding and practice of spirituality and values in the workplace."

Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative, "to generate intellectual frameworks and practical resources for the issues and opportunities surrounding faith and work."

Centre for Spirituality and the Workplace, Saint Mary‘s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia,

Center for Business as an Agent of World Betterment "advances extraordinary business innovation and entrepreneurship by turning the global environmental and social issues of our day into core value-creation opportunities."

International Symposium on Spirituality and Business, " dedicated to having personal, in-depth conversations on how spirituality impacts the core values on which a business is built and how those values can be successfully incorporated into the life of a business."

Conscious Capitalism Institute at Bentley University

Center for Integrity in Business,"promote a thorough and rigorous reevaluation of the purposes, role, and values of business in these times of moral and ethical crisis."

Other organizational development consultants with a spiritual-base to their work:

Nova Group (MN) Supporting institutional formation among higher education institutions.

Magis Ventures (MN), "To help leaders align values with action to build successful organizations"

Executive Soul, helps leaders make better decisions through spiritual leadership."

Kaizen Solutions, "inspires, guides, and fosters the creation of spirit at work so that employees experience fulfillment and meaning through work and organizations attain improved customer service and increased productivity.”"

Servant Leader Associates, "Servant-Leaders seek to understand the cares, yearnings, and struggles of the human spirit."

Sullivan Transformation Agents (MN) "Whole System Transformation"

Judith Neal and Associates, "committed to helping leaders, teams and organizations reach their full potential through personal and organizational transformation."

Conscious Pursuits, "founded on the belief that developing spiritual and emotional intelligence leads to more motivated, productive employees, resulting in reduced stress and improved bottom-line performance"

Legacy Coaching, "centered on developing awareness of the difference we can make."

The Presence Project, "devoted to the integration of spirit and practice in the workplace."

Cambium Consulting, "We believe in the need to inspire and celebrate the best of the human spirit, all while aiming for practice, observable, and sustainable results."


What groups would you add to the list?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Spirit of Institutions" Open House and Update: Sept. 30, 2009

It has been about a year since I left my full-time job and set aside time to learn about the spirit of institutions. I've been exploring how organizations can be led more by their mission than by ego. It is time for a party and report-back about what I've been learning. I want to engage with many of you to introduce you to each other, tell some stories from my year, and get your feedback about the transformation of organizations. I'll also "unveil" where this learning is leading me in the upcoming year. I welcome those of you that are friends, colleagues, and those of you who are just curious about the topic.

When: Wednesday, September 30, 6:30 - 8:30 PM
Where: Minneapolis Friends Meeting, 4401 York Ave. So., Minneapolis (Linden Hills neighborhood)
What: Open house and update about Michael's Spirit of Institutions journey
RSVP requested, but not required: Facebook event page or or 612-234-1122.

Please put it on your calendar. More details about the event to come.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Learning from Marnita's Table about creating sacred spaces

For several years, I've heard about Marnita's Table, which hosts large multicultural dinner parties and intentional conversations. For all their events, they make sure that at least 50% of the guests are people of color, and at least 50% are living below the poverty line. They seem to have mastered the art of creating atmospheres that are deeply diverse, fun, and transformative. I had the chance to interview Marnita Schroedl from the Table, to talk about how their methods for creating sacred spaces can work in the transformation of organizations and communities.

We serve 2,000 people in our home each year / what we are going for is world peace / we're trying to break out of a limited religious, civic, or corporate definition of the sacred / we're going to have to find a way to change our culture from the inside

More video clips from the interview:

I came out of the foster care system, and only recently have I realized how much that formed my view of the world / How many people feel like they are outside the window? / Almost everyone feels like they have their face up to the glass and aren't having an authentic experience

Story of 2 men who met at the Table / the deeply personal is sacred space / there is a communion that happens / before we can do something together, we have to stand in relationship with one another

If we try to measure it, it changes the outcome / we don't know, in advance, which relationships will become the most meaningful

One of the best ways to build community is to build a table / we don't share the same religion or culture, but everyone has to eat / people have a high need to come together in celebration and ceremony

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Quiz: What is the Spiritual Character of Your Organization?

Think of an organization that you are a part of (workplace, church, school, etc.) and answer these 10 questions with that organization in mind. The results of the quiz will then show you if your organization is more like a geyser, the Badlands, Mt. Rainer, the San Juan Islands, or the Corn Palace.


After you take the quiz:
Here are the descriptions of each type of organization. Read them all and decide which one fits best.

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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Roland Sullivan: Spirituality and Whole System Transformation

In the past months I've looked under many rocks for stories of deep transformation within large organizations. I hadn't come up with many stories--until I interviewed Roland Sullivan this week. Roland has worked on "whole system transformation" with more than 1,000 organizations since the 1960s. He's been one of the pioneers in the field of Organizational Development. He's also been practicing yoga for 45 years, and he has an amazing amount of energy. You might want to fasten your seat belts as you watch some of these video clips from my conversation with Roland:

The value of self-transformation / Continually grow towards the love of God by changing to become more according to his will / Every time I work with a client I tell them "please help me change"

More video clips:

A challenge to YOU to stay in step with the pace of change in the world

Spirit is truth / I try to get organizations to find their truth in a safe way. I have all kinds of tricks. / Getting to organizational intelligence

Everyone is using the word "transformation" / Very few know how to create it

Competencies of a change agent: Being, Skill, Knowledge

How I transform an organization:
1. Transform a leadership team
2. Transform a critical mass of the organization
3.Transfers to an internal change agent, who is able to sustain the change work long term

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Seven doors into the spiritual development of organizations

I believe that every organization has the possibility of engaging spiritual depth as a part of the organization's development. However, my experience has been that each organization has its own unique language and ideas that are doors into that spiritual opening I'm looking for. The doors to spiritual development in one agency might not work in another group. When I talk about the "spiritual development of organizations," I mean finding ways of relaxing our attachments to our individual and organizational egos and connecting with a purpose and meaning greater than ourselves. Here are seven doors that I've seen organizations use to enter into spiritual development:

Deep Partnerships and Collaborations: Most organizations that I know are strongly driven by a desire for self-preservation and expansion. In some organizations, I've seen deep partnerships with other organizations help people transcend narrow self-preservation with broader purposes that serve the community. Even though this path can be hard and include plenty of conflict, external factors like reductions in funding are pushing many groups in this direction.

Creativity and innovation: An openness to creativity in product and project development can develop an atmosphere of openness. Playfulness and experimentation can get us unstuck from habitual patterns and open us to deep guidance.

Shared values and/or vision: Collectively developing and agreeing on shared values and/or a vision has been a foundation for many groups. The discipline of continuing to return to these values and vision for grounding can certainly bring depth.

Community: Trusting, close working relationships within an organization can lead to an openness and honesty that contributes to the collective spiritual development of the organization.

Crisis or conflict: Whether intended or not, the tensions and unexpectedness of crisis and conflict can throw us out of our typical ways of operating. Some groups are able to use this for deepening.

Systems thinking: Peter Senge's books on systems thinking have popularized methods for seeing individual actions as part of larger flows that we can influence but not control. I think the shift into systems thinking can parallel and cultivate spiritual development.

Discernment: I've seen secular methods for strategic planning tap into just as much depth as faith communities seeking to discern and follow divine guidance. Future planning can be a way of listening for calling--where the deep joy of the organization meets the pressing needs of the broader community.

These are preliminary thoughts about doors into spiritual development for organizations. I welcome your feedback and dialogue!

Photo credits

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Great Turning and the Evolution of Organizations

I think that we are in the midst of a big cultural turning, and the basic paradigms behind the way we structure and operate organizations are changing. The more I talk with people and learn about organizations, the more convinced I am of the gradual, awkward steps that we are taking in this transition.

When I interviewed Kay Pranis last fall, she said:
"We are going from a Newtonian physics model of organizations and how we treat one another to a Quantum physics model. All of our relationships, all of our institutions--families, churches, schools, justice, social service, are all structured in the Newtonian physics model. Those structures have a life of their own that keeps reasserting itself."

In the book, Theory U, Otto Scharmer, says that life in many of our contemporary organizations is like working in Enron or East Germany shortly before those institutions fell. We know that the institution (and the worldview behind it) has started to collapse. At the same time, most of us are still denying the reality of that collapse. The book came out before the current economic downturn, but even after these economic changes, my impression is that most organizations are still thinking of this recession as a blip in the longer-term continuation of ever expanding economic growth and hierarchy as it has been.

David Korten, in his book, The Great Turning, says that current crisises are presenting us the opportunity to replace the paradigm of Empire with one of Earth Community. The values of Earth Community are based on sustainable, just, and caring communities which incorporate mutual responsibility and accountability.

In my limited experience, the glimpses of the kinds of organizations that are emerging are fleeting and hard to grasp on to.
I think that the form of organizing and governing called Holacracy, is offering some experiments in rethinking organizations according in ways to fit with emerging dynamics of mutual leadership and accountability. The book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, also captures some of how decentralized but cohesive organizations are emerging. I think both of these examples are helpful, but I also think they are very partial perspectives of what is emerging. I think they both miss some of the ethical, spiritual, and political dimensions of dynamics that are emerging.

In some ways we are seeking to step forward, in other ways, we are seeking to return to ancient and sustainable ways of organizing ourselves--relying more on the land, elders, and traditions that we came from. I don't think that a healthy "Earth Community" version of this evolution is inevitable, but I do believe that it is a future wanting to emerge, which we can help bring about.

This year, I'm grateful to be working with the FATHER Project. I think this project reflects one part of this evolving way of doing organizations. The FATHER Project is based on a deep partnership between many different nonprofit and government organizations, all working out of one site. The identity of who "owns" the project is shared by many organizations, not just the "lead organization" (Goodwill/Easter Seals). I think this depth of collaboration is one characteristic of organizational structures that are emerging.

Do you see institutional crumbling happening around you? Do you see any glimpses of new organizational life coming out of those ashes?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monica Manning: Institutional Formation

During my sabbatical, there have been several times when I've been in awe to discover people in the Twin Cities who are already doing deep explorations into the collective spirit of institutions. This week I discovered Monica Manning, who has been partners with higher education institutions to cultivate "institutional formation." I was awed by how similar her focus is to mine. In an earlier interview, Monica said:

"My current focus is looking for evidence of the inner life on an institution: If there is a collective spirit, what might be its manifestations? How do we know it exists? Given my pragmatic bent, how do we nurture it and draw on it to support the vocation of the institution and the individual vocations of its members?"

Here are some video clips from my conversation with Monica:

"You can measure the worth of an organization by the number of lies you have to tell to belong to it."

We don't think about institutions; we think about ourselves as individuals; We talk a lot about leadership... but we don't talk about membership

What is institutional formation? What is the institution being called by the world to be?

A story of institutional formation at a community college

If people can find what is good in the organization, they are better able to enter into exploring its darkness.

When people are is easy to feel the institutions aren't that important, even though we take advantage of them all the time

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sondra Samuels: Spirituality and Leadership

Sondra Samuels is the President of the Peace Foundation, which is working to build a grassroots movement to reduce violence in North Minneapolis. Some Nuns on the Northside that I love and admire recommended Sondra as a spiritually grounded leader. I was grateful to soak up some of the passion, vision, and presence that Sondra lives in. We talked about the connections between spirituality, leadership, and community change.

In the above video: Everyone wants meaning; tapping into the God in people; not letting religious language become an obstruction; you don't have to shout, and an impression of Eckart Tolle

More excerpts from the conversation (click on the words to see the video):

The battle we are fighting is not one the eyes; can see visualizing what we want the community to look like; moving mountains for our communities

If I hold onto the need to be right, nothing can work; everyone wants heaven, but nobody wants to die (the audio is choppy, but this one is my favorite clip)

A vision of North Minneapolis: A sea of brown and black kids throwing up their graduation caps...

God is ridiculous; Things that a human would run away from, God says run towards; We are all big balls of energy

Focused on the solution, not the problem; being silent

The first murder in the city this year was on our block

Friday, March 6, 2009

Drawing on Quaker practices and testimonies within secular organizations

"If the Society of Friends [Quakers] have anything to say, it lies in this region primarily: Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center."
-- Thomas Kelly

For a presentation last week, I made a list of suggestions for including Quaker practices and testimonies within secular organizations. Please forgive the Quaker jargon (here's a glossary that talks about testimonies and "sense of the meeting.")

Drawing on Quaker practices and testimonies within secular organizations:

Simplicity Testimony:
  • Say “yes” and “no” to what you are able to do in the organization from a clear center, not taking on more or less than you are called to.
  • Notice who is most on the margins of the organization, listen to their stories and perspectives, and incorporate those perspectives in decision-making.
  • Describe the organizational culture and climate as you experience it. Ask others how they experience it.

  • Hold the organization and the people in it in the Light.

  • Build trusting relationships and a caring community, which makes collective discernment more possible.
  • Withdraw your support and cooperation from harmful patterns in the organization. *See some discussion about this one in the comments.

More suggestions for incorporating Quaker principles of discernment, peace, and community within secular organizations.

How would you add to, change, or expand on the suggestions?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Returning to praying for the healing of organizations

When I first felt motivated to take a sabbatical, I said to myself and a few others that I wanted to learn about "praying for the healing of institutions." It has now been about six months since I left my job, and recently I've been describing what I'm doing as learning about the connections between spirituality and organizations. Both descriptions are true, but last week I was drawn back to the original intention, of praying for organizations. I'm hesitant to talk about praying for organizations because I don't want people to think that I'm trying to convert anyone to particular beliefs or actions. Here are two recent experiences that have drawn me back to the language of prayer:

Last week I did two presentations at Minneapolis Friends Meeting about spirituality and organizations. The night before the first presentation, I took my kids swimming. After about an hour and a half of swimming, my son came up to me and said, "Daddy, I think Grace's lips are purple." His observation that his sister was turning into a popsicle let me know that my quiet time was over. While watching them swim, I had a contemplative time (maybe too much so), and I found myself feeling pulled to pray for the people and organizational life that made up this Quaker Meeting. Without knowing the details of their community's life, I felt tender and open towards the brokenness and the love that is a part of their community. During that time I realized that my main responsibility in doing this talk was not to tell them about spirituality and organizations, but it was to pray for the healing of their organization. During my talk the next day, I described this opening I felt, intending it as a prayer for their community.

One secular nonprofit organization that I did consulting with recently was struggling with conflict, financial stress, and many layoffs. During the time I worked with the organization, a Quaker friend and I met a few times to pray together. Each of the times we met, at least one of us found that this organization came to mind during the prayer time. During one of those prayer times, I felt an inner nudge to ask one person in the organization I was working with to meet with me and talk about our spiritual lives and how they connected to the organization. I had barely talked with this person before, and we'd certainly never talked about anything spiritual. I eventually got up my courage to ask him to have lunch with me. I affirmed the ability that I saw in him to remain centered in stressful situations, and I asked about how he saw spirituality and work. He told me that he was a part of a small group at this organization which met to pray together. Sometimes they would pray for the well being of the organization and for other people there. I had no idea that this prayer group existed. It was a reminder that my prayers and intentions for the healing of organizations are joining with many other unseen prayers.

I have tendencies to be detached and judgmental in how I relate to groups and organizations. The prayer that I feel drawn to might be primarily about softening my own heart in relation to organizations I work with. I know that my own needs for healing are often intertwined with my prayers for organizations. To talk about loving and praying for co-workers and organizations feels uncomfortable, and it is hard for me to explain. Yet, if I am honest with myself, this is at the core of what I feel drawn to do.

Do you have stories and thoughts about prayer and organizations? I'd be grateful to hear them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jin Kim: Anxiety is Empire

This is a clip from a talk that Jin Kim gave this past weekend at a conference I participated in. The conference was called "The Common Root 2009: Creating our future in the shadow of Empire," and Jin's talk was called "Revisioning the Beloved Community in the Age of Obama."

With most institutions I know about, anxiety is a large part of the overall spirit of those institutions. In this clip, Jin talks about the role he sees anxiety playing in the U.S. Empire, and how his church addresses that. Jin's full talk, and several others from the conference are available online.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A video summary of what I'm learning

This is a summary of ideas from my studies about spirituality and organizations. Near the end of the video, I also demonstrate my televangelist ambitions. What do you think of these themes and beliefs?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A mind map of how I approach spirituality and institutions

Mind map image
Click on the image to see the full, interactive version of the map.

As I talk to more people, I keep discovering new ways of thinking about the connections between spirituality and institutions. This is a map of concepts or lenses that I draw on when thinking about this topic. Some of these lenses relate to academic fields, and some are more informal ways of thinking about the world. Most of the words in the map have a link to a web-site, so you can see more about what I meant with that idea.

Which of these frameworks has the most meaning for you?
What would you add or change in the map?