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.