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?


Jeanne said...

God loves AIG, but not its focus solely on ONE bottom line.

God loves me, but not when I focus only one ONE bottom line.

Unfortunately, our culture supports this particular focus in individuals and organizations.

Unknown said...

I 've never thought of the idea that dissatisfaction indicates a love but it makes sense. If we don't care we don't feel dissatisfied. It gives me a new way of thinking about my former employer Minneapolis Public Schools.

Michael Bischoff said...

Thanks, Jeanne and Nettie. I think that you each of your comments help clarify and elaborate on the essence that I was trying to get at.

Jim said...

Corporations are not material. They are a legal construct, even when they anthropomorphize a rodent such as Mickey Mouse. They are created within the laws of a government which is also a construct.
For a view of Ethics and Corporations see: Carol Bly's "Changing the Bully Who Rules the World...". I assume she still lives a couple of blocks from Snelling Avenue and she might have updates on her book of 12 years ago. At one time she loved to have conversations while eating greasy hamburgers.

Michael Bischoff said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jim. Sadly, Carol Bly died a little more than a year ago.

I just read some excerpts from "Changing the Bully Who Rules the World." In one passage, she warns that "the devil will come as a legion of genuinely nice people in a corporation."

Here's the rest of that passage:

"No one wants to say unpleasant things such as "What we did last year will no longer work because the situation is different" or "What we felt proud of last year turns out, in retrospect, to have been a poor action. We need to talk to people who know more than we know to get a better perspective on our purpose here." Churches and other idealistic groups are especially vulnerable to this kind of group-think because they think they must keep their meetings affectionate and high-spirited; they tend to make sure that there must be a group "high." Without it, the meeting won't be religiously correct. Hence we hear such language as "we were really excited" and "we felt such a oneness." But when the goal of feeling good from minute to minute is greater than the goal of being discerning about bad judgment, then a group is vulnerable to this aspect of group-think."

Karin said...

I have not read works by Carol Bly, but one of the largest reasons people create corporations is so that they can say "the corporation is responsible--not me in my personal life."

Not all organizations are created to avoid responsibility. But avoidance of responsibility can be a by-product of group decision-making.

Michael's piece makes me think that the people who are dissatisfied are showing that they feel some sense of responsibility. Their sense of responsibility shows they care about the consequences. This is a form of love. It's appreciating the consequences of certain decisions.

The balance is to care enough to try to be responsible--while still recognizing one's limitations.

Not very easy, is it?

Jim said...

What does the leader of a company do when the economy crashes? A metaphor would be what does the captain of a ship do when his ship runs aground on a hidden sand bar? There are a number of options. Surely there is dissatisfaction all around.

In 1970 I was hired by IBM. The desk assigned to me had stuff in it that I would have to move. Some of the stuff was company songbooks. Company Songbooks!!! I asked the oldest fellow there about them and he said "Yah we used to sing out of them when we didn't have any work." It seemed that Tom Watson Sr. did not believe in laying off his employees. So during the Great Depression he had his employees create a songbook so that when they came to the office they would have something to do. The employees of that era of IBM seemed to be satisfied with their organization.

Today's buzz word is CSR( corporate social responsibility) to keep everyone satisfied. As always, it is a work in process.

Yaseen Domineck said...

This made me think about dissatisfaction Ive had in my work experience with companies. according to what has been commented on I agree i did have love for the work but maybe not how it was getting done. It may be difficult in organizations where you feel powerless due to policy or management. At the end of the day you are an employee, so you may feel either get with the flow or hut the door or get fired. Passion for your work and self responsibility may contradict organization policy or others perspectives or viewpoints which may sometimes demoralize an institution. It seems that nowadays few people have passion and more people have position. Hope you follow me. Any way enjoyed the posts. And I am getting a good look at how insitutions in the mid east function. By the way Egypt is great and the sea is lovely.

Michael Bischoff said...

Thanks for adding to the conversation, Karin, Jim, and Yaseen. I really appreciate the nuances that each of you brought out.

I love the idea of a company songbook. I think that could be useful even when there isn't a shortage of work to do. It might be a way to increase productivity, not just compensate for it when things are slow.

Liz Opp said...

I have a reaction to "God loves institutions." Maybe closer to my understanding of Truth is "God loves living institutions." Or, "God loves institutions that live love."

It has to to do with not having a single bottom line.

Love, care for everyone's well being, that sort of thing.

And Nettie's comment speaks to my condition as well: frustration and anger and irritation can all point to an underlying sense of caring about how things are (or aren't) going.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Michael Bischoff said...

I think it true to say that God loves life, and doesn't want to perpetuate dead institutions. At the same time, it also makes me think about this Bible passage:

"He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?" Matthew 5:45-46

I think that God loves us all, individually and collectively (as peoples and organizations). I think God also calls us all towards being more whole--closer to a right relationship with God and the universe. In that way, I think God loves dysfunctional, harmful organizations, just as God loves individuals who have become lost and cause harm. In that love, I think God is always calling us closer to shalom. For some organizations, moving closer to shalom might mean closing the organization. In other cases, it might involve the redeeming the true calling of the organization.

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Simply Great Food said...

hi, i happen to browse your blog n find it quite interesting.i am very sure that GOD is at work in all of us-individuals,organisation,small or big groups. All things are done according to His plan and purpose.Ephesians 1:11

Jim said...

The dissatisfaction may not just be internal.

If I recall, in ~1998, TCFM had a desire to house the homeless. Members wanted to join with the St.Paul Council of Churches in their program. The Council wanted us to swear (affirm) to their creed.

I just checked the Council's website, It is
much different than it was in 1990.

And the directory of organizations they are willing to work with has expanded to more than 53 pages.

hajasheriff said...

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