This article discusses one of the three foundational “breakthroughs” common to Teal organizations.
Workplaces have traditionally encouraged people to show up with their “professional” self and to check all other parts of themselves at the door. They often require us to show a masculine resolve, to display determination and strength, and to hide doubts and vulnerability. Rationality rules: the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual selves are typically unwelcome, or out of place.
What makes us leave so much of our selfhood behind when we go to work? There is a conspiracy of fears at play that involves employees as much as their organizations. Organizations fear that if people were to bring all of themselves to work— their moods, quirks, and weekend clothes— things would quickly dissolve into a mess. Armies have long known that people made to feel interchangeable are much easier to control. Employees, for their part, fear that if they were to show up with all of who they are, they might expose their selfhood to criticism and ridicule and come across as odd and out of place. It is deemed much better to play it safe and to hide the selfhood behind a professional mask.
Wisdom traditions from around the world speak to this from a deeper level: at heart, we are all profoundly interconnected and part of a whole, but it’s a truth we have forgotten. We are born into separation and raised to feel divided from our deeper nature, as well as from the people and life around us. Our deepest calling in life, these traditions tell us, is to reclaim wholeness, within ourselves and in our connection with the outside world. This spiritual insight inspires Teal Organizations’ second breakthrough: to create a space that supports us in our journey to wholeness. Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work. Every time we leave a part of us behind, we cut ourselves off from part of our potential, of our creativity and energy. No wonder many workplaces feel somehow lifeless. In wholeness we are life-full. We discover in awe how much more life there is in us than we ever imagined. In our relationships with colleagues, much of what made the workplace unpleasant and inefficient vanishes; work becomes a vehicle where we help each other reveal our inner greatness and manifest our calling.
Teal Organizations have developed a consistent set of practices that invite us to reclaim our inner wholeness and bring all of who we are to work.
Self-management goes a long way toward helping us show up more fully. With no scarce promotions to fight for, no bosses to please, and no adversaries to elbow aside, much of the political poison is drained out of organizations. Without a boss looking over our shoulder, without employees to keep in line and peers that could turn into competitors, we can finally let our guard down and simply focus on the work we want to do.
Beyond self-management, Teal organizations create an environment in which people support each other in their inner work while doing the outer work of the organization. Teal organizations recognize that every time our fears get triggered is an opportunity to learn and grow into more wholeness, reclaiming aspects of ourselves that we have neglected or pushed into the shadows. They believe that if we are to invite all of who we are to show up, including the shy inner voice of the soul, we need to create safe and caring spaces at work. We must learn to discern and be mindful of the subtle ways our words and actions undermine safety and trust in a community of colleagues.
Teal Organizations spend significant time and energy training everybody in ground rules that support healthy and productive collaboration. Many end up writing down these ground rules in a document. RHD has its detailed Bill of Rights and Responsibilities; Morning Star its documents called Organizational Vision, Colleague Principles, and Statement of General Business Philosophy; FAVI has its fiches, and Holacracy its Constitution. These documents provide a vision for a safe and productive workplace. They give colleagues a vocabulary to discuss healthy relationships, and they draw lines that separate recommended from unacceptable behaviors.
Wisdom traditions insist on the need for regular silence and reflection to quiet the mind and let truth emerge from a deeper part of ourselves. An increasing number of people pick up contemplative practices— meditation, prayer, yoga, walking in nature— and integrate these into their daily lives. Many Teal organizations have set up a quiet room somewhere in the office, and others have put meditation and yoga classes in place. This practice opens up space for individual reflection and mindfulness in the middle of busy days. A number of them go a step further: they also create collective moments for self-reflection through practices such as group coaching, team supervision, large-group reflections, and days of silence. SeeTraining and Coaching.
If we want workplaces of trust, if we hope for deep, rich, and meaningful relationships, we have to reveal more of who we are. It has become fashionable in many companies, when teams don’t collaborate well, to call for a team-building event. Going bowling together can be a fun break from work, but such activities are generally “more of the same”: they keep to the surface and don’t really foster trust or community at any deep level. These events lack the essential element we have used to build community and create shared narratives since the dawn of time: the practice of storytelling. We have lost track of the power of stories to bring us together, and in the process, we have let communal relations dwindle and erode. We need to recover the power of storytelling, as author Parker Palmer tells us:
The more you know about another person’s journey, the less possible it is to distrust or dislike that person. Want to know how to build relational trust? Learn more about each other. Learn it through simple questions that can be tucked into the doing of work, creating workplaces that not only employ people but honor the soul in the process.
Teal organizations typically have instituted specific meeting practices to help participants keep their egos in check and interact with each other from a place of wholeness. Some are very simple, while others much more elaborate. At Sounds True, every meeting starts with a minute of silence to help people ground themselves in the moment. Many Teal companies start meetings with a round of check-in and finish with a round of check-out.See Meetings.
It’s easy in our relationships with colleagues to fall prey to our desire to please or to impress, to be liked, or to dominate. We easily intrude on others or let them intrude on us. Our soul knows the right boundaries, and sometimes it tells us we need conflict to set them in the right place. Without conflict, we can be over-accommodating or over-protective, and in both cases, we stop being true to ourselves when interacting with colleagues. Teal organizations have developed specific practices to identify and resolve conflict. See Conflict resolution.
Most places of work insidiously signal that we are in a place somehow removed from normal life, and they call us to behave differently than we would in other environments. Teal organizations create physical spaces that invite workers to bring more of themselves to the job. Sounds True welcomes workers’ dogs to the office and installed not just a microwave but a full stove in the kitchen to encourage a sense of community in which people could cook and eat together. At Buurtzorg, nurses are encouraged to decorate their small community offices to make them their own. At FAVI, teams have chosen colors to paint the machines in their area and have decorated the shop floor with posters, plants and aquariums. Many Teal organizations spend significant resources on facilitating workers’ connection with nature so that they can slow down and find a deeper connection with themselves and the world: Sun Hydraulics located all its factories next to a lake; Sounds True defied the convention of fixed windows that would ensure centralized temperature control and opted for more expensive windows that could open to the outside.
Through these practices, a safe space is created. Then, each person is responsible to follow his/her own process of self–awareness and personal development. The daily practices that Teal organization offer, such as reflective space, storytelling, meetings without ego and conflict resolution methodologies, are the tools each person has available to define and follow his way. And only in this process of matching such an organizational approach with the individual’s responsibility for self-growth, can self-management and listening to purpose flourish.
In addition to the practices described above, Teal organizations have reframed all of the key human resources processes— recruitment, onboarding, training, evaluation, compensation, dismissal— in ways to eliminate fear and feelings of separation and reclaim wholeness. See Human Resource practices.
Here are some concrete examples of what Wholeness looks like in Teal organizations.
Media - United States - 90 employees and 20 dogs - For profit
Dogs and Art Salons
In the early days, Tami Simon, the founder and CEO of [http:/http://www.soundstrue.com Sounds True], brought her dog along to the office. When the business expanded and employees were hired, it didn’t take long for some of them to ask if they too could bring their dogs to work. Tami couldn’t think of a reason to refuse. Today it is not rare for a meeting to take place with two or three dogs lying at people’s feet. Something special happens within the presence of dogs, colleagues noticed. Animals tend to ground us, to bring out the better sides of our nature. The simple practice of petting a dog tends to soothe us, to reconnect us to our body, and to calm down our spinning minds. And when it’s a colleague’s dog we pet, or a colleague that pets ours, we subtly build community. People found that the decision to open the company’s doors didn’t only allow in dogs, but more human life as well.
A number of years ago, a colleague at Sounds True took it upon herself to organize an “Art Salon” on a Friday afternoon. Everyone was invited to share some artistic passion with his or her colleagues. Walls throughout the office were filled with photographs and paintings. A small stage was erected for people to perform. Some colleagues chose to sing (some songs composed about life in the company were particular hits), others juggled or danced tango. People enjoyed themselves so much that the salon has turned into an annual event. Tami wasn’t involved in setting up the first salon, but she sees that it has become an important element in the company culture:
I realized these events are saying to people, “You get to be a whole person. This part of you, it may not fit to do it as part of your job every day. … But the fact that you can now juggle five balls is actually cool. And on a Friday afternoon, we want to sit back and have a glass of wine and watch you do this and acknowledge this part of you.” That is part of what I think makes people feel [that that] the wholeness of who they are is actually welcome. Because we do welcome it, we want to see it.
RHD (Resources for Human Development)
Human Services - United States - 4.000 employees - Nonprofit
An organizational Bill of Rights
RHD has developed over the years a beautiful and precisely worded Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Employees and Consumers. The first two articles spell out RHD’s objective of creating a safe environment and constructively managing conflict and anger. (Later articles deal with topics related to self-management.) The premise is maintained that conflict is inevitable, but that hostile behaviors are not:
This corporation has chosen to operate with several basic assumptions. One of those assumptions is that there are multiple “right” ways or paths we can follow in making decisions, thus there is no one “true” or “absolute” reality. Each person in a situation holds his/ her own view of reality, and his/ her own perspective about the most effective way to do things. This assumption allows us to recognize that conflict is inevitable and that people will disagree in the workplace. While conflict and difference (or disagreement) are to be expected, explosive or otherwise hostile expressions of anger are not acceptable in RHD. As a member of the RHD community, it is important to be able to do two things: a) Separate from our own need to be “right” in order to hear and respect others’ realities and perspectives: and, b) Differentiate between thoughts (what’s going on inside your head) and behaviors (what you do or say).
The document goes on to spell out in detail five unacceptable expressions of hostility. The first, demeaning speech and behavior, is described in the following terms:
Demeaning speech and behavior involves any verbal or nonverbal behavior that someone experiences as undermining of that person’s self-esteem and implies that he/she is less than worthy as a human being. Such behaviors include, but are not limited to, name-calling, ridicule, sarcasm, or other actions which “put down” people. Demeaning a person with such physical behaviors as rolling one’s eyes when the person speaks or otherwise negating her importance as a member of the community is also unacceptable. Anyone encountering such hostile behavior has the right and responsibility to surface it as an issue.
Other expressions of hostility ”negative triangulated messages,” “threat of abandonment,” “disconfirming the other person’s reality,” and “intimidation/explosion” are defined in an equally precise manner.
Mental Health Hospital - Germany - 600 employees – For profit
Among the great number of innovative management practices Heiligenfeld has introduced over the years, employees often credit one practice in particular for making the company an outstanding workplace. Every Tuesday morning, 350 or so employees come together for an hour and a quarter to engage in joint reflection (as many as don’t need to be with patients and as the size of the room will allow). Each week, a new topic that is relevant at the moment and conducive to self-reflection is put on the agenda - subjects as diverse as conflict resolution, dealing with failure, company values, interpersonal communication, bureaucracy, IT innovations, risk management, personal health, and mindfulness.
The meeting always kicks off with a short presentation to frame the subject matter. But the heart of the meeting happens in small groups engaged in self-reflection. Let’s take the example of the topic “dealing with failure” to illustrate how this event plays out at Heiligenfeld. The short plenary presentation introduces ways to deal gracefully with failure— how new possibilities open up when we stop being judgmental about our failures; how from a higher place of consciousness we can view failure as life’s invitation to expand our skills and awareness and grow into more of who we are.
After this short introduction, people shuffle their chairs around to create groups of six to ten people. In the groups, people are asked to reflect on the topic— how they deal with failure in their lives, at work and at home, individually and collectively. Every group elects a facilitator who enforces a few ground rules to create a space where it’s safe to explore, to be authentic and vulnerable. In the confines of the small group, helped by their colleagues’ listening, people dare to dig deep and gain new insights about themselves and others. At some point, a microphone goes around the room and people who feel inclined to do so share what came up for them in the discussion. There is no scripted outcome to these meetings, no expected end product; everyone comes out of the meeting with his or her own personal learning. Often, collective insights emerge, as well as decisions and initiatives that are then carried out when people go back to work.
It’s a time-consuming practice for sure - 75 minutes every week for more than half of the company. But people at Heiligenfeld say the benefits far outweigh the costs. These large group meetings are like a company-wide training program on steroids; the whole organization grows its way through one topic after another, week after week.
Apparel - United States - 1,350 employees - For profit
Children in Meetings
At its headquarters in Ventura, California, Patagonia hosts a Child Development Center for employees’ children, from a few months up to kindergarten age. Children’s laughter and chatter are among the regular sounds at the office, coming from the playground outside, from children visiting their parents’ desks, or from kids joining parents and colleagues for lunch at the cafeteria. It is not uncommon to see a mother nursing her child during a meeting. Relationships change subtly but profoundly when people see each other not only as colleagues, but also as people capable of the profound love and care young children inspire. When colleagues have just played with a baby over lunch, it’s that much harder to fly at each other’s throats when they sit in a meeting.
School (grades 7 – 12) - Germany - 1,500 students, staff and parents – Nonprofit
The "Praise Meeting"
ESBZ has an extraordinary trust and community-building practice based around storytelling: the “praise meeting.” Every Friday afternoon, the entire school— students, teachers, and staff— comes together for an hour in a large hall. They always start by singing a song together, to settle into community. All the rest of the time together is unscripted. There is an open microphone on stage, with a simple rule: we are here to praise and thank each other. For the next 50 minutes, students and teachers who feel called to do so stand up, walk up on stage, take the microphone, and praise or thank another student or teacher for something they did or said earlier in the week; then they go sit down again and someone else takes the stage. Every person at the microphone shares what is essentially a miniature story that reveals something about two people— the storyteller and the person being praised or thanked— in their struggles and in their glories.