This is the second of a three part series of posts by Susan Basterfield on working out loud and Reinventing Organizations.
Emerging into Teal through Working Out Loud Part 2 — Wholeness
What is possible when our personal purpose and the organization’s purpose intersect? Can we access that possibility if we aren’t able to connect with our personal purpose in a way that represents our whole self?
Most people (myself included) are rarely challenged to consider the how or why or ‘what am I here for’ intersects with that of the organization.
I appreciate the perspective Sarah Rozenthuler brings forth in ‘The 3 Adventures of Purpose-led leaders”, which offers an invitation “to find the work that we need to do”. That is our purpose. She says “When we work for an organization whose mission aligns with our own, we bring our whole selves to our work — our caring, daring selves as well as our professional skillset”.
Masks and small squares
A more accessible discussion of wholeness may be described as an acknowledgement of those parts of yourself that you either put a mask over or divvy up to share in different aspects of your life. What would you look like if everything you did reflected or included each of those aspects of you — your whole self. How different would that look in comparison to what you bring to work today?
I can identify times throughout my journey, almost to the day, when I chose to put a mask over a particular part, or decided to ignore that part. Eventually, all I was left with was the ‘masculine rational’* component that was valued in the multi-national. Faced with continual reinforcement of that as the only appropriate posture — in a board meeting, or a project meeting, or a sales meeting — we almost can’t stop it from becoming the default. It just becomes easier to leave the masks on. And we forget we are even wearing them.
* I find this terminology challenging and a little cringy from my gender as a social construct lens; it’s Laloux’s language. What it looked like for me was a hard-assed, meritocratic logician.
Showing your work isn’t the same as Showing your Whole Self
How can Working Out Loud help us to have the confidence to be more whole at work? As with self-management, it’s a choice to be vulnerable enough to put your work into the public domain. To show work in progress and actively seek out feedback.
It’s a two-part process — don’t take the short cut! Showing your work as a reflection of your work self as opposed to your whole self, (i.e artifacts of what you are producing) may be a little less scary, but it’s missing the point.
Open your work to feedback, and ask to provide feedback
When you open it up to feedback that you get the opportunity to show more of yourself. Through giving feedback, you approach someone else’s work or goal from a number of different lenses. Each time you approach feedback from a different lens, you are engaging the different aspects of yourself.
When I explain what I think wholeness means and why it’s important, it usually involves something like this “I feel cheated that you only bring 1/16th of who you are to work — I want to know and see all your facets — the creative part of you, the sensitive part, the funny part, the expressive part or your intuition.” I feel cheated because that part that you are not showing (consciously or unconsciously) is potentially diminishing my experience of the interaction.
Working Out Loud as a cure for the scourge of scarcity?
Scarcity (whether actual or a mindset) reigns in many companies — scarcity of resource especially. There either aren’t enough hours or enough people to get the work done as quickly and fully and efficiently as we could.
Imagine if (especially in organizations that value problem solving and innovation) scarcity could be mitigated not by simply ‘throwing more money’ or ‘throwing more people’ at a problem? What if it could be as simple as encouraging everyone to come with their ‘whole selves’ as opposed to that tiny rational/masculine window — what if I got 6 aspects of Maria, where I used to get just one? Or 5 aspects of Tom? Mightn’t that give us that creative edge that would move our relationships, or our business, or our world forward apace?
That’s in the Meta context. In the context of Working out Loud peer circles, one of the reasons it ‘works’ is that with a tight, interdependent circle, those shy parts of us are encouraged to come out and play.
Creating and holding Safe Space
When ‘safe space’ is created and held, we can use that space as a playpen to start trying things — experimenting, bringing forth parts of ourselves out from behind the mask, to play, and live.
I’m currently working with a distributed organization who are intentionally on the Teal path. One of the first invitations was that they self organize into peer circles (in this context, peers include everyone up to the CEO) of individuals they don’t normally work with. I asked them to write an open letter reflective of their personal purpose and how and where it intersects with the organization’s evolutionary purpose.
Within hours, there was express validation of the power of circles — the space to Work Out Loud and feel safe to express very profoundly deep ideas about oneself — because what could be more personal than ones sense of purpose. For most people, and in most companies, would never even be considered to think about let alone talk about. Much less practice.
I am not a fan of work-life balance. It’s all life.
If your work is so unpleasant that you have to balance it with something else, I might suggest that it’s because you are trying too hard to do it with just one facet of your whole self. If you were able, somehow, to bring your playful self, or your creative self to work, I wonder if you would feel so ‘unbalanced’? It’s not about being wacky, although that could be part of it. Though it is about feeling comfortable with feeling different.
Even though most of us don’t wear uniforms to work (and even less so now — when I was ‘coming up’ in corporate there certainly was a uniform as such, even suits for women) there is still that whole thing about fitting in. Don’t stand out, lest you be called the weird one. Some people have always been OK with that and enjoy being different, sometimes just for the sake of it. I think that time has shown us that the way we dress and wear our hair just isn’t that important.
Leaving our lives in the locker (the hot clean desk)
A trend seems to be waning in some quarters is clean desks devoid of any personality whatsoever. The idea was about flexibility and tech companies trying to prove a point to themselves that one could work anywhere, easily. In many offices, everyone had a little locker where they leave their ‘outside selves’ before scrambling for their favorite desk or pod. And yes, some people enjoy working that way — different every day, different view and different pod mates. I’m just not convinced that all it did was suck some more soul out of the organization. It might even actually promote hierarchy and be bad for your health.
Wholeness is the way we choose to be present.
And Working Out Loud is a way to be present in some of those dimensions- some way out in the open, as with artifacts and shipping, some within the circle, as a practice and a way to learn as a group to create and hold that safe space.
How might you start to practice? How can we find the courage to bring all of who we are to everything we do?
In two weeks** we’ll explore Evolutionary Purpose, and how Working out Loud and Sensing out Loud helps to illuminate and amplify.
Photograph ©Matt Hill — visit Matt and his remarkable work atwww.MattHillArt.com