Three steps for surviving a sick organization

Nov 14 2014 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

“Interdependence” - the notion that every organization is a living ecosystem in which everything and everyone is connected, directly or indirectly - is a concept that has been popping up with increasing regularity here on Management-Issues. But the idea is not a new one; in fact one of the most powerful explanations of its importance appeared in a 2008 book that many of us would benefit from reading.

As its name suggests, Kathleen Paris’ book, Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice, tackles head-on how individuals can survive dysfunctional workplaces.

Paris argues that workplaces tend to be fundamentally unhealthy for three main reasons. Obsolete organizing principles of hierarchy, patriarchy and command-and-control; the fact that too many managers and supervisors are not prepared to manage or supervise others; and the willingness to maintain organizational illusions.

The Clover Practice she describes in the book isn’t designed to cure a sick organization, Rather it is something that you do every day, regardless of circumstances, to help you find more peace of mind and reduce the stress caused by your working environment. It’s an approach based on three simple but powerful principles: tell the truth; always speak for yourself; and declare your interdependence (note, that’s interdependence, not independence).

Let's look at the each of these more closely.

Tell the Truth, Always

If peace of mind and reduced stress is our intention, we have to tell the truth even when it’s uncomfortable, or inconvenient or we don’t look good. White lies and unethically cutting corners compromise our integrity and the degree to which others trust us. This doesn't mean we "tell our truth" to everyone who comes along. But it does mean that "my truth" is just that. It's my opinion, not universal truth.

Speak for Yourself

Speaking to others about how things look from your perspective, history, memory and experience is a more productive and healthier way to be heard than telling people they are careless, uncooperative, lazy, incompetent or unprofessional. If you're clear you're speaking from your own observations and are open to and are able and willing to hear others' views, you are more apt to be heard.

Declare your interdependence

No one succeeds alone, even if they think they do. If you truly believed you need te help of others in your organization - regardless of title, position or salary - if you are to succeed, what would you do differently? You might be more inclined to interact and communicate with, and be openly grateful for, others up and down your organization.

Organizations are living organisms. It's often a challenge to consciously view, or understand, how what you do (say, feel…) affects others - on many levels. When you understand these connections (and consequences) more clearly, you might choose to "do" and "be" differently, bringing about harmony and collaboration rather than dis-harmony, competition and conflict.

That’s the theory. So what about putting it into practice? It’s 9:00am on Monday morning . . .

Tell the Truth, Always: As a leader, manager, supervisor or employee, do you create a space or container where others feel safe and secure when speaking openly and honestly to/with you? Do you listen and hear? Do you seek clarification and understanding by probing and always digging deeper for clarity? Do you focus on the information, not the personality?

Some questions for self-reflection

  • Of the three clovers, which is the easiest for you? Which is the most challenging, and why?
  • When are you most comfortable telling the truth? Least comfortable? Why?
  • How are you when it comes to speaking for yourself? Do you tend to use "we," "everyone" and the like (rather than "I")?
  • Do you experience interconnectedness at work (or elsewhere in your world)? How so?
  • What is your comfort level when working with/on a team?

Speak for Yourself Speaking for yourself means you discuss your experience - the who, what, where, when, why and how. Speak for yourself and no one else. So avoid using words like ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘them’, ‘they’ or ‘everyone’. This is about your perspective and your observation, delivered without judgement or criticism.

Declare Your Interdependence Where, when and how do your see yourself as part of a larger whole? As a cell in the larger body of your organization? With whom do you interact - directly or indirectly - inside and outside the physical (or digital) walls of your organization? How do you support others and how do they support you to create results, reach goals, problem solve, resolve conflict and achieve?

Even if you work in a "smart" organization, this practice can and will support you and your colleagues - from the mail room to the boardroom - and help to create a culture of safety and security, honesty and integrity, inclusion and respect. And those are all hallmarks of an organization that is healthy, not just smart.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.