There is a great deal of emphasis on systems transformation and organizational culture lately. We used to call it team building or community building back in the early days of my career. Now, there are extensive post-secondary programs and training courses dedictated to the fine art of helping us get along, function in healthy ways, and provide high quality service. That tells us something about the state of our workplaces. The nonprofit sector is not immune from this phenomenon. In fact, service-based agencies often have very unhealthy environments, despite how well trained we are in the area of interpersonal communication.
At the end of the day, no system exists without each individual person within it. Sure, big organizations can almost become their own animal over time, but we can’t allow that to impede our personal responsibility for how we contribute to the overall energy of our organization. And we are always contributing. There is no such thing as neutral. If we are “at the table”, we have impact and influence. So, the question becomes, how will I contribute to and influence the health and well being of the system?
Impact of organizational dysfunction
So often, it is within the context of “community” that many Service Providers experience their greatest stress. It is in the striving to meet deadlines, budgets, mandates and missions, seemingly imposed from some nebulous beyond, that a sense of powerlessness and inability to affect change or experience growth is born and bred.
When dynamics between colleagues and managers are strained, the potential for disillusionment, disengagement, and burnout escalates. This is where the “us” and “them” mentality is born. Fragmented organizations and communities do not function optimally and eventually break down in a number of ways, including employee sickness, high turnover, and reduced quality of service. And that costs money. More importantly, it hurts people.
As mentioned previously, service-based organizations are often the least healthy places of employment. There appears to be a disconnect between what is understood as beneficial within helping relationships and how those very same principles can enhance our interactions with everyone else. It is time to take the innate strengths and natural talents of the individuals who make up the system and utilize them in ways that lift our organizations and communities to a higher level of health and function.
Co-creation of community culture
Culture is not something we are born with. We create it based on what we, as a group or society, require to survive and thrive. So, it stands to reason that culture looks different in different parts of the world and over time. Knowing that the culture of your organization is something that you can have an impact on can be an empowering perspective. It’s important and more powerful when we influence with action as opposed to simply talking about what needs to change. In the famous words of Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
One way we can step into personal power within organizational dynamics involves transparency. And, of course, being transparent requires courage and a sense of safety. Look within to ensure that you feel safe to share and to speak up rather than waiting for other people to “make” you feel safe. That never seems to happen and it hampers your ability to show up with confidence. That “stuff” is an internally created commodity.
Being transparent involves really owning and getting behind your opinions, viewpoints, intentions, actions, and uncertainties. Transparency also eliminates the air of mystery that can be enticing in a budding romance but not so much fun in our work lives at our organizations.
Flat organizations, similar to Peter Senge’s learning organizations model, give us greater access to powerful energy and opportunities to maximize synergy and capacity building. Leadership is an energy as opposed to simply a position. We can all step into self-leadership and show up ready to contribute what only we can offer. Flat organizations focus more on roles and responsbilities as opposed to authority and power. Co-creating community means we all work together ~ from a place of personal inspiration ~ for the betterment of the greater good.
I encourage you to step into a place of personal power and affect change from your current position. There is nothing more exhilarating than to know who you are, what you contribute to the greater picture, and how to foster opportunities for that contribution to be expressed in real ways. Take back the power you may have unknowingly handed over to the “powers that be.”
As a leader, you can begin to create opportunities ~ real and meaningful opportunities ~ to tap into the genius of other employees in ways that lead to greater personal satisfaction for your workforce, as well as improved quality of service and streamlined operations. Becoming a champion of the service and service providers in your organization attracts funders and partners who want to help you do more of what you do so well. Employees who feel seen and recognized usually go above and beyond. And they stay.
If you are not in an official leadership position, you can still maximize your personal leadership qualities to alter your experience of work and service, to heighten your capacity to see results and to carve out your path as a Service Provider leading to greater joy and fulfillment. Get back in the driver seat. Taking the initiative to declare your passions and inspirations ~ and how you wish to contribute ~ opens doors within your organization and with community partners.
Happy people are beacons of service. Opportunities for self-expression lead to feelings of fulfillment and contribution. Nowadays, we seem to look more and more for opportunities that have meaning to us personally. I recall a time in my life when I decided to use “personal meaning” as a benchmark for the choices I made in my career, along with other parts of my life. If it didn’t have meaning for me then it was not something I would commit to. Reserving your “yeses” for the things that really matter to you is a powerful expression of self-care. And it will make you happy.
When the space we function within genuinely invites input and personal expression, there is an opportunity for unbridled creativity, infusion of passion, and an overall sense of synergy within the system. Help create that space for yourself and for your colleagues. The people you serve through your organizations and programs will be glad you did.
Elizabeth Bishop is the creator of The Conscious Service Approach. She regularly facilitates workshops based on the principles of the approach both online and in person. Elizabeth can be reached at www.elizabethbishopconsulting.com, on twitter at @askelizabethb, and Facebook and Linkedin at Elizabeth Bishop Consulting.