Organizations and groups that care

I’ve been talking with various colleagues and friends who believe the organizations or businesses they work with don’t recognize or value their contributions, and more generally that they don’t CARE about them as people in a holistic sense.  Their frustration is not necessarily that they’re not getting paid enough, not getting recognition or appreciation, or not being included – but that they feel powerless to pursue the things they care about, and that their co-workers, supervisors and others not only don’t listen but on some deeper level don’t care that they be satisfied or engaged in activities which are meaningful to them.

An organization is made up of people, and so if we’re acting with some integrity, taking responsibility for the state of our organizations, we each have to look at ourselves and our own role in creating or strengthening a work environment where we and others do (or don’t) feel cared for.  And yet, a group is more than the sum of its individual parts, so it can be tempting to think that our individual reflection and action is meaningless or unsubstantial in the face of the group’s social norms which may seem to preclude caring.  Or that it’s not the purpose of a group to be caring.

Which brings me to a deeper issue … to what degree do groups or organizations or businesses exist for their own purposes or mission, and to what degree do they exist to serve the people who make up those entities?

I’ve mostly experienced working within groups where the organization or business mission is primary .. individual participants or workers or members are expected to toe the cultural or social line in favor of achieving the group’s mission and/or continuing to get the paycheck or other benefits from their work, regardless of what they think about the mission.  So either due to the threat of losing your job or because you agree with the “end” and can accept this group’s “means,” you’ll do what’s asked and go along with a culture that at best de-emphasizes, and perhaps at worst ignores or actively works against, individual employee or member interests or needs.  And if you don’t agree with the means or the end, and you are lucky enough to have other employment options, you’ll move on to somewhere else where you’re willing to accept the rules of their game.

But I worked in one organization where there was quite a different culture, where it seemed to me that the group was created by its employees with a strong desire to serve their needs, and serving those employees’ needs was as (not more) important as serving clients.  So when the organization needed to adapt to new financial circumstances or consider new programming, individuals’ contributions were not just input into “how” to make the change dictated by the organization, but were the substance (the “what”) of what those changes would be.

Even when all the employees might agree that a particular focus or program might help the organization, or that there might be a market for a particular service which would help their mission or financial goals, if no one would feel satisfaction or pleasure in doing that work, it wouldn’t happen (at least at that time).  Don’t get me wrong, the organization is pushing for social change, clear about its mission, and acting in a coherent manner to achieve its mission.  But it’s doing so based on what individuals within the group care about, and the group as a whole cares deeply that its employees feel satisfied and fulfilled.

Is it clear how radical these ideas seem? It’s not just about participatory decision-making (a process), or getting buy-in for something already determined by some other part of the organization or business – it’s a question of how we conceive of the goals and objectives of the groups and organizations we are a part of, and the degree to which individual vs. collective needs and interests are considered in the work of that group.

Food for thought, welcome your comments …

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Filed under Social Change, Working with Groups

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