Tag Archives: collective

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

Collaboration: knowledge sharing

So there you are, five hours into work on that new project, only to find out that your colleague already did that same work or had information you spent a lot of time trying to collect.  Or maybe you were talking with someone about your organization’s or business’ less than satisfactory outcome to a tough problem, only to find out that this person had another piece of the picture or a different approach to the question that you’d never considered … and this person was none to pleased that you never asked them for their input in the first place!

Sound familiar?  It’s pretty common in our individualistic, competitive, put-out-the-most-recent-fire world that information critical to achieving our collective objectives isn’t shared … despite lengthy and unproductive meetings, or talk of more and better communication.  It’s ironic that as individuals we’re so thirsty to be heard, to have someone value the information or contribution we have to make.  And yet, in our organizations we seem to expect that individuals should already know what’s needed, and, if they have to ask (god forbid), they should ask targeted questions of the “expert” to get at the minimum they think they need to respond to the problem of the moment.  (And don’t you dare suggest another meeting!)

Call me an idealist, but imagine for a moment that the people you worked with recognized that you and they all had an important piece of a dynamic puzzle, and that continuous sharing of useful information with each other was fundamental to achieving your group’s objectives, improving products or services, and increasing employees’ or members’ sense of buy-in and empowerment.  Mmm …

Curiosity & play

So, what would it take?  I’m not an expert on action research, knowledge management or collaborative learning, but I think we have a lot to learn from all these fields to improve the knowledge sharing in our organizations.  And, just to get you started, here are a few of the ideas I’ve successfully worked with:

1) Bring in more voices – For example, at your next meeting include a supportive (open, not dismissive or “going through the motions”) go-round with input from every single person in the room about a challenging question.  Or ask stakeholders who haven’t previously been involved to come up with three criteria for what would successfully address the question, or at least ten possible (even if crazy) brainstorm ideas related to the issue.  Or try a mind map to identify related approaches or concepts that might inform the discussion.

2) Recognize and appreciate learning – Create specific times and spaces for sharing information (for example, include it in job descriptions, schedule specific time or resources available to support learning or knowledge sharing, do lessons-learned exercises, start a listserv, blog or lunchtime discussion group, etc.) and value the learning that is shared (express appreciation for learning and sharing efforts, identify the concrete effects of that knowledge and possible next steps, create rewards, etc.).

3) Be purposeful – Learning is great, no matter what, but with limited time and resources, you can collaborate more effectively by identifying the particular questions or issues that you want to learn more about, and the specific benefits you hope to achieve from that learning .. and then evaluate how you’re doing and consider what will give you a better chance of meeting your goals.

4) Recognize and leave space for resistance – Ours is a culture which values “experts”, and valuing everyone’s knowledge and input can feel like a threat to an “expert’s” status quo, a challenge to those unused to speaking up, and an inefficient way of doing business (“we already tried that”, “everyone knows that doesn’t work because …”, etc.).  So acknowledge the resistance, leave time and space for individual reactions, and patiently focus on creating environments where we learn from expertise, and still leave space for new ideas or approaches that may indeed better fit the current context than the old tried-and-true “truth.”

Collaboration requires this collective learning.  And in that spirit of collaboration, how would you add to this list of ways to strengthen knowledge sharing in your organization or business?

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Filed under Training and Learning, Working with Groups