In this article Kate Griffiths argues that mindfulness goes beyond being a tool to support an individual’s well being and is a vital ingredient for developing conscious business. More and more individuals and organisations are realising that the old school way of doing things does not work but don’t know how to forge a path into the new paradigm.
I listened to an interview with Evan Williams, CEO of Obvious and founder of Twitter, recently and was struck by one of the things he said about start ups. In his view many love being in a start up because they perceive it as a sort of freedom where they can do what they want without getting bogged down by the laborious processes that are often found in more established organisations. Evan explained that far from being freeing, this chaotic state of affairs can often lead to huge amounts of anxiety and inefficiency. To quell these feelings there is then a land grab for power that ultimately increases the levels of anxiety. He argues that there needs to be a certain amount of structure to enable creativity to flow and to allow freedom.
As a social entrepreneur, I have found that collaboration has enabled me to achieve more but it does not come without its challenges. I am part of the core team for the 7 Graces project and we have been working together for about nine months. Interestingly and probably because we are coaches we have built some mindfulness practices into the way we work. For example we always allow space to check in and connect before we start talking about work. That said we had a major aha moment this week when we recognised the need for more structure. We realised that we needed to have greater clarity over the roles and who is in charge of what.
Holacracy has a series of structures (as I explained in a previous post) that give clarity and ensure that the implicit becomes explicit. At Obvious they have experimented with holacracy right from the off. What they have discovered is that having specific rules engenders mindfulness. Any employee with a tension, which is defined as a problem, a concern or an opportunity, can put forward a proposal to address it in their circle. When another member of the circle has a reaction to the proposal they need to check in with themselves and see what the cause of that is. If it is that they do not like the idea for aesthetic reasons or they think that they have a better idea then their reaction is irrelevant.
The question the listener has to ask themselves is will this proposal harm the company or set it back? If the answer is yes then they need to raise an objection. If they believe it will harm the company they then need to provide evidence to prove this point of view. Again there is an internal process to check that they have data and that it is not merely an unsubstantiated fear that they have.
Furthermore it is easy to be mindful at Obvious because it is built into the company design. Meditation sessions are offered twice a week in a dedicated room. It is on an opt-in basis but the take up rate is much higher because it is in the calendar. Also people are guided through the meditation practice and management encourage it because the hard science shows that it enables individuals to make better decisions and so is a benefit to the company too. Featuring mindfulness in this way means that people are either attracted or repelled to the company because of it.
There are even more benefits to slowing down and being more self-reflective. It encourages more real conversations. Generally in organisations, people do a form of cost benefit analysis around whether to have a conversation and there is a greater tendency to put off dialogue especially if it is a difficult issue. Magic does happen when people who do not really know each other take time to communicate. People really connect when they find the things that they have in common. At Obvious they found that many were concerned about how to be their best self and that when they shared these thoughts they were able to start building real momentum because it felt safer.
In short, mindfulness combined with holacracy encourages people to think about what the company needs rather than focus on the needs and desires of one particular individual. It provides a structure for people to input into a wide range of issues outside their own area and prevents people from hiding. The commitment to mindfulness provides a space where there is more self awareness, openness and receptivity to new idea. Together, there is a commitment to open up stuff and to develop more authentic relationships at work. This can also really help start ups get beyond the ideation phase and become a more solid entity with whole systems and processes.
Kate Griffiths is a qualified coach, speaker, community leader and writer, who is fascinated by the power of conversation. She teaches business owners, leaders and teams how to communicate effectively to build stronger relationships and thereby improve the possibilities for innovation and collaboration.
Kate is also the Community Relations Director of the 7 Graces Project, a thriving community and social enterprise. The aim of the 7 Graces Project is to provide an educational alternative and business incubator for a new generation of ethical, community-focused businesses. We are currently piloting our first online course which we plan to launch in the Autumn.