Organizational Change and the Soul: The Need for Collective Reflective Sentience

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

My New Year’s intention is to read and share more poetry, and I’ve been immersed in the work of David Whyte –poet, philosopher, and organizational speaker. I’ve been reading Whyte’s book The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship. Whyte draws from Buddhist philosophy and poetry to express a core truth: the unique gift of being human is that of possessing reflective sentience. This is a rather clunky term I’ve coined to identify the ability to be conscious of and reflect on one’s inner landscape of sensations, feelings, and thoughts .

In tandem with Whyte’s work, I’ve been reading the more academic (yet equally engaging!) text Dialogic Organizational Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change, edited by Gervase Bushe and Robert Marshak. A central premise of this text is that organizations do not exist as objective realities; rather, people’s jointly constructed understandings of their interpersonal exchanges comprise what we call “organizations.” To change an organization, then, one must change the shared social constructions we hold. This means –at root–conversations must change.

The question Whyte holds is: How can we get in touch with our deeper, inner self (sometimes called the soul) and allow it to be the driver of our life? Instead, we too often let our ego work in overdrive to deal with our anxieties and worries. The question I hold is: How do we bring our full, authentic selves to organizations, in service to the work we are doing together?

We need more collective reflective sentience in the workplace.

There are so many individual practices that help us stay in touch with our deeper selves. Meditation, making art, running, gardening, reading poetry, etc. We can do this at the interpersonal level, as well. In Ralph Stacey’s contribution to Dialogic Organizational Development, he writes: “Organizational development change… is the result of many, many local interactions.”

The coaching and facilitation work I engage in with my clients includes this depth of interpersonal work. One of my clients recently told me that my coaching work helps him to have better conversations with his staff. Another marveled at the impact that a collaboratively well-crafted question had on their social exchanges. What they both shared was an appreciation for how my work with them improved their group’s ability to engage in collective reflective sentience and do better work together.

Many of us believe that we need to let go of our ego to get in touch with our soul, and that this is not possible in a work setting. Whyte comforts me when he writes:

When the outer story that the ego tells, merges with the one the inner self has come to, this becomes “the marriage of true minds.” The ego seems to disappear, but actually it has simply assumed its rightful place in the hierarchy of priorities; it has become a good servant to the soul’s desires.

Knowing that I don’t have to lose my ego to be in touch with my soul is a huge relief to me. On my trip through life and at work I just need to place my soul in the driver’s seat and let the ego ride shotgun.

Think your organization is in need of some collective reflective sentience? Contact me!


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