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What does a healthy organisation look like?

Posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2018

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Flame - Healthy OrganisationIs your organisation healthy? From a systemic perspective, there are several guiding principles that ensure a healthy flow of energy – thereby producing a consistent flow of ideas, employee engagement and ultimately harnessing potential (& performance) of the wider organisation and individuals.

A holistic vision of a living entity

When we incorporate the systemic lens – we are looking at the organisation as a three dimensional living system. This includes all of it’s history (including the founders & the various leaders over time) within the multi-dimensional landscape of how the business operates today.

Guiding principles for healthy organisations

When in place, these principles, enable:

  1. vitality and vibrancy (enabling delivery of sustainable performance results)
  2. high engagement (talent optimisation and retention)
  3. a pipeline of ideas & innovation (enabling growth)

In short, these principles facilitate the flow of energy into and through the organisation which ultimately empowers the organisation to harness it’s highest potential.

When these guiding principles are in place within a healthy organisation, it offers the opportunity for:

  • A clear sense of direction, orientation and momentum
  • Respectful acknowledgment of all that has come before – whereby all that has happened (good and bad) & all those who have made a contribution, are included as part of the history;
  • Everyone to fully take their place in the organisation and willingly step up to what is asked of them;
  • Functions (and the employees within these) have clarity on their place relative to each other and feel equally valued for their contribution;
  • A strong sense of belonging, on the assumption employees live up to the agreed expectations (belonging in an organisation is conditional upon delivering on expectations);
  • A sense of mutual exchange between the organisation and employees – where employees know that what they give, will be reciprocated over time;

Indicators of an unhealthy organisation

When these guiding principles are not fully engaged, there will be some elements of dysfunction.

Here are some key indicators to look out for:

  • Rigidity of the organisation (or key leaders). This can be expressed as a lack of ability to flex or move during change
  • The organisation (or a part of it) appears to be ‘standing still’ in time (frozen)
  • A significant part or a group within the organisation are primarily nostalgically focussed on the past, instead of the future
  • Broken connections – a split in the workforce
  • Lack of flow between divisions or functions and/or tensions between them
  • Loss of a critical capability
  • Key positions (roles) have a constant churn or turnover, regardless of the talent that is recruited

Getting to the Root Cause

It can often be the case, that there has been some level of ‘trauma’ in the history of the organisation that has not yet been fully or appropriately acknowledged.  Just as there can be trauma in the personal system, so there can be trauma in the organisational setting.

Trauma has been defined by one of the leading practitioners in this field of systemic work (Anngwyn St Just), as follows:

“The system is so overwhelmed by an experience that it is not capable to bounce back to its original strength and there are broken connections”.

One of my esteemed teachers, Jan Jacob Stam adds some helpful context & provides some suggestions about how to handle (and mitigate) the phenomenon of organisational trauma in this short video (3 mins):

Classic sources of ‘trauma’ in organisations:

There can be a trauma reaction in an organisation when significant events are not handled appropriately, such as:

  • Major redundancies
  • Mergers (forcing things together)
  • Acquisitions (brutal takeovers)
  • Exiting of key leaders
  • Industrial accidents or deaths
  • Natural disasters
  • Fraud
  • Change of Name/Identity of an organisation

If you recognise some of these unhealthy dynamics and would like to get to the root cause, to transform performance and enable your organisation to harness it’s highest potential, please feel free to get in touch. I am more than happy to have a confidential conversation about your organisation – you can get in touch directly touch with me by email.

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Tess (O’Kane) Cope is the founder of The Transformation Agency and has extensive experience within organisational and personal development across both the private and public sectors – working within global and UK based organisations at Board level – media, distribution, financial services and healthcare sectors. She works with senior management teams and HR leaders across a range of diverse organisations and specialises in Cultural Transformation, Leadership Development, and Executive Coaching. She is a qualified practitioner of a range of diagnostics, psychometrics and integral methodologies which she applies for whole system sustainable change with clients.

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