Living and working well together: a blog on organizational performance and wellbeing

September 15, 2022

As a new member of the Society for Organizational Learning Sweden, I offered to write a monthly blog that focuses on SoL’s 5th Guiding Principal on Well-being and Performance.  

The principals guiding the Society for Organizational Learning’s development are worth listing. 

The principals guiding the Society for Organizational Learning’s development are worth listing. 

Guiding Principle #1: Drive to learn 

Each human being is born with innate, lifelong desire and ability to learn. This should be enhanced by all organizations.

Guiding Principle #2: Learning is social

People learn best from and with one another. Participation in learning communities is vital to their effectiveness, well-being and happiness in any work setting.

Guiding Principle #3: Learning is communal

The capacities and accomplishments of organizations are both inseparable from and dependent on the capacities of the learning communities they foster.

Guiding Principle #4: Aligning with human nature & the natural world.

It is essential that all organizations and networks of organizations evolve to be in greater harmony with human nature and with the natural world.

Guiding Principle #5: Well-being and performance

Creating high levels of social well-being is the bedrock of sustained high performance in any social system.

Guiding Principle #6: Cross-organizational, cross-cultural and cross-generational collaboration

Learning communities that connect multiple organizations and link across cultural and generational boundaries can significantly enhance their capacity for profound systemic change.

Guiding Principle #7: Core learning capabilities

Organizations must develop individual and collective capabilities to:
  • Sense emerging realities
  • Understand complex, interdependent issues
  • Engage in reflective, generative conversation
  • Nurture personal and shared aspirations
  • Learn through conscious experimentation and correction

Guiding Principle #8: Positive systemic impact

All learning is manifest in action and results. We aim to achieve practical, on-the-ground innovations for healthier social and ecosystems.

Guiding Principle #9: Transparency

Each SoL community follows its particular business model. The model must be built upon financial, governance and membership transparency.

Organizational learning is more relevant than ever when we reflect on today’s challenges. While there are many, those I find most compelling are:

  1. Climate change is upon us. When SoL was formed, climate change was seen as a future event. Now we are experiencing the consequences of climate change around the globe as year-by-year global warming increases resulting in torrential downpours, droughts, rising sea levels and wildfire conflagrations burning millions of acres of the forests..
  • COVID disrupted our social lives. Prior to COVID we enjoyed being together with our family, coworkers, friends and fellow students. With the onset of COVID, the rich tapestry of our social fabric was torn and tattered. Social isolation reminded us of our social nature and our relationship with others as vital to our daily living.
  • Ill-being at work continues. Since the Whitehall II study in 2004, research has documented how our organization of work increases stress, heart disease and ill mental health. This trend continues today. Swedish research has led the world in our understanding of the social phenomena of bullying. In the largest survey of academic workplace culture, 7% of the respondents reported experiencing bullying over the past 12 months rising to 14% for female employees and 15% for female PhD students.

            When reflecting upon SoL’s principles and the challenges we face today, I feel the recent loss of some of SoL’s leaders including Arie de Gues, Alain de Vulpian, Humberto Maturana and Dee Hock. My blog will feature the work of these and other contributors to SoL Now, I would like to return to SoL Sweden’s 2022 Learning Plaza and Arie’s 2014 call to action to respond to the challenges we face.

“I think what is needed, what is waiting for you, the next generation, is to find ways to change the internal structures of business and governmental institutions to become much more in harmony with the value systems that have developed since the second world war. That´s your job. That´s waiting for you and that´s a very difficult problem. That´s really organizational learning by accommodation”

In his call to action to meet our challenges Arie proposed organizational learning as described by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s theory of accommodation. Accommodation occurs when our learning changes our mental models (described by psychologists as schema). Here our learning is guided not by theories we hold but by discovery of the emergent. This is a developmental – ontological view or perhaps more simply put – how humans adapt to a changing environment.

This is not trivial. Our predominant approach to creating healthy organizations has been pathological where we identify a problem, propose an intervention intended to solve the problem and then apply our intervention to the problem to be solved. This is one approach to having a positive social impact.

I have found that it is best to begin by understanding how wellbeing is created in dynamic social systems or networks of networks of conversations that create social wellbeing that can be studied by asking “How do we do what we do when we live and work well together?”. 

            What is the principle behind SoL’s principles? Love. It is our human preference to love that sustains our living well together. And what is needed for leaders to generate a culture of high performance. Freedom. When in an organization, employees are free to follow their preferences to live well together, we find that innovation, productivity and high performance are the result.

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