As my chosen field is organizational development, it might be obvious that I love organizations. It’s real – I have heartfelt tenderness for people’s attempts to work for a greater purpose together. All of us, however, have an opportunity not just to love and be loved by individuals, but by organizations. When and how does that happen?
Organizations obviously need to start by meeting the necessities of their workers with salaries and benefits, but I'm thinking higher on Mazlow's ladder. When I ask myself when I most felt organizationally loved, I remember the goodbye parties with the group trivia quiz about my preferences, or the photo collage and quirky favorite foods – it wasn’t just work contributions they were grateful for, clearly, but the bigger package of Susan. It doesn’t have to be so comprehensively personal, though. I also vividly remember the amazing feeling when an organization recognized a part of me that I love to give, asked me to share it, and celebrated that I could.
The Resist Foundation has chronicled its journey to become an organization where staff can consistently count on these sorts of experiences. Its principles around work, communication, and being whole and joyful provide desired endpoints, and its practices (peer coaching, internal restorative justice, multiple structures for two-way feedback) allow everyone to know each other, connect, and understand what direction serves them and the work in that moment. It goes far beyond window dressing – they’ve radically restructured their board, management structures, and accountability mechanisms to root out systems that treat people as disposable.
When we are loved by organizations, we’re loved by people in a structure – there’s an interplay between the interpersonal and more abstract. The Resist Foundation captures this duality in one of their principles: to “put the “we” before the “I” when upholding our work, community, purpose, and outcomes, while also realizing that taking care of ourselves and each other makes the “we” stronger”. We can build on this concept when we return love to organizations, taking care of individuals as well as building a sense of the whole. The book Reinventing Organizations provides some good examples. At the ESBZ school in Berlin, every week ends with a schoolwide 50-minute open mic event. One by one, students and staff come to the front to share appreciation and praise. Institutionalizing this has contributed to a culture of noticing and calling out what’s going well. A Japanese internet company instituted a “Day of Thanking” – each employee receives an extra day off a year along with an envelope with $200 that they to spend in a way that shares gratitude for someone important in their life. When they return, they share their story with the rest of the team. Surely, this practice connects the work of the organization with the external world in ongoing and concrete ways.
When organizations are functioning well, they allow us opportunities to be part of something meaningful that is larger than ourselves. That doesn’t describe their full potential, however. The examples above show how they can meet the deep needs of individuals AND the world. What’s not to love?