After discussing the principles of “teal organizations” as described by French author Frederic Laloux, I wanted to dive a bit deeper into one of these 3 pillars: the practice of wholeness. Indeed, there is no single definition of wholeness, let alone a set of instructions that can be applied to all and to all organizations. So I went to see Dimitri and Marie-Pierre, both leaders of organizations that want to be as living and evolutive as possible, and who practice wholeness on a daily basis, to discuss the topic. In this article, I share with you the lessons I learned.
Why practice wholeness in an organization? What are the conditions to test it in a safe way? What are the difficulties? What rituals can be used to practice wholeness with your team? These are some of the questions I had the opportunity to discuss with Dimitri, founder of Scholanova, and Marie-Pierre, co-founder of Ze.game and France Apprenante. To know more about my inspirers, go to the bottom of the article.
Frederic Laloux defines “wholeness” as being fully oneself in the workplace and letting go of the masks – which I tend to agree on. But could we go further?
Under the word “wholeness”, Dimitri puts the principle of non-duality, that is to say, the fact that all beings on our planet are connected to each other, like the leaves of a tree: each one is unique and nonsingular at the same time, and none could live without the others. This is what carries him through his daily life, even if Dimitri admits that he would not necessarily use this definition in an organization.
For Marie-Pierre, the principle of “wholeness” underlies the ability to be aligned head-heart-guts, to express what we think, what we feel, our aspirations, and our proposals inside the organization. This implies having the confidence that you can test, learn, and make mistakes, without being punished for them. This is actually one of the critical elements a well-functioning team must possess according to Google’s Aristote project: “Psychological safety, meaning the ability to express oneself and take risks without being rebuked by a leader.”
As you see, the notion of wholeness can unfold many ideas and principles according to the person you talk to. If you want to implement wholeness as a core value of your organization, the first piece of advice I would give you is to take the time to collectively define what you mean by wholeness.
Objectives and conditions to wholeness
Marie-Pierre shared the trigger for adopting wholeness rituals in her organizations: “Over the years, we have realized that when relationships are nurtured, projects roll on. This is what we call the “relationship-first” principle. On the contrary, when emotions are not processed, collaboration is affected.” The first step consists of identifying the personal issues of the participants in a project – our fears, emotions, and stakes – to provide transparency, then applying the rules set collectively. “A manager is all the more inspiring when he is human, when he shows his emotions.”
Marie-Pierre continues: “wholeness requires defining and implementing a security framework that allows progress, experiments, and mistakes.” Ideally, this framework should be co-created with all the members of the group to reflect their sensibilities and needs to share who they are and take risks. This is actually the main objective of Ze.game, the serious game that Marie-Pierre co-founded in order to help organizations and groups of people develop soft skills. Ze.game is the result of the question ”What mechanisms help individuals learn to learn?” and aims at helping people to become the hero of their own life.
For Dimitri, the idea behind the principle of wholeness is to reach some kind of flow between imperfect human beings. But how can we reach these types of magical moments? “Two conditions are necessary to reach the flow: first, to have already lived it or to believe it can happen. And second, be aware that all that prevents me from reaching the flow is my ego”.
How can we bring awareness to the pitfalls of ego? Individually, one can work on themselves to be aware of their weaknesses and how they interact with other people. As a group, defining what wholeness is for us and why it is important allows us to perceive the group in a more human way, in order to live better with each other and to obtain better results. The collective and the people unfold.
Examples of rituals that foster wholeness
Both Marie-Pierre and Dimitri shared many different rituals that can be used and adapted to the context of the organization:
According to William Shultz’s theory “The Human Element”, for a group to function well, people need to feel included and competent, and the group needs to create a safe framework for people to open up and share their flaws, needs, or potential sources of stress. These practices can participate in creating this kind of space:
- defining a covenant pact (that can be updated in the course of a project) so that everyone feels good about being part of a team – including confidentiality so that everyone can open up about their fears and weaknesses in complete serenity
- a systematic inclusion at the beginning of a meeting – for instance, each member can share what they are afraid of and what they need
- a personal introspection (shared with the team) that allows each person to clarify what he or she benefits from being there and what he or she wants to progress on in order to flourish: what I dream of, what are my resources to achieve this dream, what I am afraid of, what I need to progress on
- a moment of listening or free exchange without agenda (for example at coffee time)
- share & care lunches: a weekly moment to share with the group your challenges and successes of the last few weeks and the weeks to come, on a personal and professional level
- a two-day workshop including business reflections and strategic work on the organization, but also personal listening, bodywork, meditation…
- regular feedback sessions, to learn how to give and receive feedback, to be able to read one’s emotions and express them without violence.
Training and practices
Everyone’s capacity to connect to each other and the world can be developed through practice and training: listening skills, emotional life, mental models, intuition, creativity, body intelligence, … This can take the form of online or external training, mutual aid circles (such as co-development) or themed evenings (meditation, non-violent communication, …).
Deeper individual work
Of course, practicing wholeness in the workplace requires deeper individual work as well, in order to feel at ease with one’s feelings and human traits. One must choose the right path for him or her. For instance, Dimitri recommends approaches inspired by the non-dualistic paths of the great traditions such as Advaita Vedanta or Kashmir Shaivism.
“Welcome the totality of your experience, without interpretation, judgment, comparison, or conclusion. Just stay with the facts. Let them unfold.” Francis Lucille
Difficulties and limits to wholeness practices
All seems to go well in the best of worlds, yet wholeness can sometimes be hard to achieve seamlessly. The need to be profitable can put obstacles in the way of organizations. Likewise, we are not equal in the way we conceive and implement wholeness, and time can be the key to earning the trust of a group of people. As Dimitri says, “you don’t grow a plant by pulling at the leaves”. It’s easy to blame others, but usually, the limiting factor is yourself.
In the end, I’m convinced of one thing: wholeness is the key to the future of work because a company must be the place where everyone can develop, both personally and professionally.
Dimitri Dagot is an innovative explorer who’s been through many work changes: entrepreneurship, teaching innovation, leadership… In 2014, he created the Schola Nova school, a Social and Solidarity Economy project that aims to integrate young people into the workforce in a positive and hopeful way through work-study programs. During his experiences, he has had the opportunity to test different modes of organization. He is inspired by Peter Senge’s learning organization and Oto Scharmer’s Theory U.
Marie-Pierre Dequier is the co-founder of Ze.game, a serious game that helps transform organizations through developing collaborators’ soft skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and mind-body alignment. She also co-founded France Apprenante, a collective of players in the fields of support, education, learning, innovation, digital, and training who want to better support the transformation of territories and companies. She is very inspired by Frederic Laloux’s writings. What motivates her is to give everyone the means to emancipate themselves from limiting beliefs.
Header photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash