Leadership and organisational life is complex.

It demands something more than entrepreneurial drive, innovation, people skills and the ability to deliver. Something more than emotionally intelligent individual leaders and high functioning teams.

Working at the level of the individual and team is essential, clarifying and resourcing but unless a wider perspective is also included crucial information may be missed which can build enduring organisational health and resolve complex or apparently intractable issues.

A business or ‘organisational system’ can be looked at as a continuously changing mass of relationships, hierarchies, loyalties and motivations. Like a child’s mobile it hangs in delicate balance. Each part connected to and influencing each other.

When all of the elements have their place, are free to move and play their part, system wide health is achieved. Organisational health.

Organisational health arises when certain things are attended to. It is experienced when:

  • everything and everybody is given a place, when each know where they belong in the system, so they  can make a full contribution resourced by their skills, experience and personal energy.
  • when leaders have the whole system in mind and serve those that follow.
  • when all truths for the organisation are acknowledged and given a place. Past mistakes, people who have contributed but left. When the natural hierarchy is acknowledged alongside the imposed one.
  • when the purpose of the organisation is clear and when each role, each person and each team is in flow with something greater than themselves and so willing and able to work in service of the purpose.
  • when the needs within the system for a balance between giving and receiving are acknowledged and attended to

Organisational health can be felt at an individual, team and whole company level. It’s tangible. Leaders and employees of all kinds feel empowered, respected and useful. They have a level of psychological safety in role that they can relax into and so allow their own capacity to perform, to manage, to create and influence, to surface and be applied, willingly, for the good of the business.

But when ‘health’ is absent, so are the people.

Individuals and teams who are unsure of their place, their role or level of responsibility cannot be fully present and so don’t bring their talents and experience fully to the business. They withhold something, unconsciously resisting a fuller contribution. Trust, loyalty and motivation are missing or unreliable.

In healthy organisations people want to make a full contribution because they know that they’re doing something that will be valued and have an impact as part of a whole.

In recent years it has become clear that there are a number of immutable and consistently occurring ‘ordering forces’ that express themselves in particular ways in business and organisational life. These natural forces blow like invisible winds through organisations and are, rather like gravity, abstract and invisible – but have tangible effects – dynamics which create powerfully felt imbalances of the system. These may be experienced as business inertia, leadership or cultural difficulties, conflict, high staff turnover or variable performance that feels out of step with experience and expectations. You will know that somewhere, somehow, the system is out of balance and the ordering forces are making their presence felt.

When they are attended to people feel safe, respected, in flow and ready to bring themselves fully to their role and to the business. Employees and clients alike experience the benefits of this and business can flourish in these conditions. This is organisational health. The system is in a dynamic balance.

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This is an extract from a new book by coach, facilitator and author John Whittington, to be published in 2013. The model expressed in the book – ‘PLACEmaking’ – has been developed in order to support the flow of organisational health for business founders, leaders, senior managers, HR and L&OD specialists, coaches and consultants within corporate bodies, the public sector and voluntary organisations. It offers a way of identifying the ordering forces and hidden dynamics they create and integrating the understanding into the leaders’ work to support the flow of organisational health and business vitality.

The book is designed to offer a new perspective on persistent challenges for contemporary business organisations and provide real world applicable solutions to pressing organisational health issues. Exploring issues as broad as systemic cultural change and as personal as systemic leadership, it is designed to open up fresh perspectives for contemporary organisational life and leadership.

For more information on author John Whittington, please see here for more.

For the author’s current schedule of speaking engagements, workshops and trainings please go to the diary page on: