We live in a strange paradox: technology has blurred the lines between work and play. Yet, it feels more socially acceptable to answer an email during the weekend than to express our personal passions at work. People are not enjoying work as they used to: only 13% of the world’s workforce is actively engaged, according to Gallup, while the majority is either disengaged or actively “boycotting” their employer. The workplace has become so self-less and soul-less that “employees” seem to be paying it back in its own coin.

Trust Means Speaking Up

Individuals are treated as human resources rather than human beings

Traditional organizational structures prioritized obedience over trust. Being an effective leader means being in control, to ensure everyone follows the “marching orders”. Individuals are treated as human resources -rather than human beings- playing a part in a large chain of command.

A perfect example is the “opinions are my own” social media disclaimer. While I understand the need for organizations to protect themselves from misguided comments some employees might share online, are we sending the wrong message? Everything communicates, especially what we don’t say. It seems organizations don’t trust their own employees’ criteria nor encourage them to have a voice of their own. Encouraging group thinking, that disease that causes each team member to think exactly the same, is at the root of why everyone feels soul-less by keeping their opinions at home. I agree with Pichon-Riviere’s findings that the more heterogeneous a group, the more productive it will be. At LAPIZ, we have made a habit of challenging our inner perspective by bringing in outsiders or a fresh set of eyes when working on a project.

Alignment Should be Built on Differences

Every time I introduce this concept, people get nervous. Shouldn’t a group be aligned, they ask? It seems that promoting differences won’t help a group move forward as one. On the contrary, what I’m addressing here is that differences are what brings a group together rather than similarities. People want to learn from others, they want to be challenged by others; they need other perspectives to make their ideas even better. It goes without saying that it might be an uncomfortable and painful process. Alignment shouldn’t get in the way of using those different perspectives to really understand the problem and come up with better solutions. Let that tension happen first and seek for alignment later. If people discuss their differences in front of each other they won’t need to do it in water-cooler conversations.

Pushing a team for alignment too early in the game, will end stifling it. I’ve made that mistake myself way too often. As a leader, try to encourage rather than censor differences.

How to Liberate Our Soul at Work

Why is it so hard to create a safe environment at work then?

The good thing is that there’s hope. In many of the innovation and collaborative workshops we run I’ve been seeing a bigger desire and openness from participants -both from outside and inside our organization- when experimenting with a more human approach. From guided meditations to asking them over and over “who are you?” or making people aware of how they need to liberate themselves from a dominant role. It seems that “Being Professional” is actually holding people back, like Tim Casasola demonstrates in this great piece.

Our exercises aim to free up creativity by helping people embrace multiple perspectives. Basically, we inspire them to reconnect to the many human sides of themselves. Why are all these business-type adults, total strangers to each other, so willing to participate? They have a strong need to peel all their layers, that’s for sure. And the exercises (and hopefully our coaching) help.

For me, the most important reason is that they are not at their regular workplace. Their bosses are not present, neither corporate rules nor the fear of being censored. Why is it so hard to create a safe environment at work then? One where people can be more transparent, show their flows and experiment without feeling afraid? At the end of the workshop, people always ask if we practice what we preach at our own organization. “We try harder and harder,” is my honest answer. “I would love to bring these behaviors and mindsets to our own workplace”, they say.

People perform better when they are happy. And happiness is not something you can provide, like company parties or free food. Happiness is a state of mind that happens within each person: accepting the many versions of who we are and who others are. Organizations should promote a culture of self (and others) acceptance, rather than trying to instill happiness at work. I realize this might sound naive but, when people feel they can express themselves freely, their outcome improves dramatically. Isn’t that the productivity you are looking for?

We just launched a survey to understand what our team members love, what they are good at or what they want to coach someone on. Our ambition is to build teams based on what each individual brings to the table as human beings rather than by their title or professional expertise. It’s just a first step, I know. But that’s all you need to move forward

Most organizations have a Bring Your Child to Work Day. Wouldn’t it be great if, once a month, they could have a Bring Your Soul to Work Day?

“Let your soul be your pilot, let your soul guide you, he’ll guide you well” — Sting, musician

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