In many areas of organisational life, and beyond, we seem to be stuck, repeating patterns that do not produce situations that we desire. Yet many of us can feel inescapably caught in this pattern-repetition, helpless and powerless about the possibility of generating different experiences and outcomes.
These experiences become manifest in a fractal way:
1. They can occur at individual level, for example when I feel caught in a job that is depleted of meaning; when I feel I am being told what to do and how to do it, without any room for me to take up my role in my own creative, generative way; or when I feel clear about taking up my role but find others around me not taking up theirs.
2. They can happen at team level, when turnover is too high, leading to an absence of team identity; or because of a sense of ongoing change, which constantly reshuffles the perimeters of our role, tasks, activities, market, and even meaning; or because of short-term targets stifling any attempt at seeing, and working from, the broader, longer-term picture
3. Despite all good intentions, we may also generate these kinds of experiences at the level of the organisation itself, through failing to bridge the gap between women and men (in terms of salaries, promotions to executive posts, etc.); adapting too slowly to the dire needs for different ways of working that the younger generations are symbolising; reducing performance (and often, with it, meaning) to a set of quarterly figures; embracing computer-led checks-and-controls and banning human intuition
4. And of course, as societies, we are becoming increasingly aware of the cheer unacceptability of continuing business as usual, given its clear causality links with climate and biosphere change, yet are recurrently demonstrating our incapacity, so far, to bring about the necessary changes
Change management in the 80s and 90s, and transformation programmes since, have mostly failed to address the above. If anything, they may have ended up contributing to them. My hypothesis is that they have failed to see and address what is present at all these different fractal levels, one and the same phenomenon that should in fact be the primary target of our efforts: We are living-systems, and the main issue is that Life is leaking out of a hitherto living system.
If that diagnosis holds some truth, then restorative actions aimed at redressing the situation need to address the issue head on. If life is leaking out, we need to reduce the leakage, and help more life come back.
This may not be so difficult – providing we trade our arrogance and presumptuousness of thinking we can be in control of these phenomenon, for a good dose of humility coming from a new awareness that we are only a part of a bigger systemic web: the living world.
It may indeed not be so difficult because bringing life back into a system, creating the conditions conducing to more life, helping the growth and development of vibrant, thriving, living systems: this already has a name – regeneration. And it has been happening for a long long time (millions of years) in the living world; in fact this is why the world is … living.
When we look at how Life has blossomed on this planet, we can see 5 operating principles:
1. Increased interactions between living organisms, and with non-living organisms (light, minerals, etc.)
2. Freedom for life to expand where it is asking to blossom
3. Reduced attacks on living-systems until they are established
4. Death of what is no longer viable, with composting in order to make it available as nutrients for the next cycle
5. No external help/input in order to keep something alive; if something is not viable, it won’t grow – only what is viable will grow
So how about trying to seek inspiration from the living ecosystems to bring more life into our psycho-systems and socio-systems? What might regeneration look like if we applied it to ourselves and to our organisations?
Well, the 5 operating principles might now look like this:
1. Increase interactions with life-giving people, organisations, and experiences in your environment. This might mean going out of the routine and habits that we have built over time, meeting new people from our industry or, indeed, from completely different walks of life; going on learning journeys as a team, or spend time in a forest, with a skilled guide, to understand how life blossoms here without any gardener; open our offices (not just Reception) to artists, becoming a temporary gallery for them; partner and sponsor innovative organisations; revisit our whole supply chain to bring in more life-giving suppliers and customers – indeed, engage them in creating a “life-giving supply chain”, etc.
2. Encourage life where it is asking to blossom. Organise your workload so that you engage with where you feel the energy is for you at the moment; develop those ideas/projects that resonate/ring true for you, where you feel passion, energy, and a sense of calling; facilitate/enable collaboration and risk-taking within the team; as a team, be clear on purpose/intention, and leave the what/how to achieve it, to evolve according to ever-changing circumstances – i.e. don’t get stuck on procedures, rules, regulations, but rather clarify underlying principles; give priority, in your team or as an organisation, to those products, services or actions that can both help your business thrive and be life-giving for the eco and socio-systems around you – in fact, evolve your organisation’s strategy so that, within x number of years, you will only create products, services and actions that both help business and are life-giving for eco and socio-systems (moving, as an organisation, towards being a core element of a regenerative economy is not just regenerative for those eco and socio systems; it is very beneficial in terms of employee satisfaction, well-being, retention, etc.)
3. Reduce attacks on life. These can take the form of resistances, cynicism, power games, controlling behaviour, war over territories, fixed mental models, etc. Be true to yourself, and spot when you are engaging in any of those – then rather than beat yourself up about it, welcome those parts of you that are struggling with trusting life to take over, and do what can help you open up to it a bit more; befriend the idea that life is an emerging process, hardly predictable and certainly uncontrollable; keep your focus on purpose and intention, and ensure your actions are aligned with it; promote (re)generative listening and (re)generative speaking as default modes of interactions in your team; encourage creative thinking and well-meaning reciprocal challenges to assumptions and mental models operating in your team; reward collaboration and coope-tition, but discourage or even sanction rivalry; promote collective
decision-making processes; evolve towards delegation and subsidiarity as core functioning principles for your organisation, and substitute control with transparency and accountability, etc.
4. Help what needs to die … to die and to compost, in order to nourish the emerging Life. This could be your past achievements or failures, your hopes or your fears, a project you helped set up and lead, a role in your organization, a client, the town in which you live… whatever is no longer serving the emerging life that is pushing through in you. Composting is a good metaphor here: it reminds us that this is not about just saying ‘it’s over’, or cutting ourselves from the pain of letting go – it is about engaging in a grieving process that will eventually transform the dying into resources for future life. As a team, hold debrief sessions about your mistakes – not to judge each other, but to learn from them; celebrate those products and services that have brought great joy, pride and revenues in the past but can no longer be part of the future; when your new organizational strategy involves significant reorientation, enable sessions, rituals and symbols that honour the past and leave it behind, rather than just expect people to understand and follow the new ideas because they make business sense; as a leader in/of your organisation, connect to and share your own feelings about letting go of what you held dear of this shared, collective past, even if you find the proposed future very attractive, etc.
5. Divest from life-draining processes: what is really life-draining is not the dying itself; it is when we invest energy in maintaining alive something that needs to die. Feeding your false-self rather than your true-self is life-draining, so divest from it; let go of dysfunctional relationships, of ungrounded/unachievable objectives; of waving a carrot or a stick as a manager: if your staff cannot find their own intrinsic motivation in what they do, let it be seen – but it is not your job to motivate them; stop working on those projects or going to those meetings that you know are life-draining (or address the issue and restore life to them); with your team, name those activities/projects that you are keeping alive because no one has the heart to bring up the fact that you should discontinue them; as a team and an organization, embrace transparency, accountability, and organizational learning, so that you can spend your energy addressing the real issues rather than spending it trying to cover up various shortfalls; wean yourself, your team, and your whole organization off dynamics of compensation, whereby we end up taking up someone else’s role because they seem incapable/unwilling to take it up, instead of holding them to account and work with the consequences; or whereby we support projects/products/services beyond the initial launching phase despite evidence that they are not able to self-sustain, etc.
These are all examples, but in my view the most important is to hold on to the principles, and as you’re engaging with a situation that you are intending to regenerate, ask yourself: how can I increase life-giving interactions here? Where/what is the life that is trying to blossom, and how can I encourage it? What are the attacks to life I can notice, and how do I contribute to reducing them? What do I need to divest my energies from, so that I can help what needs to die to actually die and feed the next cycle?
When activated together, you will find that these 5 principles will bring much potency to the regeneration of yourself, your team, and your organisation.