A Metaphor for a Worldwide Paradigm Shift
Creating Learning Organizations Through Core Competence in Community Building
Softstuff: Work Teams in Technical Organizations
From Chaos to Community at Work
Discovering a Generative Path to Organizational Change
Dialogue and Organizational Transformation
The Wisdom Council
Rediscovering the Circle: Community in Balance
A Sense of the Whole: The Essence of Community
The Quest for Collective Intelligence
Principles for Sustainability
My Journey Toward Hope
Conclusion: Hope for Closing the Gap
This document is a revised version of
"Conclusion: Hope for Closing the Gap"
in the anthology "Community Building: Renewing Spirit and Learning in Business", New Leaders Press, 1995.
Please do not quote without the permission.
Community in organizations is essential for optimal performance and learning capability. Without it, we cannot create aligned organizations that coherently work toward shared goals and objectives. Yet, when we examine the quality of community in large organizations -- whether Fortune 500, government, religious, or nonprofit -- more often than not we find that there is a gap between the ideal we hold for community and our day-to-day practical efforts to sustain it.
This book is about looking boldly into the gap, while at the same time maintaining the hope and aspiration that true community is possible in most organizations. In this regard, community building is best thought of as a journey toward organizational wholeness.
The successful outcome of such a journey, community as competitive advantage, comes at a price -- the price of revising our maps or models of reality: telling the truth to one another about what we know to be real. One of the largest obstacles to community is " untruth, " or false images or mental models of reality. When what we say and do matches what we perceive to be real, community has a welcome home. We must acknowledge what is real and have the courage and capability to create actions that move us toward dosing the gap in our aspiration for community. Without such capability, the systems, structures, mental models, and organizational and political obstacles that constitute this gap are avoided rather than confronted. Embracing reality as we know can sometimes be a difficult, even painful, process.
This is not to say that individuals within organizations are unwilling to be truthful or incapable of identifying reality. The gap between the ideal and actual conditions of community stems more often from a kind of communal, rather than individual, " unreality. " In organizations we need communal practices of reality testing because the models of reality we need to confront are composites drawn from teams, groups, divisions, and even whole organizations. Challenging collective pictures of reality created by organizational cultures is almost impossible for individuals. Learning communities are those which accept the challenge of growing toward organizational wholeness as a collective.
The truth we need to embrace in our organizations transcends yet includes individual perceptions of truth. In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck describes some attributes of psychospiritual health. Health and wholeness, he says, come from an individual's unending dedication to the truth and a practice of personal mastery he calls discipline. This discipline of psychospiritual growth results in a flexible response system and an ability to meet and transcend life's challenges.
The same principles apply to organizational communities. An absence of psychospiritual health, personal or organizational, is characterized by inflexibility, false maps or models of reality, and an unwillingness to face painful and difficult issues. Organizations often lack a sense of community because there is an air of untruth within their culture. This is a central characteristic of pseudocommunities.
For example, the CEO of one international oil company imposed his will and worldview on the company as it charted its future strategy. Unfortunately, his worldview was flawed, and it went unchallenged by the entire organization. His false map of reality went untested by a communal system of checks and balances which could have circumvented his power for the organization's overall good. The company culture did not allow for communal reality to intrude on his flawed map until financial performance was so bad it could no longer be ignored. Cases like this are commonplace today. Is it happening in some form in your organization?
When John Renesch and I first began to craft a vision for this book, we knew we were plotting a course on a map that would take years to finish. The results that we -- a team of editors, writers, and production people, along with our 44 authors -- have produced are the culmination of a two-year process. In a quest to constantly improve the detail of our map, we doubled the size of the project. This vision for the book is a statement of what we wished to achieve and a compass that pointed our way:
To build a sense of authentic community within organizations that is both sustainable and imbued with spirit, we need to articulate a whole systems understanding. We also need a comprehensive technology of community making composed of skills, methodologies, practices, and theory that will inform and guide an organization toward long-term success. The authors of this anthology will create a compelling vision for what successful community can be, informing the world as to its benefits, potential complexities, and pitfalls within organizational settings.
In all, I think we have fulfilled this vision.
This interdisciplinary collection of essays, represents various -- even conflicting -- viewpoints about community, pointing to its complexity and plurality. As Peck noted in his introduction, this book does not define community. As a group, our authors were not asked to agree on whether community is " grown, &quo;t " uncovered, " or " built " nor how it should be defined. I simply asked them to share their perspective. Although we may have used definitions for clarity within our individual perspectives, its important not to lose sight of the fact that each definition highlights only a piece of a larger puzzle.
As the larger context for community unfolds with new practices in business, so will broader and richer evolutionary forms of community come into existence. Some of our authors, for example, described a new hybrid form of electronic and face-to-face community.
It was not our purpose to provide simple answers for instantly creating community. Rather, we hoped to show that true community can occur and that tools, mental models, and exemplars exist for our collective map-revising process to extend community to our future. The roots of learning lie not only in the answers within this book but in the questions.
The seven parts of this book serve as a checklist for attending to community building in a systemic way. Each section implies a set of questions that, taken together, lead to a holistic approach. It is my hope that after pondering these stimulating questions, your community can more easily engage in an exercise of collective self-reflection and reality testing.
How can you use the theories, skills, and perspectives presented here to create the highest leverage for transformation in your community?
Leverage in applying individual authors' suggestions requires remembering the whole while at the same time implementing chosen parts. Think of the whole of this book as a hologram. When a holographic plate is broken into parts, any part can be used to reproduce a somewhat weaker yet complete and coherent picture of the original whole. Each chapter acts in some way like a piece of a holographic plate: it is complete in itself, yet reflects back a weaker image of a coherent whole. No single solution will close the gap between desired community and reality unless it acts in harmony with the needs of the whole for change.
Community, in a sense, is rather simple; it is a form of love and discipline manifested in organizational operations. To release this love and discipline, however, we need to uncover community's complexity. This book can serve as a vehicle for focusing on the whole while implementing the parts.
A systems view of community can aid you as you begin to apply principles from these chapters to your own sustainable community. Figure 1 shows a generic pattern in system dynamics called a " systems archetype. " It is one of a number of analytical tools for tracing how dynamic systems act. This archetype, which is a " Shifting the Burden Archetype, " consists of three relationships or feedback loops which can be used to plan a change effort.
I have chosen to include this systems diagram to call your attention to the need for forethought and planning when seeking to support ongoing community. To be truly effective we need to balance the need for short-term systems improvement with long-term fundamental competence building. It is significantly easier to create a short-term sense of community at the cost of the real long-term transformation often required to sustain it. The diagram shows how such choices can backfire over time.
Figure 1: Quick Fixes to Community
Feedback Loops 1 and 2 are balancing loops -- self-correcting processes that create stability for sustaining community. The balance beam symbolizes this behavior. A downhill runaway snowball represents a reinforcing loop -- an unintended process that feeds on itself and is running out of control. The timers within the diagram represent delays in time, where cause and effect are not closely linked in time. These time delays are important because intervening in an organizational community will more than likely trigger effects that happen some time down the road, and thus need to be anticipated.
To comprehend the illustration, begin at the center of the diagram with the symptom or presenting problem, which, in this case, is designated by parentheses. Our example shows low productivity as the presenting problem or symptom. When using the diagram in your particular community, you simply select the presenting problem that you feel the archetype represents.
Given that the organization admits the reality of the presenting problem, the low productivity in our example, an organizational leader suggests that " more community " is required to correct it.
The most common convention for creating an enhanced sense of community is represented in Loop 1, in which management reorganizes itself in response to the productivity problem (a simple way to relieve a temporary crisis). This quick-fix solution does produce a short-term boost in creativity. It also creates a temporary state of crisis, which in turn helps create a temporary state of enhanced community. But when the crisis passes, the low-productivity symptom reappears, the community disappears, and often things are even worse.
Loop 2 represents a more fundamental solution to the productivity problem: the development of competence; for example, building the capability to engineer products using competencies found in multiple strategic business units. Another example might be learning to re-engineer business processes while simultaneously supporting the well-being of the organizational community. These types of fundamental solutions would actually create a more sustainable sense of community if they helped the organization close a gap in competence, but most likely this is only possible over time. These solutions would more than likely require an investment in capital, a new set of mental models for old problems, and changes in infrastructure.
The requisite time delay to implement such changes is accompanied by a sense of anxiety and ambiguity as well as a decline in short-term profitability. Because fundamental solutions require the capability to tolerate discomfort, make definitive decisions, and create an aspiration for some vision, most managers concerned with short-term benefits tend to avoid such solutions even when they are crucial for long-term success.
The runaway Loop 3 in our example is characterized by ever-increasing levels of cynicism, hopelessness, and decreasing commitment to fundamental solutions. By neglecting the larger picture and oversimplifying the intervention, this strategy creates unintended side effects. In this example, management actually fuels an increasing loss of productivity. Relying on Loop 1 quick fixes can create a chronic over-reliance on short-term solutions -- which indicates avoidance of responsibility.
Loop 1 represents what we can do if we apply ideas found in individual chapters of this book in isolation. We can make people feel better and quickly decrease the immediate conflicts, eliminating many symptoms. But we lose track of the whole.
When we avoid the pain of the growth and change necessary to address system-level causes over time, we disable the system's ability to respond to fundamental issues of sustaining community. When we overpromise and/or oversimplify sustainable community, we set ourselves up for failed results, shattered hopes, and increased cynicism. This effect snowballs over time, leaving people with less than the energy and commitment that is required to make the fundamental changes required within Loop 2.
Loop 2 is the domain of holistic, systemic, fundamental approaches. A particular solution applied at this level would seek to reflect the seven questions around which this book is structured. A holistic approach to supporting growth and change in community will, by necessity, reflect a composite of these questions -- combining long- and short-term thinking. By using this approach to close this gap in our ideal and our real need for community, we address both symptoms and root causes.
The world has changed and will continue to do so. You and I are touched by change every day in our organizations. We can either react to change in such a way as to perpetuate separateness, and thus invite despair, or we can work toward establishing a sense of interconnected wholeness. Because there is hope in community, this is the road I have chosen. However, it is not an easy road. Community in organizations requires both creativity and perseverance.
The authors of this collection have laid road markers that point toward ways of creating community in our fragmented world, but they cannot eliminate the bumps along the way. As with all adventures, the journey toward community promises no precise or secure outcome.
But the sweetness of the journey itself, I have found, is more than worth the price. Organizations that close the gap between their ideal for community and their capability to create and sustain it will find themselves not only achieving competitive advantage but also reveling in the joy, freedom, and peace of true community.