On the Corner
By Robert Docter –
California seems to have an obsession with el niño. What will this ocean temperature change do to our climate? I think this el niño phenomenon can get us thinking in a good direction.
What’s the climate like where you live–where you work–where you go to church?
No–I’m not talking about air temperature or humidity or rainfall or drought. I’m talking about human subtleties in the environment, trends in the way people relate which become predictable, the way power is assembled or given away, the feelings that move through a room like air conditioning. I’m talking about whether the climate in which you exist is healthy or unhealthy.
I think every organization needs some climate experts to help it examine its own el niño phenomenon. Some organizational climates have way too much hot air, and some are absolutely frigid. Some climates are too wet with people slipping and sliding every time they turn around, and some are so dry people are withering on the vine. Some have too much foul air hovering like a big, brown cloud over every discussion. Some just blow people away.
There’s a climate around you this very minute. What’s it like? You can figure it out.
Nobody wants to exist in an unhealthy environment. We must, therefore, try to figure out what factors are essential for a healthy climate. Here are some I think are essential.
Respect. The way people treat others and the way they treat themselves need to be laden with respect. Respect becomes evident when others listen to what one says, when there are no negative labels used to describe someone, when people are allowed to share ideas without feeling threatened. In a family, it means taking time. It means allowing children to make safe mistakes, it means allowing them, at an appropriate age, to participate in rule-setting.
Trust. This means that you’re going to be consistent …that I’m not going to have to worry about which you is present with me in this moment. We also generate trust by willingly making safe disclosures–by sharing our imperfections. When we do that, others begin to believe that they, too, can be somewhat less than perfect. They see you as a fellow human willing to admit your own faults.
Cohesiveness.This is the glue that holds an organization together and allows it to function. It’s people working or living or worshipping together and enjoying it. It’s a sense of membership, of feeling that one belongs. Where there is cohesiveness, people feel part of the process and choose to work diligently and extensively in helping the organization achieve its goals. No one “slips away” from a group that is cohesive. You can measure the cohesion in your group by the degree you accept and nurture the least popular among your membership.
Caring. Where there is caring, people know for a fact that others in the organization are genuinely interested in them and concerned about them just because they are human. If someone is happy or sad or healthy or sick, it matters. If someone makes a mistake, they continue to be accepted. Empathy abounds.
Soft external boundaries. Any group, like any family, will have some restrictions to membership. One might need a certificate or license to belong. Or, one might need to be appointed to a committee to function and vote on the committee. Only 12 can be on a jury–but any citizen can be in the pool of potential jurors. Groups with soft external boundaries avoid false requirements for membership which are only designed to make the group exclusive. It means not isolating that single worker in your department who many think a little odd or very different. It means not rejecting a child because he or she has done something enormously wrong.
Continuing renewal. Change is inevitable even when it is resisted. We can’t not change any more than we can’t not communicate. Therefore, the group with a healthy climate is open to the reality of change and willingly accepts the challenge of renewal. It examines itself–its goals and procedures–its strategies and tactics. It doesn’t fear change. It has firm, rational criteria for keeping things. It knows when something is not working. It seeks growth.
Well–what is the climate like where you are? You can begin to improve it if you want to. These are words I like: warm, friendly, open, accepting, safe, growing, caring–and so on.