As part of the conference “The Stifling Hand of Control: How Can We Enable Organisations to Flourish?”, the session How to Make Organisations Flourish explored alternative ways of structuring organisations, and offering a more congenial environment for a healthy work/life balance. The panel was refreshingly diverse, including Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, Ronan Harrington, Director of Futures at a city law firm and founder of Alter Ego, as well as Leslie Brissett, co-director and researcher at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.
Individual talks kick-started the session in which speakers identified reasons for why some organisations thrive, including clarity of purpose and consistency of core values. It is beneficial when workers obtain independence in shaping their roles according to how they believe they will best contribute to the system. This trusting and empowering approach translates itself as an administrative structure which is booth loose and tight at certain intersections, one enabling the other. This intelligent calibration of control and delegation of power means finding the “sweet spot”, the measure appropriate to current circumstances.
Related to this point are issues of atmosphere at the workplace which needs to be more compassionate: speakers defended the creation of a no-blame space to express one’s anxiety and vulnerability regardless of rank. This, they believe, will help braver decision making, but is all too often neglected and ridiculed in the corporate world. In order to stay dynamic, it is key to leave space for progressive ideas: is it possible, for instance, to allow for a more flexible organisation of work which takes into account the individual’s pressures of life outside the office? Can we boost productivity by engaging with the personal well-being of staff?
Within this framework, the speakers also explored what we mean when we speak about “flourishing”: flourishing, it emerged, is establishing and maintaining an environment where workers and leaders can be ‘fully human’ and ‘whole’, that is, responsible agents who are comfortable to voice their anxiety, stress, or struggle to cope with life inside and outside the workplace. This environment is dynamic enough to react to economic, political, and social changes without destroying the organisation beyond recognition.
The themes touched on in this panel resonated throughout the conference, and were followed up in the lively workshops at the end of the second day. I was greatly inspired by the conference as a whole, and its courage to go against the grain of present strategies stifling control in political and charitable organisations. Personally and professionally, I will attempt to trust more in the autonomy of my students, colleagues, and friends, creating relationships where self-directed learning, working, and thinking can happen. The session above spoke to me in particular as it suggested alternative forms of working and being which are not only imperative for a flexible, ethically responsible organisation, but also for the individual’s fulfillment of their potential in and through society. That we need to establish pockets of possibility rather than tackling an unlikely and self-destructive whole-sale change of an institution will above all stay with me: Cumberland Lodge provides precisely such a pocket in which radical and traditional ideas encounter each other in a free and safe environment.