About the philosophy, intentions, challenges and possibilities of culturework

In conversations about our work we find the same kind of questions arising in people’s minds and this section is an attempt to group the questions together and enable you to dig a little deeper into the philosophy, intentions, challenges and possibilities of CultureWork.

The most frequent questions concern:

How the five dimensions work together

The five dimensions of CultureWork are separate, but interdependent and mutually supporting ways to access culture:

  • Insight is about developing a systemic way of seeing and thinking about the world - we think this is the most important shift needed right now...
  • Direction and Values - These dimensions provide firm support for self-organisation and responsible freedom - a clear purpose and direction and supporting values shared across the organisation help people stay on course in an unpredictable world...
  • Relationship - An organisation’s culture is shaped by the way people meet, communicate and organise day-to-day, so we need to pay attention to the nature and quality of relationship and make sure for example, that the processes are participative and democratic and can access the system’s natural intelligence...
  • And Renewal - Living systems change by learning and adapting. This element of CultureWork supports people approaching cultural renewal or transformation by learning from experience and using the insights to design new templates for the future.

Why conversation, experience and story are so important

Stories are fundamental to human thought. Our conversations about who we are and what we are trying to become, shape and nudge human behaviour and experience in a particular direction.

These are common threads in our work because they’re so powerful, yet comparatively simple resources for engaging people. Changing the workplace conversation is no small thing. It’s a key challenge for anyone attempting to bring about change in a living system. Changing the conversation skilfully is what CultureWork is about.

CultureWork is a deliberate antidote to the rationality that dominates modern life. In our view there are too many models and tools and ten-point plans, and an over-reliance on so-called objective measures of progress and well-being. If we want to rescue our humanity and bring our culture back into balance, we believe it’s critical to use human story and subjective experience, rather than abstract metrics, to guide change.
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What do we mean by “life-centred” work?

Eco-designer/architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart (celebrated authors of ‘Cradle to Cradle’) define the ultimate intention of design to be 100% good, rather than simply ‘less bad’, and ask: Why not set the ultimate standard from the outset? This immediately shifts the focus from ‘How can we do the wrong thing more efficiently?’ to “What is the right thing to do?’

At it’s simplest then, life-centred work is about doing the right thing. Working in a way that supports, not undermines, the principles and values of life. Work that’s worth doing for it’s own sake - you don’t have to make a business case for it because it has its own legitimacy. Ultimately that’s what we will be compelled to do anyway, so why not look at where the world is going, and go there willingly?
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On the relationship between the principles of living systems and the (real) world of practice

Coming to terms with the systemic nature of our reality isn’t just about a few new ideas. It’s possibly the biggest practical challenge facing human society because so much of what we do is organised the ‘wrong’ way - the antithesis of the way life works. This is the reason so many of our systems are failing us now. We’ve reached the human and ecological limits of the current worldview, and we have to get to work - and fast - to make the transition to a new way of doing things.

The principles of life and living systems point to the future of everything - education and healthcare, transport and finance, farming and food systems, the way we design and produce things, the way we manage, govern and regulate ourselves, the way we ‘do’ democracy. If we’re willing to open up to the lessons of life we’ll find every solution we’re looking for. This intelligence is now at the cutting edge of many disciplines and professions, helping people create new templates for what they do, based on sound ecological principles.
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How these insights affect conventional ideas about managing and leading

The insights of living systems explain why conventional hierarchical structures aren’t serving us well. There’s a contradiction between planned, top-down, linear approaches to management and change, and our bottom-up, non-linear reality.

The concept of CEO or manager or politician or teacher as ‘all-knowing’ ultimately weakens the system. It puts pressure on those ‘at the top’ to have the answers (or find a consultant who does!) so they become wary of tricky issues they don’t know how to resolve, or complex questions that don’t have an clear cut answer. So everyone plays safe, nobody learns, nothing much changes and the past keeps being recreated.

The emerging role for those who lead is not to have or provide answers or engineer change, but to facilitate collaborative social processes that bring together many perspectives so that people can develop a more subtle understanding of what’s going on and develop better responses together.

A more facilitative form of leadership than we’re used to is needed in which the urge to control is replaced by the ability to trust.
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The connection between leadership consciousness and cultural transition

Leaders set the tone in our organisations and our wider culture. Their behaviour can block or enable system change. Their values tend to become the dominant values when no specific values are articulated - or when they’re not observed. In other words, leaders are the walking billboards that advertise the behaviours that get rewarded.

One of the ironies of our time is that the people who most influence decisions have precious little time or space to reflect or develop their inner self. Organisations that focus on instrumental outcomes tend to develop tacticians and strategists but what the world badly needs right now are more evolved, internally attuned human beings, capable of doing the right thing.

It’s important to cultivate these capacities in the people who decide our future. A world that is more whole, needs people who are more whole. And that means expanding the consciousness and spectrum of values of leadership beyond the narrow and primitive needs of survival and self-interest.
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CultureWork sounds like a very challenging way to work

Our experience is that people find the CultureWork approach challenging, yes, but also liberating because it transforms the relationship between so-called ‘leaders’ and so-called ‘followers’. It liberates those ‘on top’ who believe they’re supposed to have ‘the answer’ and those ‘somewhere below’ who want to be engaged as intelligent human beings whose experience and perspective matters.

Once you understand the organisation as a living system rather than a hierarchy, you don’t need to be ‘in charge’ to change things, because it’s not about enrolling people in a plan and managing a process from the top and all that goes with that. It is about cultivating the cultural conditions in which the desired change can happen naturally.

Yes, it is challenging to work this way because we all have to learn to let go and trust that the system will find its way. At the same time, this approach feels intuitively right to people, which is really no surprise because what we’re doing is simply tuning in to what life already knows.

[A high percentage (60 -70%) of conventional culture change programmes don’t succeed and soon flip back into their former state. Working with the principles of living systems, change is deep, generally irreversible and tends to stick.]
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The relationship between global change and personal change

If we see ourselves as somehow separate from the issues we hope to influence, we’re totally missing the point. We are, each one of us, participants. We make the world what it is. It evolves through us not around us.

Until we develop a systemic worldview and find the courage to bring our personal values to bear on our professional lives where our decisions have such a shaping influence, we really can’t expect to change the world much. We’ll study it, document it, do powerpoint presentations and issue reports about it, we’ll explain it and discuss it - and all the while it will continue its radical decline, right under our increasingly informed noses.

Once you understand the systemic nature of our reality, it becomes absolutely clear that all change is personal. Organisations don’t change. People do.
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On the expression ‘a world in transition’ - what does it mean?

People ask about the idea of transition - from what to what? Well, it’s quite straightforward. We are living at a time when much of what we’ve been able to take for granted is no longer reliable or working, yet alternatives are not yet clear. Authors such as David Korten and Joanna Macey have called this period ‘The Great Turning’ and it’s essentially the transition from the industrial age that we now see is unsustainable, to a life-sustaining way of living that is emerging and gathering momentum.

It’s easy to see the departure of the old and familiar precisely because it is old and familiar. By the same token it’s harder to recognise the new, because it is new and unfamiliar. Life teaches us that the new will only emerge when the old has let go - that we must make space for it. Until we do, the transition period between the old and the new can be a rich breeding ground for great uncertainty, apparent chaos, and much fear.

This is the transition we refer to - the inexorable evolution of the way we perceive the world and our place in it. A fundamental shift in our relationship with the world and with each other. A transition of culture.
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The rationale and intention behind ‘Q5 - New Leadership at Work

Q5 is not a conventional programme. It’s intended to fill what we see as a critical gap in the leadership development agenda as the complex issues for humanity come closer to home.

It’s the current generation of leaders in every sphere who will largely decide the future and unless we can begin to move in an entirely new direction we’ll just keep recreating the past. And ‘business-as-usual’ truly has no long term future. The dilemmas we face are enormous and they’re deepening, and they can’t be addressed through ‘the market’, by more (‘stiffer’) regulation or other external mechanisms.

A new kind of leadership operating from a different level of consciousness, and with different values is required. The transition has already begun at the fringes and we believe it’s time for all of those who make critical decisions that shape the world to see that world through a different lens.

And that’s what Q5 is about. It offers a reflective space in which to consider in a structured way with other like-minded individuals, important questions that are largely absent from mainstream debate, and the exciting possibility of seeding a new leadership agenda.
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Where Q5 came from

The seeds of Q5 were sown in Ireland more than a decade ago. The dot.com phenomenon was in full swing, our country’s economic performance was becoming the toast of Europe, and government, industry and public opinion generally declared the whole thing unambiguously good.

Privately and professionally we could see people being sucked into a whirlwind few of us fully understood at the time. The so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ was transforming not only work and workplaces, but entire social patterns and the common consciousness. The high profile gains were masking a deeper reality: we were in the process of losing something very important.

We felt we couldn’t ignore our own sense of unease so we took time out to discover for ourselves what was going on, to reflect on the nature of our own work, and to redirect our professional lives to become part of the solution, not part of the problem. Our journey of discovery continues to this day.

The doubts we harboured all those years ago are now part of the mainstream conversation. There’s a hunger for something more. An increasing awareness of the need to seriously tackle the mounting social and ecological problems that threaten our future, and our children’s future. Meanwhile, we know that many people managing and leading our institutions are quietly questioning the meaning of their professional lives and the deeper purpose of their organisations in the context of the growing crises that are ‘off-limits’ in normal workplace conversation.

We believe we’re entering a transitional period in human evolution - not the first, but possibly the most important - and we are deeply interested in making the connection between responsible personal and corporate behaviour and the enormous potential that exists to use our work and our workplaces to transform our relationship with the world and with each other. Q5 captures more than a decade of learning and reflection, and is our way of helping others to make their own journey to becoming part of the solution

The Q5 title
And the name? People frequently ask where the “Q5" name came from, and the answer is simple: Searching for a name at the time of the pilot, a business discussion on radio repeatedly referred to the financial quarters Q1 through Q4 and we intuitively felt the view ‘from the bridge’ needs to go beyond Q4, hence Q5. It suited the moment and it was our intention to change it but it seemed to stick in people’s minds and so it stayed.
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The link between CultureWork and the task of creating a sustainable way of life

The emphasis in the sustainability debate up to now has been on the outer domain - technical issues, business processes, supply chain management, trading systems, carbon reduction, renewable energy, and so on. Addressing these issues is vital of course - but not sufficient.

Unless and until we address the source of our dilemmas - the mindset, consciousness, values and cultural patterns that maintain the status quo - the deep changes we know we have to make will always remain outside our grasp. The structures and processes we create are expressions of our inner world, and it’s this human and cultural dimension of our many crises that is the important missing link in the whole debate - in our communities, our organisations and institutions, locally, nationally and internationally.

CultureWork is a suite of processes and practices inspired by the lessons and language of living systems, and designed to bridge the gap between what we know and what we do, and bring the disciplines of HR and organisational development into the frame of the major changes that lie ahead.
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CultureWork: How to start? Where to begin?

The situation senior executives, other leaders and change agents find themselves in is often voiced to us as: we know we have to change, things aren’t working well but we don’t quite know what needs to be done or where to start - it’s just a feeling.

Well, we think not knowing is an excellent starting point.

When you work from a living systems perspective you make different assumptions about what change is and how it happens. Normal boundaries between things like ‘starts’, ‘middles’ and ‘ends’ are porous and fluid and therefore we believe that the very first conversation in which a new relationship establishes itself signals that change is already under way.

Working this way means our relationship with you is very important. We must trust each other and develop a shared sense of what we are doing together. Clearly this can only happen over time, so our way of working is founded in open-ended conversations during which a path is discovered that is relevant to real needs and real circumstances. Rather than planning for you, we work with you to decide together the next best thing to do.

The first step is for both parties to discover if we are the right ‘fit’ for each other, and if there’s enough common ground for a fulfilling working relationship to develop and to this end we offer one or two initial conversations without charge or obligation, and we take it from there.

If this approach resonates with you and you’d like to explore how we might usefully work with you, please call or e-mail us, or complete the ‘get in touch’ page here
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workplace renewal
for a higher purpose