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Happy Birthday Intentional Workplace! (BTW-What’s an Intentional Workplace?)

December 9, 2010

Wow – are we really ONE?  Whew – we did it!  Reflecting on the past year, we have learned a lot. Blogging has its challenges, time enough is one of them. But we approach our anniversary with a sense of satisfaction and a commitment to reach a wider and larger audience in Year Two.  While not exactly enjoying the readership of Seth’s Blog, we are grateful for every reader and comment we receive.  So for our anniversary post, we thought we’d revisit our first post and again ask the question – what is an intentional workplace?  It seems more relevant than even one year ago. With a contracted workforce and too many workplaces riddled with fear – the question of intent and meaning in our work is an important one. What do you think?

What is an Intentional Workplace?

We may have to use our imagination more than our experience in trying to answer this question.

The dictionary defines intentional as:  done with intention or on purpose.

Not too many people have experienced working in environments that operate intentionally or “consciously.”  You know – the kind of organization, team or workplace where conscious thought for addressing human needs is understood, recognized and integrated into the system.

We are speaking, of course, of human dynamics and work and how they fit with the needs of a business.  (Unfortunately too many people we meet in business still confuse their own personal needs with those of the organizations they work for.)

We often wonder why more people today don’t have greater expectations for intentional workplaces. 

  • Is the concept of an intentional workplace a revolutionary idea? 
  • Why do so many people still believe that they cannot get their own deeper needs met through their work?
  • And what makes people persist in thinking they can do their best work and thrive when they are working in incompatible and uncaring work environments?  

Work is a vitally important foundation of most of our lives.  Not just because of economic necessity but because what we do is central to the deepest dimensions of our being in the world.    We have all had the experience of meeting someone new and within seconds are asked, “What do you do?”  What we do, in collective societal terms, often defines who we are.

“Work is about a daily search for meaning as well as bread; for recognition as well as cash; for astonishment rather than torpor; in short for a sort of life rather than a Monday to Friday sort of dying.”                                    Studs Terkel (from his book Working)

For so many of us, what we do, how and where we do it – and why – continues to be driven by an unexamined set of assumptions about what’s possible for us based solely on economics and the “marketplace.”  While understandable, especially given the current economic climate, these beliefs can narrow our imaginations – and consequently – our opportunities.

To us, intentional work is work that has meaning.  That meaning is defined and experienced by the person performing the work.  While we may share a collective meaning about our work with a business or a group of people, first and foremost, it’s about our personal sense of purpose.  When we work from this place our work is truly a “vocation,” whose Latin root (vocare) means a calling.

  • Intentional work is fulfilling.  The process and the final outcome are satisfying and provide the person doing the work with a sense of gratification and accomplishment.
  • Intentional work has integrity.  The person producing the product or service respects what they do and how they do it.  They take genuine pride in the effort and the result.
  • Intentional work serves the greater good.  That means that everyone, the worker, the team, the company and the end-user all benefit.

To us, an intentional workplace:

  • Puts people first.  It creates a conscious process that is built on the understanding that human dynamics are real and is, in fact, the engine that is the driving force of all work endeavors.
  • An intentional workplace respects human needs and consistently strives to accommodate those needs.  It also makes an ongoing commitment to create the conditions that enhance a sense of well-being at every level of the system.

With some exceptions, the 19th century model of work still dominates the 21st century workplace. Largely driven by patriarchal values and demands for logic and linear thinking as the primary levers for production, the American model of work still relies essentially on the vision of men like Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Taylor, an efficiency zealot and the “father” of theories based on time-motion and task management, laid the groundwork for most of the methods that grew into the 20th century’s modern organization’s philosophies and practices.  Obedience, regimentation, predictability and conformity were the “skills” required for success in Taylor’s world.

The sublimation of the personal needs and feelings of Taylor’s workers went unquestioned and hardened over time into a  hostility and mistrust of emotions in the workplace that still is prevalent today.  To be successful, early models of the organization and business required that there be a negation of the inner life of the worker.

It was not until management guru Peter Drucker declared in the 1950’s that organizations were human communities and that employees should be considered “assets,” that the fossilized thinking of Taylor’s world was effectively challenged.

The harsh legacy of this history still shows up in today’s business mindset as a suspicion of self-knowledge.  Intrapersonal and even interpersonal skills are still considered “soft” and at the bottom of too many to-do lists.

As the world of work now moves from the Age of Information to the Age of Imagination, creativity, the ability to form and sustain trusting relationships, cultural sensitivity and savvy will become the new coins of the realm.

Fear-based workers and workplaces will find themselves hard pressed to compete in these “softer” more open environments. “Survivor Consciousness” organizations and workers that hoard power and lack emotional intelligence will be in the caboose of real change.

While the turbulent economic realities of today may slow down the pace of the changes taking place in how we work and what we expect from work, they cannot be stopped.   No one can predict where, when and how these coalescing forces will take place.  But one thing we know is for certain, the most powerful tool available for creating and sustaining meaning in our work is us.

What is your experience of an “intentional” workplace? Ever worked in one? What do you believe are the prospects for such vibrant and honest work environments, especially given the economic challenges we face?

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2010 9:47 am

    Congratulations on your one year blogiversary! I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. It’s been a joy seeing you step into and intentionally embrace the world of blogging with full spirit, as I’ve seen you do with all things big and small in your life – a trait I truly admire.

    Here’s to a great second year. Looking forward to sharing it with you both.

    • December 9, 2010 11:38 am

      Dear Ronnie,

      Thanks so much for the wonderful comments! You’ve been steady supporter and it is much appreciated. You inspired us with the great work you’ve done to build WorkCoachCafe into such a succesful site.
      Gratefully,
      Louise & George

  2. December 9, 2010 3:57 pm

    Dear @theintentionalworkplace — Happy Birthday and congratulations! I enjoy your thoughtful and substantive posts very much and I look forward to reading many more in the coming year.
    ~Terry

  3. December 13, 2010 12:51 pm

    Dear Louise and George,

    Bravo to both of your for the consistently thought-provoking, clear and engaging writing you offer your readers!

    You’re both clearly attuned to and empathic about what supports our sense of meaning and belonging and the numerous obstacles facing so many people.

    For 2011 and beyond, I wish you both an expanding pool of readers who benefit from all that you share and happily spread the good word!

    Your loyal admirer:-),
    Karen

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