Christiane and myself met last year at a Leadership event, hosted by Roche. I saw Christiane – or should I rephrase, I got into the elevator with her – and one thing was palpable: her enthusiastic personality.
Intrigued as to what her line of work was, we began to chat. One thing led to the other, and soon we were deep into conversation about her book, her work and much more. So much, I wanted to have a proper sit-down with her, and pick her brain on all things organizational. Little did I know, the conversation we later had – months laters – would be one that made me look into relationships differently, especially the ones at an organization.
Christiane works with individuals, groups, and companies on the journey of self-organization. “This work is not about improving existing management hierarchies,” she explains, “but about how to shift into an entirely different paradigm—a different way of working together.”
She states that her work is not about making the existing management hierarchy work better through self-organization, but more about when there is a need to shift into a different paradigm – a different way of working together.
Christiane: I began exploring the world of self-organization about 13 years ago and came to this work through personal experience. After working as a business consultant for systemic organization development and leadership development, I realized something else—something more transformative—was needed. I started moving into self-organization—practicing it myself and developing frames and methodologies to navigate the transition. Through that work I have worked with hundreds of people, helping them process their resistance, their overwhelm, their fears, their hopes, their joys—everything that this big shift triggers. I’ve learned through personal experience and through working with others that there are common roadblocks that we run against when we move in the direction of self-organization.
I developed a deep curiosity, wondering, 'what is it that makes this so difficult, so painful that people often walk away from it?’
I found very soon that it was the issue of power. At that time, my personal purpose involved exploring how love manifested in the corporate world, or in the world of business – both individually and collectively. Through my work, I realized that love alone was not going to be the thing to carry it through. Questing for more clarity, I came to an evolved purpose statement: the unification of love and power.
It took several more years to realize that my book on this topic wanted to be written. I’d been carrying a question—what does it look like when you express the unification of love and power in service to purpose?’
“I felt a bit overwhelmed by the topic and the book I’d set out to write, and my JournaLogue practice really helped me. I had given a lot of thought to how I would structure the book, but through the JournaLogue I tapped into inner wisdom that allowed the book, before long, to start writing itself through me.
I was a little surprised when the book became deeply personal. Parts of my story that I needed to tell came through. In some ways, my own vulnerabilities and lessons provided windows into common challenges that arise when we question the belief systems that we are all immersed in."
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People fear letting go of one thing and not knowing what the new thing is. Our belief systems are so entwined around power, and around how we are “supposed” to work together. And when I say work together, I actually mean BE together, whether that is in a family, a sports club, or a company. There are some deeply ingrained, basic assumptions that underpin how we relate with one another and how we do things together, and to successfully work together in new ways we need to be able to see and question the patterns that we’ve been acculturated into.
My work is a little different every time! Before I start working with an individual, or group of people, I try to establish what is really needed by the person or group of people I’m working with. We often work on developing skills for first differentiating and then integrating the aspects of our work that are organizational and those that are personal and interpersonal. Conflation and enmeshment of the personal and the organizational frequently gets in the way of working in a self-organized way, and I teach practices that bring clarity to thorny issues where both personal and organizational tensions are present.
In management hierarchies, wherever we have organizations, organizational life and personal and interpersonal matters are entwined. The management hierarchy, in principle, is based on one person or a group of people having power over others. In order to express that power, we leverage relationships. We commonly find ourselves thinking, ‘I’m going to do everything in such a way that my boss will like me.’ This is normal! This gives us a chance to advance in our career, and before too long the relationship with our boss becomes an inseparable part of work.
For many, this could be the most normal thing in the world! Well, when you serve something greater than yourself—when you’re guided by purpose, which is basically the orientation principle of self-organization—then the relational aspect starts playing a completely different role. The relationship is not about serving purpose, it’s the work that needs to be structured and organized in a way that best serves purpose. To focus on that, we need to be able to quiet the noise that relationships and relational power creates.
"Of course, it is important to focus on relationships as well. But a relationship is a social thing, and we are required to navigate our relationships autonomously and self-responsibly so that we can do work together. An organization is not in charge of that relationship, the organization is in charge of serving its purpose."
When they have a sense that they can express and act on what they feel is needed, now. This could be personal or organizational. You cannot be empowered, you need to empower yourself and step into it. When you lose the fear of stepping into your power, it means that you are comfortable expressing what you sense is needed now. This might be a personal need, a relational need, a work-related need, but it's what you sense is needed. You can act without fear of making a mistake, or of consequences. The invitation is: Let’s step into the unknown, let’s try it out.
If organizations generally were heading in one direction (and by that I mean being guided by a purpose, thus being in service to the greater whole), that would be awesome. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of why shifting into a new way of organizing is important. I think that's because we understand that it means to be more agile, more responsive, teal, self-managed, etc., and the headline is almost always that it’s about making people happy. But trying to make people happy holds a hidden agenda, which is to help the organization to be more productive, more efficient and get more revenue. Being agile, responsive, Teal, etc. becomes the tool to serve this hidden agenda.
I believe that there’s a much bigger reason why the need to find these new ways of organizing is growing so fast globally. Different phenomena (e.g.: rapidly growing numbers of depression and burn out, or “The Great Resignation”) are showing that people worldwide feel the increasing need to be together and to do work together in a way that feels meaningful and that is in service to the web of life.
Especially over the past century organizing has become a self-serving mechanism of fostering growth and better financial results. Over time this has led to a complete disconnect of the awareness of what this is doing to humanity and to our planet. So the need is to rediscover how everything is connected, and how we can do things in service of the web of life. This invites us into a completely new way of understanding that what we do and how we do it is meant to bei in service.
My hope is that in 2023 globally more and more people, individually and collectively, understand that doing work doesn't mean just doing a 9-5 job to finance everyday life, but that no matter what we do–be it what we define as work or anything else in our lives–means being in service to something that is greater than ourselves.