Paul Walker
September 11, 2023
min read
People & Culture

What Wholeness Really Means

Wholeness is one of three fundamentals for what it takes for an organization to become "Teal", along with Purpose and Self-Management.

When talking about Teal, the focus is almost always on the self-management and evolutionary purpose aspects. These parts feel more tangible and are easier to tie directly into the work and daily functions of the organization.

It's easy to adjust policies to allow employees to be more autonomous, but it's far more difficult to adjust the entire work environment so that people feel comfortable truly being themselves at work.

In this article, we'll tackle this difficult and incredibly meaningful aspect of becoming Teal.

Learn The History

In order to achieve wholeness in your organization, it's best to first look into the history of "professionalism", the culture of organizations and workplaces in your part of the world, and what barriers have previously prevented people from being themselves at work.

Many skip this step because it can be perceived as not entirely necessary while also being quite uncomfortable at times. However, learning what often prevents wholeness will mean you address the right things in the right way for the long-term health and happiness of your employees.

What it Means to be a Professional

First, there's the idea of being "professional". Most of us have learned what is considered professional through generations of word-of-mouth evidence of what has been experienced in the workplace and how to avoid the stigma of being "unprofessional". Historically, these social norms are most often defined by a single demographic, thus, what is professional has to fit into that same demographic.

The Majority Rule

There's also the majority rule. Socially, we desire to fit into the majority. Similar to the above point, most organizations have historically comprised largely of a single demographic. Thus, even if nobody ever explicitly stated how you were supposed to look or act in the workplace, it didn't need to be said because most people felt inclined to fit into what everyone else was already doing. Our grandparents then told our parents how to behave at work, who then relayed the message to us.

The Fear of Standing Out

Lastly, and akin to the majority rule, is the social stigma of standing out. The fear of being isolated from the crowd not only prevents people from being themselves, but it prevents people from speaking out against systems that punish individualism. This makes it that much harder to create a system of wholeness, because people are hesitant to be the first person to speak up and challenge the status quo.

Listen To Real Examples

The only companies that truly don't need to worry about whether they are using unconscious biases to prevent employees from being themselves are the ones who welcome and listen to all complaints and address them immediately with effective change.

Unless you fit into this narrow bucket, you have work to do.

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The best is to learn what roadblocks are currently in place preventing your organization from achieving wholeness is to ask for input. If need be, you can ask for feedback anonymously.

Depending how actively engaged you are in listening to employee experiences, the results can be shocking. Even at the "best places to work" which are praised for their inclusiveness, you will hear stories of woman being shamed for their choice of clothing, people of color being ostracized for their hair or accents, advocates being labeled as "loudmouthed" or "annoying", and much more.

These are all fundamental aspects of who people are and are obligatory to overcome if you want your employees to be themselves at work.

Listen to the stories people share. Collect all of them and consider them seriously.

You will need to create an environment that makes it okay for someone to be themselves, even if bits of how someone is might be new and uncomfortable to you.

Decide What Is Acceptable And What Isn't

Just like we talked about when addressing clear expectations, you need to be explicit about what is acceptable and what isn't.

Wholeness means accepting everyone for who they are, but that doesn't mean anyone can get away with anything and excuse it as, "This is just me."

If a coworker at their core is a nudist, it wouldn't be unreasonable for your organization to still have rules that require some clothing. Maybe cursing amongst coworkers is fine, but not when talking to clients.

Whatever the boundaries are, make them clear.

Having vague statements about wholeness is what leads to the previous examples of people being called out for harmless aspects of their being that make someone else uncomfortable.

If you do plan to have vague rules so that you don't need to worry about calling out every "what if" scenario, make sure to have a clear and fair process for how to handle situations where two people disagree on what is okay.

Either way, how these decisions are handled need to be clearly stated so that one person can't subjectively decide what will and won't be allowed.

Stand Behind Your Words

A huge aspect of what makes wholeness fail or succeed is whether the organization actually stands behind and supports their message of wholeness.

Even if their internal policies say they welcome all types of people, what do the decisions of higher-ups and company messages reflect? Time, effort, and resources need to be invested into diversity, equity, and inclusion, and difficult decisions need to be made to show employees, shareholders, and customers that wholeness really matters at your organization.

  • Send an email to the entire company sharing the vision of wholeness and what you are planning to do about it.
  • Be willing to forsake clients who refuse to work with your employees based on their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or anything else.
  • Fire managers who you've had to talk to time and time again about their refusal to speak properly to members of their team or who have consistently shown to deny opportunities to those outside their comfort zone.

By remaining vigilant against unwelcome actions, you make it more welcoming for those who simply yearn to exist.

Get Feedback From The People

No matter how many policies you change and company emails you send, you can't be sure it's working unless the people themselves tell you it is.

Meet with people individually, spend time casually talking to your peers, and send surveys to gather feedback.

While any improvement is better than nothing, anything less than perfection means there is room to grow.

Keep at it, take every person's feedback seriously, and constantly strive to make a space where anyone is safe to be themselves.

This hard, but necessary work will ensure your organization and the invaluable employees that make it run can thrive.

Revolutionize your way of working now!