What does a mindful organisation look like?
Mindfulness may seem like a bit of a fad. There certainly appears to be a mindfulness bandwagon going on, with many more organisations and schools exploring mindful initiatives.
So what’s the attraction? And what does mindfulness bring to the workplace? Is it worth the investment?
Where mindfulness is no quick fix (it’s a practice, requiring regular commitment), if you stick with it, it can, I believe, be positively transforming of how we think and behave in our work and personal lives.
A mindful practice helps us to have moment to moment awareness of our experience. It helps us bring attention to how we’re feeling and how we relate and react to situations. This awareness helps to create some space in which we can develop wiser, more skillful ways of responding to events in life.
Indeed studies have shown that mindfulness not only has positive effects on burnout, stress and anxiety, it also improves positive outlook, empathy, sense of cohesion, self-compassion and overall quality of life.
Indeed, I believe that mindfulness training and practice is a must for anyone who deeply cares about their own wellbeing, mental health and that of others.
I like how, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading contributor to mainstream mindfulness approaches describes its purpose when he says:
The trajectory of mindfulness has always been one of generating an ever growing number of skilful approaches for effectively addressing widespread suffering and its root causes in the human mind.
The root causes of human suffering are greed, hatred and aversion - the human tendency to push away that which we don’t like, and delusion, i.e. interpreting one’s own experience and life’s events through one’s conditioned view of the world (also known as unconscious bias).
As someone who suffered from ill mental health and who has greatly benefited from a regular and long-standing mindfulness practice (qualifying as a mindfulness trainer some years ago), I have felt increasingly interested in not only sharing mindfulness skills and practices with individuals, but with organisations, helping them to develop and foster a culture of mindfulness; a culture of wakefulness.
Mindfulness is a practice, a way of being that stems from being more self-aware. It is also very much about how we relate to others, encouraging an open-hearted, non-judgemental, curious and kind attitude to others and ourselves.
And because it’s a way of being, it can have a hugely positive effect on an organisation’s culture - in turn defined by the way of being and behaving of the people that make up the organisation.
As British anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace, Jane Goodall aptly says: We cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.
What then does a mindful organisation look like?
When mindfulness becomes a shared social practice in an organisation, and permeates routines, processes and practices between people and across teams, then the organisation as a whole becomes more resilient and performs more sustainably.
My vision of a mindful organisation:
- the work environment looks clear, bright and spacious
- the everyday pace in the organisation is calm and relaxed
- staff respect each other with an open, kind and curious attitude (e.g. staff pause to greet each other, to share some personal notes)
- staff are self-responsible and able to know and manage their own emotional inner life and know when their buttons are being pressed
- staff are able to pay attention to each other, to listen attentively
- staff are empathetic and compassionate, it’s the capacity to understand human suffering which is fundamental to conflict resolution
- team leaders and management also walk the talk which allows ‘breathing spaces’ in an organisation
- staff have regular lunch breaks away from their desks and are encouraged to get out of the office to clear the mind and restore
- the organisation has quiet space(s) for staff to sit and / or for collective or individual mindfulness practice
- mindfulness bells are rung several times a day to remind staff to slow down, to take three breaths, to take a break
- meetings begin and end with a mindful minute, i.e. a silent moment to connect with one’s direct experience, to ground themselves in the present moment, to come off auto-pilot where one is prone to knee-jerk reactions and decision making
- staff support and help each other when things feel difficult, tough or stressful
- there is an atmosphere of acceptance; the organisation celebrates difference and diversity
- the atmosphere all around feels human, open, warm-hearted, honest, focused, creative, supportive and enjoyable
Every organisation has the potential and capacity to become mindful. For some, however, mindfulness is a check box activity for those keen to be seen embracing the latest ideas in mental wellbeing.
Few are truly embedding a mindfulness practice which requires leadership from the top and bottom, internal advocates, guidance, patience and a long-term vision.
Research has identified four social mindful organising practices:
- Paying attention to change and variation in how people work and how work is organised
- An attitude of openness towards discussing problems or issues that could affect individuals, teams, or the organisation as a whole
- Intentionally welcoming and encouraging critical dialogue at all levels of the organisation
- Encouraging flexibility and fluid organisation of work tasks and people acting on the understanding that expertise changes across different tasks and situations, and deferring to actual expertise rather than to structural hierarchy
The benefits of creating a culture of mindfulness and wellbeing are manifold. When the human mind and heart is cared for and listened to, everything else flows from there: creativity, motivation, engagement, kindness, connection and the inherent and universal longing and need to do well.
“…this course has helped me more than I could have imagined… Another unexpected positive outcome of the course is the confidence it has given me. I am now happy to participate in meetings and actually have the confidence to put my ideas across.” CVS Practice Manager, following six weeks of mindfulness training with a daily practice requirement of around 20 minutes.
“Mindfulness is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution… seen in context as a gradual. increase in awareness of aspects in one’s life, it is essential and a great help in interacting with collaborators, managing a team, decision making and putting things in perspective”.
Karen Liebenguth is an accredited mindfulness teacher, qualified coach and MBTI facilitator. She offers 1:1 mindfulness training, tailored mindfulness programmes for the workplace as well as knowledge and guidance to help organisations create and develop a culture of wellbeing in the workplace. Karen also offers 1:1 coaching while walking outdoors in green space because she believes that’s where insight, change and creativity can happen most naturally.
 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Too Early to Tell: The Potential Impact and Challenges – Ethical and Otherwise – Inherent in the Mainstream of Dharma in an Increasingly Dystopian World
 Weick, K.E. & Sutcliffe, K. (2006). Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion
 Building Mindfulness in the workplace, The Mindfulness Initiative, p.17
 The Mindful Leader: Research Findings, Hult Ashridge (www.ashridge.org.uk)
Karen Liebenguth is a certified coach, an accredited mindfulness trainer, a certified MBTI facilitator and Focusing practitioner. She works with private and corporate clients to foster personal and professional development, wellbeing and mental resilience.
She set up Green Space Coaching & Mindfulness in 2008 (...