Creating a Work Environment Where I'd Actually Like to Work

Creating a Work Environment Where I'd Actually Like to Work

Dennis Wittrock: Partner at

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How can we create workplaces where more voices matter, people thrive & find meaning, and change & innovation happen naturally?

Dennis: Well, that’s kind of a Gordian Knot type of question people have been pondering through the ages. Certainly, for me, it has led me on a path to the type of work I'm doing now because I never felt attracted to the corporate world or anything business-like.

My interests led me to study philosophy, art, and languages. That was really my way of prolonging my entry into the working world because I had a sense I needed to figure out how to make this work for me. I would not survive in an environment where I would have to do things that don't resonate or are not aligned on purpose.

Eventually, my interests led me to people thinking and philosophy. From there, I came into contact with holacracy, which I pursue as a holacracy facilitator. So holacracy is one answer on how to do this, and it is creating a work environment I would like to work in and work for me.

It also works for other people too, and it does it by enabling everybody to have a voice in the governance of the organization and how the work should be done. My engagement with holacracy also led me into working for, where we are exploring the questions on how to learn, earn and work on purpose. It’s a more in-depth exploration of some of the questions that holacracy created.

What does it take to get an employee's full attention and best performance?

Dennis: It requires an ability for employees to co-create and get in inner alignment with their purpose. If employees can co-shape the journey of the organization to fulfill the purpose they signed up for because it resonates with their own personal purpose, then there's no big friction. There’s a natural joy and a natural resonance with what needs to be done.

The question that arises out of the unnatural condition that we find ourselves in this corporate world is where it's highly arbitrary and feels like, what does it have to do with me? And if it actually doesn't have anything to do with me, I need to be incentivized and motivated, but I think the inherent need in the universe is to express your full potential. If you look at a flower or anything in the natural world, it's striving to express its purpose, its beauty, and its natural potential. A tree grows as high as it can and as beautiful and magnificent as it can.

I think human beings just want to express their full self in work and so it's not so much a question of how can we make them do that, but how can we remove the barriers of doing so on their own accord. I think a big part of it is that you have to have the opportunity to work self-directed and within a larger context that aligns your personal purpose with an overarching purpose you sign up for.

What do people really lack and long for at work?

Dennis: What people lack and long for is meaning. They long for purposeful work that has something to do with them and how they show up in the world. Nobody really wants to be a replaceable cog in a machine. That's nothing anyone would aspire to. What do you want to be when you grow up? Oh, I want to be a replaceable cog in a machine, says nobody ever!

At a certain point, people want to be able to unfold their unique potentials. Before that, they have Maslow's Hierarchy of needs to navigate. People want a secure job, and they want stability in their lives. They want to be recognized by their peers, but at some point, they want to self-express and do the work they are meant for.

At some point, people long for an opportunity to do so, and if they don't find it, their soul withers. And if their soul withers―how dare I say the word soul in this context, the corporate world―but this is the new frame of reference when we come from a teal paradigm or integral view of the world, or a more holistic stance, whichever you want to call it is to include this what we refer to as soul as highest calling or your inner voice that communicates with you via feelings.

If you feel great, you could translate it as your soul telling you're on track. You're on purpose. You’re aligned with life. If you are misaligned with life, you'll start feeling drained. You get signals from your body. We are good at ignoring those signals, and if we're really good at it, we end up in the hospital. It's just poor skills of observation. If we are more sensitive, we are more aligned with the inner dimensions of how we feel. The feeling of how the tones of the emotional atmosphere is and then we have a bigger chance of getting the clues of what I would call soul. We could call it your highest self or your potential calling you or your future self. It's up to you how you hold this. I find it apparent that people often lack this through their work.

What is the most important question leaders should be asking employees?

This is a question coming from the old paradigm, and it's geared at optimizing the relationship between management and employees. For all it's worth, it's a good question to ask, but it's an obsolete question in the new world of work where management and leadership are distributed among equal partners of the organization. Equal not in terms of experience or skills but in terms of having the ability to co-create the journey that the organization is taking.

From the above perspective, everything shifts. It's really a limited question. The question itself exposes the assumptions it's based on. Sometimes this leads to an inquiry into the assumptions we embed in our questions. It's not a bad thing, it's just where we are today.

What’s the most important question employees should be asking leaders?

In the context of self-organization and the work of encode and holacracy, the question becomes, if we are self-organized, why are there still employees? Why is there still this divide between management and employees? Or is this divide between owners and employees?

I'll try to answer this question differently from the previous question. I’ll attempt to create the legal structures and pathways that not only enable co-organizing the work but also fairly co-owning the profits. There are differences in contribution in say, a startup or when you create a company that should be accounted for to make it a fair distribution of shares. There are models for that, and we are exploring those and applying them to ourselves. I think this is really possibly making this question obsolete too. At the same time, these questions are valid. In the context of this forum, it should be asked. But this context is one of a parental dynamic or a leader and subservient follower. It always recreates this relationship dynamic which can be appropriate in certain contexts.

But at the leading edge of organizational development, we are now considering overcoming this divide. The question is no longer overcoming this parental dynamic, but we are also making other distinctions obsolete, like is your company a for-profit or non-profit? We would reframe this question as, is your company a for-purpose or not-for-purpose organization? That becomes a burning question from the perspective of this new paradigm of a teal, integral or self-organized type of organization.

In holacracy, we say people lead their roles. You lead your role, and your roles are always connected to purpose. The purpose of the organization is broken down into roles, circles, and accountabilities. If you lead your role, I follow the lead of your role in that domain, but you may follow the lead of my role in my domain because I lead on that.

This is how holacracy distributes authority and gives you a space where you and your role can have total freedom to reign autocratically. You don't have to ask everybody for permission, but if there's any conflict, then we can work this out with the rules of governance and create limitations on the authority or process the tension differently. It distributes the authority to lead and make decisions across people's roles.

That's similar to leading with. The question in this new context of self-organization is how do we reframe leadership? And what does that mean coming from an autocratic system because we think the age of heroic leadership is over. Heroic leadership is the one person who calls the shots and heroically saves the company. That's the old way of looking at things. It might have been useful in the old framework, but in the new framework, it's no longer useful because you'd usually step on someone's toes. We need to unlearn traditional leadership habits that were useful in the previous context of the corporate world as we know it.

What is the most important question we can ask ourselves?

Am I on purpose? Personally, if I'm not on purpose and I'm just in it for the paycheck, then I really need to ask myself, or the question will arise, “What am I really doing here?”

If I'm not a good fit for the organization, the organization is not a good fit for me, and the chances are we are both not very happy with each other. This is also not a question for yourself but a responsibility for the company you're joining because if you're a bad fit, then you're creating friction in their system. Friction is not only in your personal experience, but you are also wasting another's resources.

There's always something you run up against. You're not very motivated to do your job, and you're a drag on the organization. It's not healthy for anybody.

In summary, the question really is, “Am I on purpose? Does my work help further the purpose of the organization I'm joining? “

Dennis, you have a very interesting summary on LinkedIn. Your profile reads:

“A recurring theme in my life is to create spaces for the emergence of a new, more refined consciousness ("integral") to manifest itself in various areas. I connect people, projects, and ideas to foster global transformation. I'm in for the deep stuff.”

How do you feel about this interview series? Does it create space for this type of emergence?

Yes, totally. It's a beautiful opportunity for people to sense what's next. The very act of being asked elicits knowledge you didn't know you had. The very act of being listened to is very valuable to create a new context and let new insights emerge and these nuggets surface.