What are the conditions for thriving at work?

Thought-provoking insights and practical tips around Beautiful Work from our conversation with Nick Richmond

June 25, 2024
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7 min read
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This article is part of our series Stories of Beautiful Work bringing a curated digest of the most thought-provoking insights and practical tips on the nature and practice of Beautiful Work coming from the episodes of our weekly podcast “Thank God it’s Monday”. 


The key topics discussed in this article are:

  • What role the integration of faith can play into organizational practices. 
  • A case study of reshaping resistance into constructive engagement using Lego Serious Play. 
  • The effects of power dynamics and psychological safety on organizational initiatives.
  • The importance of balancing experimentation with accountability in a just culture.
  • The concept of using self and its role in leadership effectiveness. 
  • The role of collaboration and sense-making spaces in addressing complex challenges.

In a rapidly changing work landscape, Nick Richmond – an experienced Organisation Design Consultant and Director of Tricordant, a leading consultancy focused on creating healthy organizations – offered us a deeper insight into the concept of beautiful work, explored through the lens of meaning, engagement, and vulnerability.

Through his perspective, we delve into the ways in which work can be transformed into a source of fulfillment and purpose, the importance of embracing failure as a learning opportunity and fostering a just culture. And why psychological safety and collaboration matters if we want to cultivate spaces where innovation and growth can flourish. 

Cultivating organizational success through faith-based principles

Drawing inspiration from religious principles can offer great insights into organizing work and maximizing people’s abilities. For instance, many biblical principles align seamlessly with good business practices, particularly the importance of purpose and collaboration. Have you ever noticed, for example, how people, despite their backgrounds, seem to all seek meaning in their work? Reflecting on how faith intersects with work, we can also consider how we hold each other accountable and establish clear boundaries for what constitutes good work.

“When I speak to people in the European Organisation Design Forum, they come from all different walks of life, all different faiths. But when I speak to them, whether they be academics or leaders, practitioners, students, everything in between, they’re all seeking meaning and purpose in their life. – Nick Richmond, Ep.7 TGIM

Turning resistance into opportunity

So, what happens when organizations create a culture where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated? Take a recent story involving a global pharmaceutical company striving to integrate a newly acquired factory into its culture. The factory, initially characterized by a traditional and rigid work environment, needed a transformation to become more dynamic and engaged. With the use of Lego Serious Play, a diverse group of employees, from operators to engineers, was brought together to build and share stories of their envisioned future. When you engage the whole system, even previously disengaged employees can become passionately advocates for the new direction. 

There’s a young lady who was at the back of the workshop in the first few workshops and she just sat at the back, arms crossed, just listening carefully, but not engaging in the conversation. But towards the end of this process, she stepped forward and became much more energized. At the end of it, she stood in front of her leaders, sharing how excited she was about this, how much impact it was going to make on her and her fellow operators. So it was a real inspirational journey that we noticed within her. And it’s just something that I found amazing to observe. – Nick Richmond, Ep.7 TGIM

Power struggles and the loss of psychological safety

In addressing organizational challenges, it’s crucial to recognize and navigate complex social dynamics that can impede progress. A useful framework in this respect is David Rock’s SCAFF model, that sheds light on key factors such as status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness, which are pivotal in understanding human behavior within teams. For example, loss of status or power struggles can significantly hinder projects. As Nick experienced in a large engineering organization, conflicts arose when a competent managing director was promoted, leading to disruptions and delays in program delivery. These dynamics underscore the importance of managing interpersonal relationships and foster an environment where psychological safety and collaboration thrive.

The managing director of that particular organization was really excellent at managing across the different stakeholder groups and helping them to work through the issues. Unfortunately, he is so good that the central organization promoted him to another role. And when he was removed from that, then those power games came to the fore and the heads of those who didn’t like this program director started going after him and he ended up losing his role. Now, eventually they’re able to deliver the benefits of the program of work, but it took them about 10 years as opposed to a couple of years to really realize the benefits of the program because of those power games. – Nick Richmond, Ep.7 TGIM

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A balancing act: experimentation and accountability 

Many studies today demonstrate, across different fields, how in a rapidly changing work landscape, embracing agility is key for the success of organizations. But what would that mean? The emergence of AI and the demand for quick responses necessitate a culture that views mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. At the same time, organizations need to adopt a just culture – one that emphasizes fairness, accountability, and a learning-oriented approach to addressing mistakes and errors – balancing the encouragement of experimentation with accountability. In essence, this approach seeks to create an environment where employees feel safe to report mistakes, learn from them, and contribute to systemic improvements, ultimately leading to a safer and more effective organization.

“Failures need to be seen as learning but I think that needs to be balanced with a just culture. You want to be providing the necessary training and support. And so we’ve got to really think this through and make sure that the just culture not only creates those opportunities for people to be successful, but ultimately also help them and hold them to account when there’s a repeated error being made”  – Nick Richmond, Ep.7 TGIM

Self-Reflection and vulnerability as practices

That’s how effective leadership hinges on self-reflection and vulnerability. What if leaders would understand their impact on others and be intentional about their interactions? This concept, known as the use of self, involves continuously adapting to meet the needs of others and achieve collective goals. While the traditional mindset of the all-knowing leader becomes outdated, recognizing that no leader can know everything turns into a point of strength. Akin to the Sufi tale of the blind men and the elephant, where each person’s perspective contributes to a comprehensive understanding of the whole, leaders should embrace the insight that emerges when multiple perspectives and experiences are considered together. By acknowledging their limitations and pooling different viewpoints, leaders and their teams can achieve a more complete and accurate understanding of situations, challenges, and goals. This collective understanding is essential for creating a shared vision and fostering collaboration.

“Leaders need to think about who they are, what they feel really called to in the world of work, and how they show up within that. So how do they work with others? How are they experienced by others? Are they intentional about that? How do they impact others in the moment and listen to the responses? Is that the response they’re expecting or do they need to adapt in the moment to help people to fulfill their needs?” – Nick Richmond, Ep.7 TGIM

The next edge: creating spaces for collaboration

Collaboration plays a crucial role in addressing the complexity of modern challenges. As technological advancements continue to emerge, the focus should be on fostering collaboration. So the question becomes: how do we create spaces for meaningful dialogue and sense-making where people can come together, whether through virtual or physical means? Approaches like whole-scale change facilitate these conversations, enabling organizations to navigate complexity together. This collaborative spirit is particularly vital in the public sector, where multifaceted issues require joint efforts from multiple parties. By prioritizing partnerships and collective problem-solving, organizations can address complex challenges more effectively and create a more cohesive and motivated workforce. 

“It’s really about how we collaborate together because there’s going to be new technologies coming through. There always is. And the world is not getting more simple, it’s getting more complex. And you can only resolve complex issues together. So for me, it’s about creating spaces that are part of your organization’s way of working, where people can enter into a sense of what’s going on right now. What do we think we need to do about it? Where do we think we are going and how are we going to work that together?” – Nick Richmond, Ep.7 TGIM

These insights offer a compelling vision for navigating the uncertainties of the digital age while cultivating beautiful work environments. As we confront the challenges of increasingly complex power dynamics and the loss of psychological safety, this conversation reminds us of the intrinsic value of faith, failure, self-reflection, vulnerability and whole system engagement as key ingredients to co-create meaningful impacts. And, as a consequence, organizations that prioritize accountability and collaboration.

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This article is part of the series Stories of Beautiful Work bringing a curated digest of the most thought-provoking insights and practical tips on the nature and practice of Beautiful Work coming from the latest episode of our weekly podcast “Thank God it’s Monday”. You can listen to the episode in its original language here.

To receive future post of this series and other beats of Beautiful Work directly in your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://cocoon-pro.com/#subscribe  

If you’re interested in exploring practical strategies to integrate the principles of Beautiful Work into your organizational culture and daily practices, contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/

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