Home Concepts Managing Stress & Challenges Finding Sanctuary in a World of Complexity, Unpredictability and Turbulence

Finding Sanctuary in a World of Complexity, Unpredictability and Turbulence

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As organizational coaches and consultants, how do we help our clients to find or construct personal or organization-based sanctuaries? Can we consistently provide appropriate and constructive solace to the battered, perhaps indifferent, postmodernist? How do we help to create opportunities for reflection, experimentation and, ultimately, renewal and re-creation? In many instances, coaches and consultants help to create successful organizational sanctuaries by establishing temporary systems. First described by Matthew Miles (1964), temporary systems are to be found throughout our society, but are often underused in formal organizational settings. Examples of temporary organizational systems that Miles offers include carnivals, theater, celebrations, games, retreats, workshops, conferences, task forces, project teams, coffee breaks, and office parties. How do we create each of these settings in the organizations with which we work? At a more personal level, Miles identified psychotherapeutic sessions and personal growth programs as temporary systems. How do we replicate settings that are comparable to these sanctuaries?

Temporary systems can take on many different forms. Some provide short-term, ad hoc settings in which new methods or products are tested out ( a “wind tunnel” for new ideas ), while others provide regularly convened alternative structures , in which all or many members of an organization can identify and solve problems , communication , and manage conflicts in ways that are not usually employed in daily work life (what is sometimes called a “collateral organization”). Some temporary systems enable employees to try out a new skill without fear of failure (a “dress rehearsal”) , while other temporary systems enable employees to get a taste of the end point to which they are striving . Regardless of the forum which these systems take, they provide a “storm home” that can help men and women return in renewed fashion to the postmodern fray.

More generally, coaches and consultants are effective if they help organizations find sanctuaries that exist at those moments and places in organizational life when there is, as Nevitt Sanford (1966) suggested many years ago, an appropriate balance between challenge and support. Often, as Csikszentmihalyi (1990) noted, organizational life is either quite boring or profoundly anxiety­ provoking. It is in the threshold between boredom and anxiety that we find rich occasions for organizational learning as well as for personal growth and learning. It is in the threshold that we find Johansson’s (2004) Medici Effect – the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures.

As organizational coaches and consultants, we can be particularly effective in influencing the directions and cultures of organizations when we can help create conditions that are both challenging and supportive. Our attempts to encourage change (which inevitably increases challenge) must be matched with a comparable concern for support and nurturance. We are likely to find organizational sanctuaries when and where this balance is achieved. In creating a sanctuary, we must, as Riane Eisler (1987) has suggested, mold a chalice to contain the anxiety and direct the energy (Sanford’s support), while also wielding the sword of change and transformation (Sanford’s challenge) which helps to mobilize creativity and energy in the first place.

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