What does it take to run a caring, productive and positive workplace? Is it possible to establish an organization that embraces creativity, respect and healthy interaction among staff and leadership while still getting the job done? Can socially conscious businesses ensure their external culture—the one they’re promoting—is reflective of their internal one?
According to Flip Brown, they can.
Founder of Business Culture Consultants, Brown has established a formidable reputation over the years helping individuals and teams in socially responsible organizations find increased success and satisfaction. I had heard a lot about this human catalyst from the SVI (Social Venture Institute) network and was delighted to see him in action at a recent workshop held at the iconic Esalen Insitute in Big Sur, California.
Entitled, Optimal Workplace Cultures – the Ideal Blend of Success, Satisfaction and Spirit – the three-day workshop was not just a mouthful, it was chock-full of insight, dialogue and practical takeaways. That it took place in what I believe to be one of the world’s most inspired and breath-capturing spots was bonus.
Learning about positivity in paradise
Imagine discussing work while looking out over the audacious, craggy cliffs set against the bluest ocean you’ve seen. Or taking a “break” from class for a quick dip in the hot springs while watching a pod of dolphins frolicking below, or by simply sitting and breathing. Yes, breathing. If you’re anything like me, you may need an entire workshop dedicated to just that topic, but that’s for another article (stay tuned for my piece on the 51-year-old wonder that is Esalen).
The cohesive, intelligent and diverse group of participants that gathered under Brown’s tutelage didn’t hurt either. They included a grad student, an HR manager of a co-op, a coordinator at a day school, an event producer, and someone who called Austria’s Minister of Finance her boss. Yup, when I say diverse, I mean it.
Unquestionably, all these ingredients helped set the stage for learning, analysis and personal growth. One could say, in fact, that the confluence of random criteria was our first microcosmic example of a healthy, productive workplace, though it originated more from fate than action. And yet.Flip Brown of Business Culture Consultants
Right from the start, Brown’s background in psychology was evident, from his earnestness, impeccable listening skills and skillful approach at engaging—yet not prodding—his “students”. His extensive experience working with organizations of all shapes and sizes came into play too. It was quickly apparent that Brown understands people, their varied backgrounds and points of view. That understanding would be one of his most valuable contributions.
Delving deep to discover workplace truths
The workshop was a mix of thought-provoking questions, engaging dialogue and one-on-one breakout sessions that not only allowed us to delve deep, but helped establish a sense of trust and openness (an essential part of a healthy work culture). Issues up for discussion included: the qualities of healthy and unhealthy leadership; the values, belief systems and strategies of our workplace and how they promote its culture; the types of decision-making our organizations adopt and how they hinder or promote an engaged and satisfied workforce.
We discussed the oft-underrated need for accountability and validation. We challenged the concept of vulnerability in the workplace, and we talked about the need to soothe one’s critical inner voice, the one that tells you you’re not good enough, undermines your capacity and instills you with self-doubt. Yeah, that one. “How can you work toward radical self-acceptance over time?” Brown asked us all to ponder. And then there’s that thing called reactivity, that which triggers us. “Recognizing it is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our workspace,” our facilitator posited, adding he believes there’s a spiritual connection to what inspires our reactions.
The last few hours of the workshop were spent sharing our plans to enhance our “leading edge,” our strongest assets, while strengthening that niggly thing called commitment—to ourselves and to others. Evidently, many of the discussions transcended the workplace, landing effortlessly and poignantly into the realm of our personal relationships. As they should. An optimal workplace necessitates bringing yourself—fully and completely—into the conversation, after all. Considering my status as self-employed, these takeaways often had the greatest impact.
Finding the wedge of freedom
As did the poetry of David Whyte. You see, throughout the three-day workshop, Brown would often introduce new topics with an audio clip from the acclaimed poet. The words embraced a unique balance of heart and mind, of spiritual and pragmatic. It didn’t take me long to realize that the balance was a reflection of Flip Brown himself. A Vermonter with a penchant for social business, gardening, Finnish saunas, and his Sixties rock n’ roll band, Brown is not your typical consultant. And that’s a good thing.
At our last session, Brown recited a final Whyte poem, The Journey, as we stood outside in the “closing circle,” enveloped in the beauty that surrounded us, absorbing every word. “…Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that first, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart…You are not leaving. Even as the light fades quickly. You are arriving.”
A powerful ending to a powerful workshop thanks to a tremendous group, thought-provoking material, the magic of Esalen, the heart-stopping words of a man named David Whyte, and a skilled facilitator who gave us reason to believe we each have the power to create the workplace we’re proud of.