What Is Organisational Mindfulness And How Can We Develop A Mindful Culture At Work?

I often explain mindfulness as a practice that 'creates space' - mental space for myself, to help me make sure that I use the (often small mental) pause wisely between what the world brings to me and how I respond.

Last night, I was fortunate to attend and speak at the launch of a new publication from The Mindfulness Initiative, a practical guide on "Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace".

I was asked to share with the audience what organisational mindfulness is, and what this means for anyone interested in bringing mindfulness into their organisation.

I often explain mindfulness as a practice that 'creates space' - mental space for myself, to help me make sure that I use the (often small mental) pause wisely between what the world brings to me and how I respond.

Here's the good news about mindfulness in organisations

Mindfulness has been researched for at least 25 years in organisations. It has been shown consistently that when individuals and teams practice mindfulness whilst working together, and when mindfulness is part of the culture and strategy of the organisation, then such an organisation performs more reliably than its competitors.

Here's the bad news about mindfulness in organisations

If mindfulness is only taken seriously by individuals or a small number of teams, and when the meditative practice that many of us have learned through mindfulness training courses does not impact our relationship with our work and those around us, then the strategic potential that mindfulness represents for organisations is not realised.

In other words, if the mindfulness practices that organisations invest time (and often also money) in don't change anything about the way people work together, then organisations are unlikely to get full "Return on Investment" or ROI from mindfulness.

I'm sure we've all come across someone who tells us in glowing detail that some course they've gone on has changed their life... and then we realise that it has changed nothing about how they treat others or how they prioritise their (perhaps often overwhelming) workload.

But I'm not denouncing mindfulness in organisations, or people practicing it.

Far from it.

What we need to be aware of is this: mindfulness looks and feels different at different levels in an organisation. And different people and teams need to mould their mindfulness practice so that it can indeed become part of the organisation's culture.

In particular, we need to be aware that mindful teams and mindful organisations practice mindfulness 'on the job' (and this is not just about sitting still and meditating).

When this happens, then we get a clear indication that mindfulness practices in workplaces are actually generating the benefits that organisations seek to realise through mindfulness.

And (another piece of good news) you can measure these benefits by looking at organisational processes, systems, the culture: to what extent has "the way people do things around here" changed as a result of bringing mindfulness into the organisation?

Organisational mindfulness vs meditation

Organisational mindfulness is more than individuals or teams taking time out from work to meditate.

Meditation is practicing mindfulness whilst sitting still and focusing attention inside, and this is particularly useful for becoming aware of one's inner world.

But with practice, an individual's mindfulness practice becomes part of a way of being.

Someone's individual culture, so to speak.

Anyone who has ever encountered someone who is genuinely able to be with them in an open-minded, curious, caring way knows that mindfulness is more than sitting quietly with your eyes closed.

How then do you develop organisational mindfulness?

Here's the bad news about developing organisational mindfulness

A systematic formula for "making an organisation mindful" doesn't and cannot exist - nobody can make anyone or anything else mindful.

But this is bad news only if you think that organisational mindfulness can be taught to employees without paying attention to the culture and leadership of the organisation.

Peter Drucker, the godfather of management consultancy, famously said "culture eats strategy for breakfast".

And by that he meant that you cannot implement any strategy without intimately understanding the culture of the organisation you want to change.

By the same token, if you ignore dysfunctional systems and toxic leadership or a focus on short-term profits when considering mindfulness training for your organisation, the organisation's culture will eat your mindfulness strategy for breakfast.

Here's the good news about developing organisational mindfulness

We're starting to understand what to focus on to assist organisations interested in creating a mindful culture.

In my own work, I'm using what I've learned from researching what types of mindfulness training reliably increase individual employees' resilience, having worked with the bright mindfulness trainers from Mindfulness at Work.

And I'm applying this knowledge to a large research project I run where we are investigating what kinds of mindfulness processes for entire teams and hierarchies can generate a culture of change readiness in organisations.

Our initial findings are promising and encourage us to keep moving towards unearthing more helpful insights about what organisational mindfulness really is.

Jutta Tobias

Dr Jutta Tobias researches and consults on personal development, mindfulness, and leadership. Jutta has created a variety of online materials on workplace mindfulness, including a free course on Mindfulness at Work in 7 Steps. Her writing has been published widely, and her work at Cranfield University was featured in the Swiss TV documentary Die neue Achtsamkeit - Mindfulness erobert die Businesswelt. Jutta directs a high-impact 3 day Mindful Leadership program at Cranfield University. She consults with The Mindful Business.

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