Is This The Time For Organisational Mindfulness?

Working in the UK Government in senior leadership, I had seen first-hand the impact stress can have on my own productivity and the wellbeing as well as those around me. I discovered mindfulness in 2012, and like many found it transformative and, also like many, kept it to himself for fear of being thought weird.

Practice makes perfect

Then, in 2013 on a course for major project leaders at Oxford University, in a conversation about managing leadership stress, I mentioned mindfulness. I expected people to move their dinner to the next table. But they didn’t. Many of them bit my arm off to learn more. For the next 6 years I began to bring mindfulness into my leadership and introduce it to my teams.

Then in 2017 I was asked to help set up the Building Safety Programme, following the Grenfell Fire tragedy and became the Programme Director. An incredibly intense environment, I asked my boss if they could make this a mindful programme. Again, I thought my boss would thank me for my efforts and ask me to leave, but instead she asked me what I meant.

This apparently obvious but inspirational question and the challenge of coming up with an answer and then putting that answer into practice, gave me the chance to work out what a Mindful Organisation could look like and how to implement it.

I saw, again first-hand, the improvement some simple steps could make in people’s wellbeing and the effectiveness of the team. I wanted to share this experience as widely as possible.

When I had first considered bringing mindfulness into the workplace years earlier, I had asked others for advice and there didn’t seem to be a readymade answer. So, I decided to write a simple accessible guide: Organisational Mindfulness – A How to Guide was published in 2019.

The big idea

My model was straightforward. We could look at Mindfulness at an organisational level in 4 quadrants:

Why are we doing this, are we doing the right things to succeed, how is the team and how am I?

I also realised that achieving this need not be complicated, alien or daunting – organisations use many tools, from programme boards to white boards to try to achieve a shared sense of awareness. We just tend to use these tools very badly.  Mindfulness at a cultural level could help.

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At the time I published the book, I was aware that there were many organisations including SAP, HSBC, GSK and Google, who had established mindfulness programmes; but the idea of organisations applying these ideas as standard still felt aspirational.

While many of us have been at home, furloughed from our jobs, or have felt a strong sense of support for our key worker friends, my sense is that people have, whether they would describe it as this or not: become more mindful.

We have had to reconsider how we communicate with colleagues, without the social benefits of the tea point or canteen to smooth over the tetchy email. We have had to notice that other people risk their lives daily, to save ours and to support our society. We have had to hear near constant reminders that our mental health is important.

Due to the forced separation from our colleagues, the implementation of Organisational Mindfulness seems more relevant now than ever. Our employers require us to work remotely or to socially distance when we’re in the workplace. How can we do this without being mindful of why we’re doing it? How do we do it, mindful of our colleagues and of ourselves? The time for Organisational Mindfulness feels like now.

I suggest that Organisational Mindfulness can help teams to embed mindfulness in pretty much everything they do. Their report writing, their team meetings and the way they communicate. Its application can also enhance people’s awareness of the organisation’s vision, the actions they take, their team and their own wellbeing.
I’m not suggesting in any way suggesting that Organisational Mindfulness is a panacea, but my sense is that it could be part of a solution, for organisations that are redesigning to thrive with the new ways of working.

My hope is that by being forced to remember the purpose and impact of our actions, as well as our capacity to look after each other and ourselves, we might be left with a lasting legacy of Organisational Mindfulness.

About the author

Andrew McNeill is an author and mindfulness consultant. He is the workplace policy lead and projects advisor for the Mindfulness Initiative and Co Director of BAMBA (the mindfulness industry’s accrediting body in the UK).

Andrew is an accomplished leader. Prior to being Programme Director for the Building Safety Programme, he led the programme assurance of the Olympic and Paralympic Torches for the UK Government during London 2012 and led the Major Projects Portfolio for the Ministry of Justice.

Andrew now works with teams in high intensity environments to embed organisational mindfulness.

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