How to Make Life at the Office Good for the Soul

By Chambliss, Lauren | The Evening Standard (London, England), February 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

How to Make Life at the Office Good for the Soul


Chambliss, Lauren, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: LAUREN CHAMBLISS

Once upon a time, mixing work and spirituality was considered a real corporate no-no. But not any more - at least not in America, where the ageing baby boomers are worrying about the meaning of life and seeking a deeper purpose.

Lauren Chambliss explains

INNERWORK is a consultancy that operates on the principle that you cannot create change and improve corporate performance without focusing first on the whole individual - mind, body, emotions and spirit.

Working with a global French chemical company, InnerWork founder Ed Quinn identified the corporation's top goals - to increase market share among its biggest accounts. He then built high-performance teams from the ground up, working to increase trust and co-operation among team members and encouraging open and honest communication and accountability, first within the groups, then with customers.

Within nine months the Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, firm posted an unexpected 20% growth in revenue, cut account-servicing costs by $3 million ([pound]2.08 million) and began winning clients from rivals.

"For five years, the company had been losing market share and there was finger-pointing, blame, self-interested behaviour, fear and lack of honesty," says Quinn. "Their product was as good as that of their competitors, pricing about the same. The solution was a human-potential solution. You can call that spiritual, or good business practice."

Xerox's vision ahead of its time

IN MORE affluent times, photocopier-maker Xerox went so far as to sponsor vision quests, a Native American ritual that includes soul-baring time alone in nature to seek guidance about one's life work.

Vision quests were originally used to guide a young brave's ascent into manhood and to help him find his role in the tribe.

Xerox's vision quest programme was similarly work-orientated, says Ed de Jong, who in 1992 was a lead engineer on a company team charged with developing the first "environmentally friendly" digital copier.

The challenge was enormous, to take a 600-member team that had not worked together, create trust and encourage innovative thinking.

"We had upward of 300 or so in the vision quest training," says de Jong.

"We changed our corporate culture, we designed software that was different to before, we designed a machine different to before and we did it faster than earlier programmes of such magnitude. Did we get a return on our investment?

Absolutely."

Not everybody loved the group bonding followed by 24 hours alone in nature. Some employees complained that it was a complete waste of time, says de Jong. More typical was Cathy Berretta, a software manager who joined a 15-person Xerox team on a vision quest in 1995 and still raves about it.

"I was apprehensive. I couldn't see myself in the woods chanting or banging a drum, but, away from work, in a new environment, we learned to trust each other," says Berretta.

"When we came back everyone was willing to help each other, rather than compete. Even today, we still talk about it."

Now undergoing a painful reorganisation, Xerox has shelved the vision quest and other nonessential employee programmes.

WHEN drugs giant GlaxoWellcome merged with SmithKline Beecham last year, one Glaxo division handled the difficult restructuring in a most unusual way - managers held a symbolic wake to mark the end of an era and make way for the new.

Research and development section head Joe Woolley could see his 150-member BioMet team were suffering pangs of loss and anxiety.

So he came up with a four-hour ritual, which included building a "timeline" on a wall where staff marked corporate accomplishments, personal achievements and world events, celebrat-

putting it into a broader global context.

Then, managers, scientists and lab technicians gathered as equals "in council", a ritual based on a Native American ceremony. …

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