Walk Outs Who Walk On

In an amazing recopilation of experiences from around the world, Dr. Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze (“Walk Out Walk On”, Berrett-Koehler, 2011) identify the common characteristics of resilient communities y organizations and offer specific strategies for developing them.   Meg Wheatly has revolutionized the way we think about organizations, leadership, interpersonal relationships, transformation and perseverence; now she turns her insight, wisdom, experience and inspiration to those of us that work to facilitate organizational well-being and resilience.

Wheatley and Frieze define healthy and resilient communities as groups of people who have learned to trust themselves and each other to “find their own solutions and take control of their own future. They develop greater capacities and become smarter over time as they learn what works and how to work together. They become confident that they can deal with whatever problem confronts them next..and they respond, adapt, invent. That’s what makes them healthy and resilient”.

They build their model upon a close examination of social systems that stall or even devolve in a given moment, be it due to external conditions, inadequate transitioning of internal developmental cycles or, most frequently, a combination of the two.  Their title comes from one of the organizations they visited in India where the phrase is frequently used: “Walk Outs who Walk On”, referring to a “developmentally stuck”  community, group or organization, whose members believe that much more is possible,  so they connect to one another and “walk out to walk on”, moving ahead from being stuck to being a true community or team.  They distinguish between the passive members who just tolerate or react and “go down with the ship”, and the proactive members who join together and implement seven basic strategies to transform themselves and their organization.

Although their book is directed more toward community organizations, I see a clear applicability of their conclusions to our teams and organizations:

From Scaling Up to Scaling Across. Taking things to scale doesn’t happen vertically through one-size-fits-all replication strategies.  Strategies must move horizontally, scaling across teams, areas, organizations and countries, as many diverse people and teams innovate and learn from their experiences and discoveries and are inspired to share them with others.
From Power to Play:  Most leaders believe that it’s their job to motivate people, that without their directive control, no work gets done. They believe that the most common way to motivate people is through external means, using punishment and reward.  But it is participation and play, not power, that evokes people’s passion, creativity and motivation to work hard on seemingly overwhelming challenges.
From Problem to Place: Today’s approach to organizational change posits that large and complex issues must be addressed one by one, with institutions and experts who specialize in that particular problem. Wheatley and Frieze reaffirm the principle of “start anywhere, follow it everywhere”.
From Efficiency to Resilience: Conventional attempts to solve problems of scarcity focus on efficiencies—attempting to do more with less by cutting budgets and staff, minimizing resources, optimizing outputs.   But a better approach is to engage in a wide range of small actions that permit and encourage a continuous adaptation to an unpredictable and chaotic world.
From Transacting to Gifting: Many organizational cultures of today promote self-interest and scarcity; people strive to take as much as they can and accumulate more than they need. In a gift culture—common in many traditional societies—generosity and collaboration prevail over hoarding and competition.
From Intervention to Friendship:In our pursuit to find what works, we seldom notice how disempowering it is when we look for answers from experts and best practices created elsewhere.  Many organizations are learning to walk out of dependence on experts and learned to trust the capacities and creativity available in friendship to address their organizational needs.
From Hero to Host: When a team or an organization stops waiting for a hero to save it, it discovers internal resources and solutions to solve otherwise intractable problems. Many leaders are walking out of “heroic leadership” and walking on to a new operating system of using conversational processes to address complex problems.

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