Is your organization flourishing or withering?

by cv harquail on September 22, 2010

Organizations are organic things — they are born, they die, they suffer and they thrive. But very few organizations flourish.

Organizations that flourish are rare creatures.

We find them where business goals are tied to larger purpose, where larger purpose is linked to community needs, and where individuals’ authentic selves are nourished by and engaged in the collective enterprise.

The opposite of a flourishing organization is a withering organization.

Many organizations that we assume are doing well are, in fact, withering.

A majority of organizations are just getting by. They hit their profit or service targets, they hire and retire members, they serve customers, and they do this all adequately. But, in the service of short term goals and/or selfish missions, these organizations are sapping themselves and their stakeholders dry.

These organizations are a net energy drain on their stakeholders. They take rather than contribute to the net value of the systems they are part of.

These organizations are withering.

We fight organizational withering, but we don’t promote organizational flourishing.

Organization leaders, advocates and members spend a lot of energy trying to prevent withering. We try to make organizations ‘better’ by addressing specific dimensions of improvement. We advocate and work towards everything from employee engagement to diversity to sustainability to enterprise 2.0.

The problems addressed by each one of these initiatives are root causes of organizational withering. Fixing, improving, changing and even transforming the organization on any one of these dimensions does make an organization genuinely better.

But ‘better’ isn’t the same as flourishing.

These single-issue change initiatives, and those of us who advocate for them, work as though “better” is our goal, and not as though organizational flourishing is our goal. I’m not sure whether this is because flourishing is just something we don’t let ourselves consider, or whether it’s because we’re so focused and so invested in the one particular issue that calls to us and feels like “our” work.

What Flourishing Requires


To be sure, getting an organization to flourish requires that we work on each of these important change dimensions:

Flourishing requires engagement.
Flourishing requires sustainability.
Flourishing requires leadership.
Flourishing requires diversity.
Flourishing requires employees with full, balanced lives.
Flourishing requires connections to causes that matter.
Flourishing requires products and services that meet real community needs.

Flourishing requires coordination and connection.

Most of all, flourishing requires coordinated, other-aware participation, from all of us who are advocates and agents of organizational change.

The success of the initiatives we each care about depends on us recognizing how that one dimension is connected to and depends on all these other initiatives. And, organizational flourishing requires that we deal with each of these initiatives in their relationships with other initiatives.

Each of us who advocates some dimension of organizational change needs to recognize, acknowledge, support and link to the organizational change efforts on other dimensions. We need to be aware of other initiatives, and coordinate our change efforts to include the initiatives important to others.

Flourishing requires a multi-pronged, networked change strategy.


To get to flourishing, we don’t have to abandon our commitment to a particular change initiative– we simply need to adjust how we approach our own initiative.

Oh, and think bigger too.

I realize that this is what some might call a tall order — too complicated, too complex, too ambitious. You’re right, it is complicated, complex and ambitious.

But I don’t really see a sensible alternative. I don’t want to rearrange deckchairs on a sinking ship, or tie up the weakening branches of a withering vine.

More specifically,

Do you?

I didn’t think so.

What I do want to do, and what I want you to do with me, is to focus on flourishing.

Our goal should be helping organizations to flourish.

Our strategy should embrace every progressive organizational initiative and work to leverage the connections between them.

Our tactics should center on the initiatives that are dearest to us and where we can make a unique contribution, but always moving to connect with other advocates and ally our initiatives with theirs.

Are we together on this?

Images from Flicker:

Vine on blue from tanakawho
Funny from tanakawho

HT to Akhila Kolisetti (@akhilak, blog: Justice For All) for recommending Paul Rogat Loeb’s book “Soul of a Citizen: Living with conviction in challenging times.” page 283.

See Also:
A Benevolent Perfect Storm for Progressive Organizational Movements
Socialism, Capitalism, 5 Points of Ignorance, and Progressive Organizational Movements

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