Holding space or being a space holder for an organization is even more comprehensive than the others. Here, the type of organization of course have a huge impact of how best to hold space: the type of purpose, the type of people, the size, the type of market, the type of infrastructure outside and within, etc.

I would like to quote Frederic Laloux from his book, Reinventing Organizations, page 240:

“… the research into the pioneer organizations suggests there are two new and critical roles a CEO needs to play: creating and maintaining a space for teal ways of operating AND role-modeling of teal behaviours. Beyond that, the CEO is a colleague like any other, who can sense what is needed, get involved in a project, and make decisions using the advice process. I keep using the term CEO for lack of a better alternative (“The space holder, role model, and public face”?), but I realize how misleading the term can be, as it inevitably evokes the image of the commander sitting at the top of the pyramid.”

Even though it is of course possible (and feasible) to hold space for any kind of organization, I will limit the content here to what Frederic Laloux calls “teal” or next-stage organizations. If you do not know what that is, his book is a worthwhile read! But you can also get a general sense in the “Reinventing Organizations Wiki”, eg.

Characteristics of a space holder holding space for an ORGANIZATION:

  • Of course it will be nice if a space holder of an organization displays all of the characteristics discussed so far (ie. when holding space for a person, an event or a team in a project)…. However, I am not sure that it is completely necessary. In a next-stage organization, many if not all of the coworkers can and will at least occasionally take part in holding space for the organization. So if the “main space holder” or “organizational space holder” has a lot of capable coworkers to support her or him, I am not sure that the organizational space holder needs to be able to possess all the previously discussed characteristics (ie. when holding space for a person, an event or a team in a project). So what is essential?
  • First and foremost, the organizational space holder needs to hold space for the purpose of the organization. What makes it essential to keep this organization alive and kicking? The organizational space holder needs to bring the purpose alive, in body and speech. Not because he or she owns the purpose, but so that the main purpose is honored and remembered in every daily action. And so that its evolution is happening in a whole and healthy way.
  • The organizational space holder also needs to be able to create and support an atmosphere of trust, wholeness and creativity. So that people willingly and relentlessly contribute with all their different perspectives and talents, in pursuing the organization’s purpose.
  • And the organizational space holder needs to be capable of bringing all these multiple perspectives together, holding space for them to synthesize. Jos de Blok from Buurtzorg (one of the 12 case studies mentioned in Frederic Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations), explains in an article in Enlivening Edge, January 2016 : “Professor Ikujiro Nonaka has a concept called practical wisdom which emerges from tacit knowledge as well as from evidence and also from intuition. He encourages you to bring intuition into your decision-making and says that using a combination of experience, practical knowledge, evidence, and whatever the reason is for what you are doing, together with your intuition, means that you are making the right decision.”
  • This is a concrete example, I think, of how the organizational space holder needs to embody some essential characteristics of teal / integral development (see also Integral Analysis). So that as many intelligences, types, state of consciousness, development levels and perspectives can come together and synthesize, in pursuit of the organization’s purpose, without doing harm.
    Also in order to best support the act of self-management in the various teams and groups – especially if the colleagues (like most of us) have previously worked in organizations that where not so trusting, whole and purposeful.
    My personal opinion is that this most likely cannot be achieved without some form of integral life practice. Where you are committed to consciously training body, mind, spirit and shadow on a daily or “almost-daily” basis. What that looks like, however, will be highly individual, and each person will need to design it for herself. More about that later…

For a deeper analysis of characteristics, applying integral theory, see here.

Suggestions as to how you might train and embody these characteristics of space holding:
  • In order to hold space for the purpose of the organizations, you of course first and foremost need to really understand and feel in your body, what that purpose is about… But I think that if you are an organizational space holder, you already know this?
    -> So maybe it’s more about being able to help others see the purpose, feel the purpose, taste the purpose and feel drawn to support the purpose? This take both integrity (so that others can feel you mean it, that it isn’t just a shallow sales pitch for you). But it also take a lot of communication skills, a lot of which you can probably learn on ordinary business communication courses, so I won’t go more into that now.
    -> I would rather move on the another essential aspect, which is remembering to put yourself aside and favor the organization’s purpose… In many traditional and hierarchical organizations, the feelings and opinions of the CEO and other members of the top management team seem so important that the top management is often not challenged a lot – also when colleagues don’t quite understand the decisions even when looking from a rational world view.
    -> But in a next-stage organization, it’s important to learn to distinguish between your intuition and gut-feeling about the organization’s direction and evolution… and then your own personal aspirations and feelings. This means that you need to know yourself and be self-aware, like discussed under holding space for a person.
    -> And you need to have the humility, trust and courage to be able to set yourself aside, if your personal goals, needs and desires conflicts with the organization’s. That’s not easy for most people ♥ And you probably need some very trustworthy companions to ask feedback from on occasion – so that they can tap your shoulder, when and if you might forget it.
  • It is also very important to continually listen to the organization’s unfolding purpose – and to create an atmosphere where everyone in the organization feels invited and called to chip in. [link to articles].
  • So how do you create and support an atmosphere of trust, wholeness and creativity between all the colleagues in an organization? I do not think that’s a simple question with a simple answer.
    -> But I do think that if the organizational space holder “walks her talk”, with integrity, and in his behavior continuously manifests trust, wholeness and creativity in himself – that this is important, if not essential? And I do not think that you can learn to be trusting or to display all facets of your being overnight, say by attending a management course… But I do think that you over time can grow more and more into it, with conscious efforts.
    -> The best and fastest way I know, which is at the same time designed specifically to YOU… is to establish an Integral Life Practice. This is to design and surrender into a regular conscious practice of body, mind, spirit and shadow. Plus more.
    -> An Integral Life Practice is amongst many other things designed to speed up your personal growth within the development levels of the various intelligences. You can read about the importance of the development levels (of “growing up”) in for example Frederik Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations. But also in just about any book by Ken Wilber. You can also see a simple visual version here, in Peter Greens vimeo about development levels of organizations, inspired by Laloux’s book! (Please note, that development levels of organizations and of people are not the same but for example’s purpose, it’s fine for now).
    -> I have written a lot about establishing an integral life practice (in Danish) on my web site, Apart from describing what an integral life practice is about, my web site is setting out to help people design a supporting and nourishing discipline without giving up… A supportive framework that keeps you going and helps you love your practice ♥ Because the best practice is the one you get done 🙂
    -> As my web site is not yet translated into English, I would suggest you to read the book Integral Life Practice by Ken Wilber et al (I would suggest that anyway). If this material inspires you but you cannot seem to surrender to (and love) the discipline of a regular practice (and you do not read Danish!), please write to me. If enough of you do, I probably will find the motivation to translate the web site into English 🙂
  • This brings me to Jos de Blok’s suggestion above. Because if you’re not already capable of balancing many perspectives at once, and both see the rational, the intuitive, the masculine, the feminine, etc. -> an integral life practice can surely help you. It can for example help you decipher which intelligences you are highly developed and practiced in, and which one you need to develop at least a little, in order for them to not block your growth and be hindering to the unfolding of the organization’s purpose. See examples of intelligences and other perspectives at the Integral Analysis of characteristics.
  • Which brings me to the end of the list of essentials, namely the Shadow work! I mentioned it when talking about holding space for a person, so read more here. I just want to add how important I see it is. Because not being able to deal with our personal and joint shadows makes so much havoc in the world. I think this is a major cause of the unsustainable state we see in many areas of the world today.
    -> So as a CEO / organizational space holder I really think it’s your obligation not to add to this… but to do your shadow work, and help your organization do the same. This is a personal and individual practice, but in an organization, it’s surely also a collective one.
    -> And here, I would really like to mention the importance of establishing simple techniques to be able to talk about the elephant in the room. Our cultures are often a block when it comes to speaking directly about what is. Because we do not want to hurt anybody and we do not want to risk hurting the relation. Which is honorable. “Do no harm” is surely important. But in trusting, next-stage organizations, not speaking about what is might be a block to evolution and the continued unfolding of purpose. So we need to agree on ways to do this. How I cannot say, because it depends on the organization and its colleagues. You might be able to find inspiration in the wiki about reinventing organizations.
    -> I would also be happy to engage in an inspirational dialogue about this, using for example Theory U to presence the emerging future ♥

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