Dysfunctional is a matter of interpretation, isn’t it? What is dysfunctional, how do we know if we and our business are dysfunctional and what do we do about it?
Dysfunctional families breed individuals who to some degree are dysfunctional, and without a doubt they bring that dysfunction with them into everything they create; they build friendships, careers, empires around their dysfunction and attract others into their web. At some point, though, as we know with most empires, they all come crashing down, because the limitations that come with their dysfunction will inevitably destroy what they’ve created.
Dysfunction essentially means something is working to the detriment of the outcome desired. To the degree to which I’m dysfunctional is the degree to which I’m in denial of my dysfunction and the dysfunction of my organization. When in denial I’m not willing to acknowledge responsibility for what’s showing up in my organization or business; I’ll blame others for my demise and the demise of my company; I’ll fail rather than admit to and deal with my underlying attachments to family patterns and the secret world that’s been hidden inside me for a life time; and, I’m unwilling to risk losing what I consider to be rightfully mine for the sake of the business, my investors and employees. I’ll take it all down with me, rather than lose face with myself.
We may have come from the most supportive and loving families possible â€“ one’s we consider highly functioning. These highly functioning families have some important dynamics in place: Open communication; respect for each members individual needs and desires, thoughts and feelings; a sense of humor; safety and trust; a capacity to admit when they are wrong; open to outside support; boundaries that provide healthy limits at the same time provide openness to expansion and change. And, every healthy family also provides limiting patterns and beliefs, which at some point will be to the detriment of the individual member. Funny how that works. Even the healthiest families can’t make it all right.
I’ve just been hired by a company in Silicon Valley to work with a number individuals who are important â€“ even vital to the project at hand, yet bring behavior patterns that if not shifted will devastate their current project and the entire organization. In discussing my role with HR, I questioned the degree to which the company itself and the executives running the company are willing to look at own their contribution to what’s occurring with their employees. In this conversation I described how quite often employees act out, much like children in a family. Too often parents will send their children to therapy to get straightened out, but won’t go themselves, though the parents are actually the ones generating the dysfunctional environment within which the children live and operate. Unless the parents come into therapy the environment will remain the same and the children will either revert back to the old patterns, or cultivated healthier dynamics they may choose to leave. So the company itself will mostly need coaching too if it’s really wanting fulfillment and success.
We know tons of parents that lose their children because they can’t manage and be responsible for their little creations. Similarly, I know tons of organizations that have had to fire their founders because they were interfering with the growth and development of the vision they created. And, I know even more organization whose success is minimized by the dysfunction of the business and the humans that run it.
Every family system generates enmeshment; think of a fish not knowing itself separate from the water it swims in. It doesn’t matter how this enmeshed system developed, what it’s about or how it functions â€“ none of that matters. What matters is cultivating an environment that allows for the process of de-enmeshment; empowering them to differentiate and individuate themselves so as to allow a greater capacity to choose to choose what they choose in service to their own well-being and the fullest expression of Self and inevitably and hopefully to the organization they work for.
It doesn’t matter at what sort of organization we are working with â€“ an individual, family, small business or the largest corporations, religions, and governments, we are dealing with the process of distinguishing individuals from patterns that limit their growth potential and the growth potential of the organizations they serve.
Companies fail, I believe because individuals are actually not invested enough in the success they are attempting to achieve. So, it’s not that they are truly failing; it’s that they succeed at maintaining the environment that generates the undesired outcome, which appears as failure. This sounds paradoxical, however it’s what all of us do consistently, over time until we wake up to the fact that we are creating our own demise.
When we can see this from a logical perspective it becomes a no-brainer to choose to think differently, cultivate a way of being that generates an environment that generates the outcome we are wanting. It’s not a big-hairy-monster deal to take the steps to make this happen. It actually becomes fun and very rewarding.
The Dilemma: Willingness to risk what’s at stake for the desired outcome.
What’s at stake on the one hand can be the revealing of hidden agendas, hidden survival mechanisms, hidden alliances; all sorts of hiddens that we may not even know we are aligned to. On the other hand, what’s at stake is the project, the business, investor’s confidence and their money, your reputation; all sorts of circumstantial elements that clearly we are attached to. This is not an either/or proposition. This is a requirement of the inclusion of both in service to and the honoring of all at stake. Both have to be unconcealed, revealed, recognized and acknowledged, and both have to be dealt with openly, with respect, trust, commitment to the vision of the outcome desired, as well as a large measure of humor.
What I love about working with companies and organizations is that the people at the table are powerful, intelligent, high stakes players. The outcome of the choices they make are life changing for themselves and all the people invested in them and their choice-making capacity. Allowing their dysfunctional survival mechanism to expand to include more functional strategies will provide them with unimaginable success in their projects and careers, if that’s what they are truly wanting.