Council in Business

by Marlow Hotchkiss & Company

Council can be described as the art of relationship.  And business, of course, in essence, is made up of many overlapping, interacting working relationships, including customers.  In this sense, Council and business are natural ‘bed fellows.’  Since Council emerged at the Ojai Foundation in the 1980’s, it’s been carried into corporations big and small, profit and non-profit, local and multi-national—from a Cadillac dealership to Xerox. It’s served well in leadership coaching, team-building, and organizational development, in Fortune 500 companies and small family businesses.  It’s been used to support various rites of passage for companies, such as when the founding president is ready to retire.

In the training industry, it’s a truism that the quality of our work in the world is a function of the quality of our personal relationships.  Council can have profound impact on both individual relationships and on a corporate culture.   One caveat has to do with scale.  Circle work, respectful listening, speaking authentically, nurturing relationships, and building consensus are all ultimately intimate adventures.  For this, there is a ‘Goldilocks Mean’ — not too big, not too small…but just right!   Finding this ‘sweet spot’ is where the art comes in…A second useful practice in bringing council into a business organization is for the council facilitators to first immerse themselves in the culture of the company, including the local language and “business customs.”

“Council in business” is an oxymoron wrapped in a contradiction and tied with a Catch 22!  This is certainly the case  when  huge multi-national corporations are bent on extracting natural resources to make irrelevant products to sell to misguided shoppers in order to deliver high returns on investments to stock holders, who themselves would never buy or use such useless and toxic products.  That said, there are wonderful opportunities, mostly in the newer progressive corporations and small NGOs, service-oriented organizations, and green, fair-trade, non-GMO, free-range companies and grass-roots businesses, where Council can certainly make a BIG difference and change people’s lives and the economy for the better.

Council is all about respecting life, heartful communication, deep caring, plus nurturing compassion and creativity.  It’s about people being true to themselves and everyone they touch.  It’s about relationship and quality of life.  Meet with the people you’d be working for and with.  Find out what they care about, what they dream for their children.  How could you, and how could council, serve them and their dreams?  Remember, council is a kind of energy work, a kind of acupuncture.  It’s subtle, tender, to the point, and unrelentingly true.  Is council a good fit with the mission and vision of this company?  These people?  Does this business serve its employees?  Its customers?  Community?  Planet?

Manage your expectations.  Set your goals appropriately.  Is this realistic?  Can you really make a difference here?  Remember, council can be  by nature counter to “normal  business cultural; it’s radical; it questions everything.  Council naturally “flattens” hierarchies and levels playing fields.  Be  aware of what you’re stepping into.  In short choose your battles carefully.  Maybe you can enrich this department’s 50 employees during a six-month in-service training program, but is it worth it if there’s not a chance  of changing the corporate culture?  Will it only make people unhappy with their job?

From someone who’s been there and back:  Be sure you have both “Top Down” and “Bottom Up” buy in to council before you sign the contract.