When we discuss corporate social responsibility, it is almost exclusively contextualized in terms of the actions and decision-making at the corporate, organizational level. However, at the heart of every corporate practice that touches upon an environmental or social issue, there are individuals weighing the costs and benefits of taking social responsibility factors into consideration.
Long-time organizational change consultant Pravir Malik has recently begun working on mindfulness in the workplace as a tool for individual, team, organizational, and ultimately, societal change. Through his research organization, Aurosoorya, Pravir introduced a fractal-based system of mindfulness into the Stanford University Medical Center’s Leadership Academy training four months ago. His hypothesis suggested that by addressing dysfunction at the micro level (i.e., personal discontent, frustration, anger), that larger patterns at higher levels would be affected in a positive manner. He envisions these growing scales of collective consciousness as fractal in nature, all part of a larger, inseparable system.
Pravir equipped medical team members with a software tool to track their feelings throughout the day, with a focus on emotions felt right before, during, and after team meetings. By consciously identifying emotions, both positive and negative, team members became increasingly conscious of the “levers” that caused their happiness or unhappiness. Coupled with the support to deal with personal and team challenges, the exercise enabled team members to resolve particular states of dysfunction.
The seven teams went through a Subarctic Survival Exercise. Team members first prioritized a list of 15 items required for survival, following a simulated plane crash in the subarctic region:
“Each team then had a discussion and prioritized the same list of items as a team. If team scores were better than any one individual’s score, their team dynamics are judged to be synergistic. On the contrary, if any one individual’s score remains better than the overall team score, their synergy is judged not to have occurred.”
Pravir found there was a fairly tight correlation between those teams that performed best and their use of the web-based team dynamics tool, and those teams that performed worst and their lack of use of the tool. The exercise suggests that by purposefully recognizing and recording relational dynamics, teams were able to create positive dynamics, enabling them to perform better as teams in stressful circumstances.
So what does this all tell us about corporate social responsibility? By creating greater consciousness at the individual level, Pravir believes that humans will become more mindful of how their actions impact others, and ultimately, the world around them:
“Fractals in organizations involves self-similar patterns across different scale. Scale can be thought of as the different layers that comprise an organization, including the individual, the team, the corporation itself, the markets in which the corporation operates, the environment and the societies in which the corporation is involved. Examining self-similar patterns in these layers inevitably thrusts us into the heart of CSR, which focuses on the practical interaction between these layers.”
Changing thought at the individual level uncovers new possibilities. By integrating more holistic environmental, social, and governance considerations into the strategy and operations of business, new opportunities emerge, to reduce externalities that cost society and business. With better organizational design and increased emphasis on personal and team mindfulness, businesses can become more dynamic and adaptable.
Pravir envisions these dynamics providing insight into the future of CSR. It’s time to think about how corporate attention can shift from current compliance-based practices to a fundamental corporate repurposing based on truly addressing human, social and environmental needs. Pravir explains,
“It is perhaps of little surprise that fractal dynamics was intuitively grasped by such effective individuals as Gandhi and Einstein many decades ago. Gandhi is known to have stated, “Become the change that you wish to see in the world.” This statement is imbued with fractal reality: by changing the base-pattern [at the individual level] the subsequent levels of an organization, and its entire interaction and approach to the market, environment and society, are also fundamentally changed.”
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com
Nicole Skibola is a lawyer and a social innovation strategist with Apricot Consulting, a small international boutique management consulting firm. You can read more of her writing on her blog Strange Attractors.