Onto higher grounds – Holacracy at BSL after the initial 9 months of birthing

Our all-team meeting carried an entirely different energy than our initial meeting in late August last year. While at the start, everybody in the team was politely and cautiously positive, well, politically correct might be a better term, we now have a team with members that no longer hesitate to express their personal sentiments about their insights and learnings about where we are. That may sound simple but represents a huge shift in how far we have come as a team and what collective and individual work it took to break down the proper facades of polite, superficial engagement with the truth of the deeper struggles, resistances, blind spots and shadows, but also the deep personal learning, the enthusiasm, unlikely transformations and breakthrough. The team has gained in color, flavor, diversity of opinion, in authenticity and in honest relationships.

I am not sure to be able to identify the individual elements that brought us here, but I can try sharing my perspective. To me, Holacracy has been a weekly if not daily reminder of my personal shortcomings and challenges, of where there is room to improve, opportunity to let go, to investigate uninvestigated convictions and beliefs. All of which have triggered a journey of personal development of an intensity that I have been missing in recent years. I had forgotten what it means to work on myself and within myself. The shared journey we have been at together with the BSL team has brought this notion back into the center of my life and I feel much more connected to myself than I have felt in a while.

I had the chance to shed light into my shadows and I have jumped on the opportunity to use a coaching method to work with the most urgent thing I wanted to personally improve: my tendency to express frustration and impatience in an aggressive email. Six weeks later and rich in learning, I have understood that my deeply ingrained values have stood in my way causing this tension in me: one set of my values had to do with wanting to change the world – at all cost, including over-committing myself; another set of values related to me honoring my inner space and seeking deep connections with other. Looking at my shadow I saw how these two sets of values could end up cancelling each other out – creating distance with those I wanted and needed to work with in an attempt of changing the world, destroying exactly what I had wanted most: a deep connection. Sharing such learnings may surprise but by now I am entirely at ease of sharing this with my colleagues and with you. Holacracy opened up that space. This does not mean that everybody does or must share what is going on within themselves. There is full freedom to also share nothing, and some of us are happy with that, too.

9 months into our collective transformative journey, it feels a bit like the initial birthing process is completed. We have had at our last full day work session with Christiane, our Holacracy coach, and five members of our team are currently spending four days in Vienna taking part in a Holacracy practitioner training. We haven’t invested anything like this into our team and our development and I am sure both the coaching and the four team days as well as the training have done much to change our understanding of who we are together as a team.

A few months ago, some members have talked about lost trust and about the team spirit having gone away. We have very much struggled with the separation of work roles and personal soul space. It felt so artificial, so sterile, in the beginning. We didn’t know anymore what to do with our relationships, our culture, our ways of relating. It took months and months for us to slowly experience to what degree we have been mixing work and personal relationships, how we use relationships to get work done and how work issues stand in the way of seeing each other as persons. Some work issues didn’t get addressed because of personal relationships, some personal relationships suffered as a result of tensions related to work issues. I struggled so much with the projections of others, and I still don’t always feel that I am seen as just the person I am when I am having a cup of coffee or lunch with a colleague. Positions and titles and old hierarchy habits do still creep in. What I say still counts as more than it should and sometimes I think I need to go away for this to really dissolve. I had tried to shut up for three months and have since learned to frame what I say as “just an opinion” or “just a pitch” when I am not speaking from any role I am energizing. Yet, it takes more than me to change all of that. We all are required to bring so much courage and openness and vulnerability to work and we are maybe just now ready to start understanding what it takes in terms of safe spaces where we can expose our weaknesses and problems in the spirit of learning and developing forward. One step at a time.

To me, that one step at a time is clearly the best thing Holacracy brought to me. Rather than masterminding re-organization or strategy, or solving any complex issues, my biggest learning right now relates to trusting that one step at a time is all that is needed and the very likely best way to solve any complex issue. Steps in Holacracy are tensions and tensions are positive. That is learned by now and acquired. Yet, there is so much that lies still ahead of us. One of the future challenges is how to bring in our faculty and our students into a more self-organizing, power distributed organizations. Deliberately developmental company (DDC) is what they call places like ours; and we want to share such experiences with our students who come to BSL to learn about how to be responsible leaders in a fast evolving world. Organizing around purpose is one important element of that and it has brought a dynamic of innovation at BSL that was entirely unimaginable just 9 months ago. We have come a long way on our journey from static individual performers to an inter-connected agile organization in just 9 months. I am so grateful to my colleagues for this journey, after many lonely years, I feel that I have partners and peers again I can truly work, share, play and co-create with. And this is just the beginning!

Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


The body does not lie

Develop your body’s non-verbal communication by using archetypal movements to transmit a message, and use your communication style to overcome challenges that habitually set introverts and extroverts apart.

Our BSL Professor Vanya Loroch and his colleague, Anthony Hughes, teach an approach to understanding effective vocal and non-verbal communication with two objectives in mind: to make us aware of different body movements and sounds of the voice that transmit specific real messages, and to show that by deconstructing these movements, we can learn to apply the archetypes to communicate more effectively the way what we want. How does this work?

Each of our principal emotional patterns – love, fear, anger, sadness, indifference, curiosity, joy and confidence – are recognizable in archetypes of body movements as we speak.  The body cannot lie, even if in words we do not say what we really feel or know to be true. When we talk to someone, the way our body moves can be deconstructed to six archetypes of basic attitudes of movement.  These were first described by a German-Swiss therapist, Silvia Ostertag, in the 1990s as:

  1. The directional bow and arrow where a gesture or arm movement imitates a thought or intention going towards its goal;
  2. The receptive and welcoming flower most obviously shown when someone opens their arms to greet a friend or accept something;
  3. The wall where hands flattened out indicate that a limit has been reached, or where we set norms or abide by regulations;
  4. The void which is either silence and listening to others, or “wait and see” before taking action;
  5. The pulling back-and-forth of the rope between hesitation or eagerness, or between curiosity and fear, or courage and prudence;
  6. And finally, “being present”, expressed either in the form of ego-driven ambition, arrogance or willful self-imposition on one extreme side, or quiet self-confidence on one side.

When we talk, give a presentation to an audience or argue our point of view to a friend, we automatically move our hands, head and body in ways that reflect one or more of these attitudinal positions and movements. To a great extent, of course, the way we move our hands when we talk is a result of our individual socio-cultural learning, but all human beings have ways to express their feelings and emotions, and even in the most dry academic talk by a lecturer in front of a large audience of students, he or she will automatically use hand gestures or different tones of voice to express or emphasize his or her message. Each of the body movements can be related to the communication styles already studied and taught the world over, and which range from introvert to extrovert on one axis, and from goal-oriented to extreme process-oriented on the other axis. All our actions and our communication are thus composed of a style we adopt and the accompanying body language we show.

Learning to recognize how these six archetypes of basic communication movements overlap with emotive expressions was the most useful part of this workshop as it offered an innovative look at tools we can learn to use to communicate effectively and see (as well as hear) better what others say to us.

Author: Olivier Brenninkmeijer PhDOlivier Brenninkmeijer PhD
Associate Dean, BSL


Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

I recently read a fascinating book by Malcom Gladwell entitled “David and Goliath”. The subtitle of the book “Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” gives a good idea of its content.

Malcom Gladwell "David and Goliath"

The introduction explains how David beat Goliath in the Old Testament by using a totally different approach to fighting; his was based on velocity and mobility. It would be very difficult to summarize the whole book, given its diversity and the numerous topics dealt with, from David Boies becoming a famous lawyer in spite of his dyslexia, to the crucial role played by a picture in the history of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. How to use a disadvantage to win is the common element of the different chapters.
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Thinking out of the box

To me, as a Business Psychologist, but also an HR professional,  if there was only one single thing I would like my students to leave the room with is to always keep their mind open to the unexpected, to innovation and creativity. I want my students to understand that whatever their professors tell them, whatever they learned in the past, whatever they will experience in the future, they need to keep their minds open to something that is different, to something that wasn’t in their grasp, in their training, in their know-how… Continue reading

The Power of Pledges

During my studies I earned money with many, many different jobs: I worked as a waitress, cleaning lady, translator, telephone receptionist, secretary, babysitter, Christmas tree trimmer, sales assistant…

One summer I was working as a postwoman. A very interesting experience. It is incredible how much you learn about people just by observing what kind of mail they get. For example: There was one young lady on my round that received a decorated letter by a man almost every day. I was surprised. It is very unusual that guys write so many letters. When I looked at the sender, I realized that this man was writing these letters from jail. That explained it! Continue reading