Welcome to our interview with Eva Maria Schielein. Eva is transforming organizations through her work and company aestimat.
With “Positive Transformation”, Eva has created a combination of interventions and procedures of agile & self-organization principles, of human centered design, and of positive psychology. She helps organizations master the transformation to meaningful and innovative workplaces.
Welcome Eva, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of Exploring Forward Thinking Workplaces 2.0.
How can we create workplaces where more voices matter, people thrive and find meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Eva Marie Schielein: This is a very complex question. There are many components that matter to create creative and better workplaces. To me, it’s all in the system. It’s about the organization letting people do what they really want to do and developing their strengths, but this only happens when the system is there to allow them to be themselves.
I think having an organizational system like holacracy or one with a high level of self-organization where people can use their full autonomy to organize their work and quickly adapt to changing environments is needed. The organization should be there to foster creativity and not to drown it. This is still very difficult in hierarchical organizations.
I think self-organization is the key to more creativity in the workplace. We’ve seen this in startups and in innovation hubs of large enterprises, and we’ve experienced this with agile teams in software departments. Small groups or teams work together collaboratively and flexibly with no job titles, but everyone has one or more roles that they choose. In these types of arrangements, we’ve seen that creativity comes from being very flexible, but also from having a common purpose, which is built right in from the start because it’s part of the system.
We should design our organizations in a way that people can bring their whole selves into the organization.
Frederic Laloux describes these rather “soulful organizations” very well in his book Reinventing Organizations. I don’t know if everyone is like that but at least we should design our organizations in a way that people can bring their whole selves into the organization.
After all, how can I be creative if every piece of paper I touch or every email I write has to be accepted by my boss?
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Eva: If we apply Positive Psychology, which is the science of happiness, to the field of business, then there are many proofs that a very high level of productivity is reached when workers can develop their strengths.
We also know that purpose-driven companies are highly profitable. Furthermore, the “Broaden-and-Build” theory of Barbara Fredrickson suggests that positive emotions broaden our awareness and lead to creative thoughts. If we create workplaces which fuel positive emotions, we earn high levels of creativity in return. If I talk about positive emotions, I don’t mean the “always-smiling-positive-thinking” bullshit, I rather think about developing a constructive communication culture, e.g. with the help of appreciative inquiry, or developing a culture of gratitude, e.g. celebrating success together.
What do people really lack and long for at work?
Eva: If we talk about people, we all have different longings, and that’s ok. In order to find out what workers in a certain company lack and long for, I would take a look at their values. Every one of us has his or her own unique individual values. Our values are beliefs we have developed since our childhood. For example, if my highest value is autonomy, a workplace which gives me a good level of autonomy to do my job would be fine with me while somebody else who values recognition or friendship with other people may need to work on a team where they are recognized or compensated for their contribution.
For example, if my highest value is autonomy, a workplace which gives me a good level of autonomy to do my job would be fine with me while somebody else who values recognition or friendship with other people may need to work on a team where they are recognized or compensated for their contribution. What you lack or long for at work depends on the degree in which your values are met by your company. On the other hand, a company culture which respects and cultivates the different values of its employees will support people in finding what they long for.
What is the most important question leaders should ask employees?
Eva: What’s working well that we can continue and what would you like us to change? And how can you help us to change things?
What’s the most important question employees should ask leaders?
Eva: How can I contribute?
What is the most important question we should ask ourselves?
Eva: “Other people matter.” That is what the late Christopher Peterson, one of the founders of positive psychology, used to say. So my question to myself would be, “Am I really this important? Do I really need to always think about improving?” Maybe it’s sometimes better to think about somebody else.
You provided us with a copy of your recently published paper on Positive Transformation: How Workplaces Can Become Creative Workplaces. Can you tell us more about Positive Transformation and this work?
Eva: The 21st century should eventually be a time in history where organizations become meaningful workplaces. With “Positive Transformation”, I developed a framework of interventions and procedures of self-organization principles, human-centered design, and positive psychology, to make organizations fit for the transformation into more soulful and innovative workplaces.
Most of today’s companies want to become more agile, more flexible, more creative, more innovative. The transformation, though, is rather a psychological than a technical issue. I have experienced that the transformation can fuel optimism among people if the focus is laid on people’s strengths, values, and talents. I hope that after reading my paper, people get a sense of the “positive” aspects of a transformation.
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