I am struck by Margaret Wheatley’s essay “Relationships: the Basic Building Blocks of Life.” It is not that Wheatley reveals anything necessarily novel; it is the calling attention to the importance of relationships that resounds. The United States values individualism as a core part of its founding. As a result, the tendency to operate in silos pervades. Organizations are divided into a hierarchical structure and the folks on the floor of an operation may rarely see those at the administrative top of an organization. This begs the question of how to build a shared vision with someone whom one never sees?
For productivity as an organization, there must be an element of buy-in from those involved in the organization. Wheatley notes that many people surveyed indicated that relationships with colleagues tend to be at the top of the list for employee measures of satisfaction and comfort. These relationships add to one’s sense of purpose in an organization. If someone is never or rarely ever acknowledged for one’s work or simply one’s presence, from where does one generate purpose in the organization?
I think on my own experiences and how they were shaped by the relationships developed within each context. I gush over the Academic Success Center here at OSU because it feels like what I like to call a “professional home.” Everyone works hard at and feels passionate about their respective roles. There is a general sense of collaboration; on a given day, I speak with at least three of the folks in the ASC about student concerns, questions about procedures, or just as a means of connecting. There is a reason for me to come into work; I know I am surrounded by folks who feel similarly about working with students and education in general. We each have our own beliefs about education and maintain some sense of individuality but that only makes our shared vision stronger. We each bring with us a unique perspective about the overarching value we share.
This was not the case, however, at the school at which I taught in New York City. The vision for the school was unclear aside from our administration stressing the importance of students achieving particular standardized test scores. There was no shared vision of education because we did not have the chance to interact about this as a staff. The principal’s door was often closed, a silently loud indication that she was uninterested in relating. The same could be said of all but one of the assistant principals. The one assistant principal whose door stayed open was the most connected to the staff; she was the only person of the administrative staff to have a true sense of the pulse of the staff. And she was the one most scrutinized by the administration.
I believe in humans’ sheer need for interconnectivity. As Wheatley says, relationships are the building blocks. We are better together, even in disagreement. We will learn through interactions with each other. We will give each other a reason to come into work. Great things were built only through the collaboration of others.