As we consider possibilities for organizational change, I want to share a very insightful paper by psychologists Linda Hartling and Elizabeth Sparks titled “Relational-Cultural Practice: Working in a Nonrelational World” (2002), published by the Wellesley Centers for Women.
Building on the pioneering work of psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller, Drs. Hartling and Sparks distinguish between healthy “relational” cultures and dysfunctional “non-relational” cultures:
A “relational” culture is one that values “growth-fostering relationships, mutual empathy, mutuality, [and] authenticity,” creating qualities of “zest, empowerment, clarity, sense of worth, and a desire for more connection.”
By contrast, the authors identify three types of “non-relational cultures” that hurt morale and productivity:
(1) “traditional hierarchical” cultures that emphasize top-down power;
(2) “pseudo-relational” cultures that value superficial “niceness” over constructive change; and,
(3) brute “survival” cultures that pit everyone against one another in the quest for status and institutional spoils.
What kind of workplace culture does your organization have? The answer probably says a lot about your organization and the experience of working there.
The paper is written specifically for mental health professionals, so there are repeated references to clinical work settings. However, anyone who is interested in employment relations should find it understandable and insightful.