Organizational Mindfulness: How Contemplative Practice Can Enhance Your Business

There’s a new trend taking root among organization and business leaders today: mindfulness. A kind of contemplative practice with deep roots in Eastern religious traditions and that is closely tied to activities like meditation and yoga, mindfulness is taught in business schools, and has been embraced by some of the largest and most influential companies, including Google.

What exactly is mindfulness, and how can practicing it benefit your business or organization?  Redefined by psychologists for use by Western audiences, mindfulness is understood as “being both aware of one’s thoughts and feelings and non-judgmentally accepting of them,” and this deceptively simple concept has the potential to invigorate your organization and change the tenor of your business for the better.

Modernity, Meet Mindfulness

Today’s fast-paced work environment seems inherently unsuited to exercising mindfulness. In fact, modernity has made us all less mindful. In response, bringing mindfulness to the modern office can yield an array of positive results, such as:

  • Lower levels of stress
  • Greater productivity
  • Higher rates of job satisfaction
  • Improved employee health
  • “An increased sense of purpose and… fewer feelings of isolation and alienation”

Not Naturally Mindful?

For those who are not naturally mindful, however, accomplishing this state of awareness and non-judgment can be significantly more difficult than it sounds, particularly in business environments where we can become steeped in the need to constantly judge and evaluate what comes before us.

To fully engage in mindfulness, we need to separate ourselves from that culture of judgment and slow down, observing and describing thoughts and feelings and then letting them go rather than harping upon particular aspects. This is sometimes referred to as having a “Teflon mind.”

The Making of a Mindful Organization

If mindfulness is an internal, meditative process, how can an organization be mindful? After all, there is not an organizational hive mind that each employee can tap into, sharing a single set of thoughts and perceptions. No, for an organization to be mindful, mindfulness activities must be included as part of a shared company ethos. Organizational mindfulness is often best encapsulated by the idea that teams of employees can easily come together around any project, working harmoniously. Companies that make mindfulness a priority are strong problem solvers, open to new ideas, and actively aiming to improve on unsuccessful concepts without being bogged down by the negative associations with a failed undertaking.

org mindfulness

Another critical characteristic of mindful organizations is a refusal to accept oversimplified answers. These companies recognize that there are often complex interactions at work in business issues, including situations that may be ambiguous or for which there might be a lot of associated data to be interpreted.

Through mindfulness, employees and team leaders alike become better at taking in all of the associated information and synthesizing it, and they are less likely to get discouraged when an answer doesn’t immediately present itself. When struggling, mindful organizations are more willing to engage an expert opinion from outside the company.

The most important characteristic of mindful organizations is that they are resilient. Resilience stems from confidence and forward thinking. Mindful leaders can help to foster this characteristic by encouraging and motivating other team members. Resilient employees are the ones that keep moving forward even in the face of adversity. Mindfulness helps these teams not to judge or be intimidated by the challenges before them, while also actively considering what parts of their failures can help them devise an improved strategy for their next attempt at a problem.

business mindfulness

Slowing Down To Move Faster

One of the most common questions posed to mindfulness leaders is this: will mindfulness make my company more productive? Experts can only provide an equivocal answer: yes and no. Part of mindfulness tends to be an intentional slowing down of individuals, at least for short periods of time, which one would think might result in less productivity. At the same time, mindfulness tends to improve mental processing and problem solving, so in that respect it may increase productivity. In order to speed up, sometimes it is necessary to first slow down.

Ultimately, experts agree that productivity is not the end goal of mindfulness, but it is a common consequence. Mindfulness may not result in more answers to business problems, but increased creativity can produce more answers, and better resilience makes employees and leaders alike more willing to keep working on a problem.

Simple Mindfulness Practices for Your Business

You may not be ready for an all office yoga session, but there are many simple mindfulness activities that can help focus and attune employees.

  • Try to be “one-mindful.” This kind of mindfulness focuses on doing one thing at a time and giving your attention fully to each task. Thus, when talking to a coworker, give them your full attention, rather than thinking about the work that is back on your desk. This kind of active presence improves connectedness and helps with information processing.
  • Try beginning your next meeting by asking everyone to engage in a breathing exercise, such as inhaling and exhaling slowly while being mindful of the rise and fall of their stomach. Place one hand on the stomach and one on the chest. If you are breathing in a relaxed way, your stomach will rise, rather than your chest.
  • Other possible ways to breathe mindfully include counting the breaths or paying attention to the sensation of the breath filling the lungs as you inhale.
  • Include a type of closure after mindfulness activities. This can mean ringing a bell, reading a short affirmation, or simply asking everyone to slowly open their eyes as they feel comfortable and ready to begin working.

With everything moving in fast forward, mindfulness is a great way to counter the pace of modern life. Try committing your organization to mindfulness practice for a week and see how the workplace changes. Do people interact differently? Are they thinking more creatively?

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Bird

Bird Pilatsky is a PhD student in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A graduate of Smith College, with a B.A. in English and the Study of Women and Gender. She works as an archivist and research assistant with particular interests in LGBT issues, disability studies, and literature. Bird also works as a summer camp counselor. She has worked as an art & layout editor, runs an active blog, and enjoys reading, running, and rollerskating.

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