Featured Article: Integral Training and Embodied Business

Mark Walsh

mark walshI run a training and coaching company that works with stress management, leadership and team building amongst other things. What we’ve discovered is that training that isn’t integral doesn’t work very well as something is left out. I like integral because it gets the job done and allows you to be a human being doing it. I am not an integral philosopher but a “nuts and bolts” kinda guy who works with practical problems.

Quadrants at Work

Let’s start with stress management training—this is often the opening piece of training we do with businesses and other organisations (e.g. the British National Health Service, Institute of Development Studies, NGOs, etc). People normally understand that stress is “holistic”—it involves thoughts, emotions, bodily responses (flight or flight), environmental factors (e.g., office design) social support, coping mechanisms and social structures, including hierarchies. It is therefore fairly easy to work in an integral fashion with stress and it opens up all sorts of interesting conversations and wider dialogues. I rarely present the integral model as Ken Wilber might. Rather, I talk about a “tapas” approach with “different [interrelated] dishes working for different people.” Under the banner of stress it is possible to introduce everything from mindfulness practice (I have meditated with senior finance managers who would never come to a meditation class) and centering practices from aikido to systems theory.

Ultimately stress is just an acceptable word for suffering, so I love helping people with what is a huge and growing problem in the current economic climate.

Marketing to Different Levels of Development

It is easy to see the return on investment for businesses—reduced sick days and staff churn rate, for example—in regard to stress. I align what they consider “nice” with what is wise financially and help unite the split that exist in many organisations between good people wanting to do the right thing and the financial imperative. This marketing to orange meme business (the norm)—in terms of what works, evidence, and productivity is a good fit. I actually regard orange businesses emphasis on rigour and efficacy as a gift to all of us. The well-meaning fluffy green meme marketing I see daily in my hometown of Brighton simply does not speak to the concerns of this group who control much of the resources and well being of the Western World. I have learnt another language to sell my work to orange and would encourage anyone of a spiritual orientation that wishes to make a difference to do likewise.

Blue meme traditionalist businesses (banking and law are often examples) require another kind of marketing about what is “proper and right” and I tend to stress other aspects of my work with these clients. At other times I choose not to work with blue orientated businesses, as frankly it’s too much like hard work. Note also that the recession has caused some organisations to drop down a level of operating as they contract under pressure—I predict these are the ones who will go broke in the next couple of years.

The Emergence of Green and Integral Business

Green has been the leading edge of business, for there diversity and sensitivity training is being enforced (and enforced is the word) across many organisations. Most organisations I come across are not green through and through but have a green leading edge (maybe senior management or HR department) that may then “green-wash” in an orange or blue fashion.

I love training truly green organisations as I can go deeper quicker than with orange. The challenging work here is normally about getting things done, rather than just talking about the circling wolves and how we feel about them eating us. Marketing to green is all about the people and looking after them, appreciating everyone’s unique contribution and working in a non-directive coaching style (as opposed to just telling blue what to do or reasoning with orange). I don’t mention growth hierarchies working with green.

Encouragingly, I see more and more green in mainstream organisations (see for example the growth in popularity of Servant Leadership and “conscious” businesses like The Body Shop) and even the occasional peak of yellow. I see the recession as speeding this up and a very positive thing.

Lines of Development and Embodied Management Training

My business (Integration Training) specialises in Embodied Management Training. This means working with the body (e.g. breath, movement, posture) in a non-athletic way in an office environment. We work through the body as it is often the most obviously missing piece in business—which is traditionally “tie-up”—so gets great results. Many business leaders have read all the right books yet still have problems leading people. Leadership involves communication, trust, dignity, reliance, etc. and these are embodied phenomena that can be worked with directly on this level.

Emotional intelligence training (green insight marketed for orange business effectively) exposes another often weak line of development that we work with. Good business is nearly always about playing well with others and being able to manage relationships. Encouraging the ability to see oneself from outside and take multiple perspectives is crucial to integral training. I find meditation, NonViolent Communication (green supreme and similar to Fred Kofman’s “verbal aikido”) and ontological coaching as exemplified by the Newfield Network to be effective tools for this.

Emotion and body tend to be suppressed by blue controlling red excess, and their re-emergence at orange or as healthy green is the trend I encourage in business. Other lines that working on with businesses may quickly benefit include creativity and ethics—though it depends on the business and the individuals, as ever.

So far I have discussed stress and leadership though all effective training is BY NECESSITY integral. Take time management training as a final example. This is often viewed as purely a matter of learning theory about the difference between urgent and important for example, figuring out to-do lists, etc. If it is not done in a fashion that accounts for the whole person and the context people are in, it will not work. Can someone embody a strong “no” for example? If not, they will soon have too much to do irrespective of what they know cognitively. Is there a culture and structure that supports “no” in the company? What stories do they have from childhood about saying no? It’s all connected and it all matters (my seven word summary of integral).

Business as a Path of Growth

I have found running a business to be a challenging spiritual practice—forcing me to examine my own blue-orange foundation, necessitating my learning a wealth of new skills in areas I wouldn’t have looked at before and get on with people I might not have chosen to be around. I have gone from regarding business and capitalism as an enemy of spirituality to seeing that it offers a unique vehicle for it. I’m not interested in spreading Ken Wilber’s model. I tend to call what I do “Human Business”, rather than The Integral Approach or Conscious Business, as it freaks people out less. I’m passionate about helping people be better at what they do and an integral perspective is useful for this. More than that I see the growth that integral encourages in business as a necessity for the survival of the species. I’m happy to be a part of a growing choir of human voices in the training and business world and intend to have fun, make money, learn stuff and help people doing it! Back to work…

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Mark Walsh was born at a young age in England and has since studied psychology, aikido, Non-Violent Communication, meditation and has worked/played in outdoor education, in the non-profit sector worldwide and now leads the UK’s embodied business specialist company—Integration Training. Integration Training help organisations with stress, time management, team building, communication training and leadership. He also enjoys tango, comedy improvisation, snowboarding, martial arts, blogging, poetry, walking and eating a lot. He lives in sunny Brighton UK with two mad cats and four enlightened goldfish.