I recently had lunch with an old acquaintance from the University of Wisconsin, Kathleen Paris, Ph.D. She has, over many years, been involved with the University’s efforts to improve quality and promote strategic planning. After reading her book, Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice™, I have found that many of the principles and methods that she has developed and laid out in her book, can be applied in our own eLearning departments to improve our work environment and the quality of our team work.

In her view, most modern workplaces are at least a little bit sick because “too many people without appropriate skills and motives supervise other people.” One of her solutions for such an organization is The Clover Practice™, a 3-tiered strategy that she has developed. She uses the clover as a symbol of her strategy, because it simplifies the process of unifying the three principles that she says are essential to staying healthy in the office:

Tell the Truth Always – In this section, one of the great highlights that I discovered, in addition to the self-assessment that Paris offers, is that she conveniently introduces the reader to her outline of twelve ways to tell the truth in the workplace. And although these concepts seem simple, she emphasizes their importance and points out that they are all too often overlooked. She relates to her audience by explaining how fear may be the biggest threat to our honesty at work, because of a high school mentality that exists in all of us. I found that this seems to be not only be a valid point, but a great way to engage and earn the trust of the reader. She posits, “I think that behind all our grown-up self-confidence, we are all still in high school. There is a fear in most of us that we are going to look bad and that someone is going to yell at us.”

Speak For Yourself – This is the second principle of The Clover Practice™ and involves speaking “truth to power.” Paris writes that, “To Speak for Yourself means that you speak for the one and only person you are entitled to speak for and that is your own self!” She describes ways to approach new situations by taking ownership of your thoughts and feelings, instead of putting them on other people. She explains that to speak for yourself, you should use more statements like, “This is what it looks like to me,” rather than “you did (or did not do) this or that.” Paris also mentions the ramifications of gossip and how important it is not to engage in it.

Declare Your Interdependence – The third leaf of The Clover Practice™ encourages everyone in the workplace to “declare your interdependence.” I found this to be one of the most enlightening sections, because it focuses on how singularly important the concept of teamwork is. Particularly in the eLearning industry, I feel that it is absolutely essential to recognize that in order to build eLearning software, it takes a team. We all depend on each other to vocalize issues, create solutions, and move projects forward. And the sooner that everyone on the team admits this to him/herself, the faster and stronger the group will grow together.

Near the end of this section, Paris asks readers to reflect on who contributes to their success at work and poses the question of what the readers can do differently to make sure that those who help them can be more successful in their own work. She also encourages the readers to think about how they can recognize their part in their own problems. She does this by asking some more basic questions that allow for profound reflection. By doing this, she illustrates the cycle of teamwork and how it serves the best interest of the entire organization.

In chapter six, Paris addresses the essential questions of why organizations might be sick and how they have come to be that way. She attributes their sickness to:

  1. Patriarchy, Hierarchy, Control
  2. Inadequate Managerial Skills and Motives
  3. Organizational Illusions

When describing organizational illusions she provides some common examples that are instrumental in defining her point and showing the reader the reality of the situation. They include:

  • Families are [invisible and] not our problem.
  • We want a diverse workforce, student body, or clientele.
  • We communicate well with each other
  • Our salaries are confidential

She concludes her book with an appeal to the reader to do reflective exercises on truly understanding yourself, friends, family and envisioning the ideal future for them and yourself. She ultimately encourages the reader to plan for a fulfilling future and notes that although, the three principles described in The Clover Practice™ “are not necessarily new, living them as a whole package probably is.”

I admire the form that this book takes as a “guide” to finding value in yourself and the value of your coworkers. In the eLearning field I have found that it is never any one person’s achievements that bring success to the company, but rather a harmony of collaboration that allows individual efforts to resonate within a team structure and produce dramatic results.