Carrying the Weight – Together

I recently read a thoroughly delightful book:  Making Things Right:   The Simple Philosophy of a Working Life, by Ole Thorstensen   This is an in-depth look at the craft of building – notably the detailed reflection on the work of renovating and upgrading homes.   We see into the heart of why this kind of work matters and how it can be so deeply rewarding.   Thorstensen works alone at times; and, then also, sometimes is working with others who join his crew temporarily or when he works side-by-side with other trades.   About mid-way through the book he writes:

“One of the nicest things you can say about another person is that we have done some heavy lifting together, and I mean that literally.   To hold one end of something heavy and be aware of another’s movements, feel them transmitted through the object, is an experience all its own.   I can tell if the person is adept at carrying, if they show me consideration or just think of their own burden, and I can sense when they are getting tired.   Fatigue is reflected in their step, in imprecise motions.   It is expressed by silence.  Anyone who is able ought to lift something together with another person from time to time; it is a good way to get to know one another.”

He goes on to speak about what it means when several have to carry something very large together, and how the team is only as strong as its weakest member.  And then, as he does throughout the book, he speaks of the satisfaction that comes from a job well done at the end of the day and he concludes:  “We unplug our tools, turn the lights off, and leave together, in our work clothes, for the pub.”

I read this after a meeting earlier in the day with a colleague in which we discussed, as part of our meeting, a particular onerous challenge that we were facing.  And what struck me was that my colleague, to use an image the Thorstensen has given me, carried the weight with me.  I did not feel like I was trying to carry it alone or that I had a mere observer in the room or someone who was not keenly and deeply invested.  This was our problem, our challenge, our predicament.  And it struck me how much I appreciated this – indeed, how even though the problem is quite significant, it was – again to reference Thorstensen – something we were carrying together.   And we approached the issue and saw it differently and tended to the way that the other was addressing the problem.  And, of course, it lightened the load.  And I think, in “carrying” it together, we made progress towards a resolution.

Every organization has those who are merely passengers.   They get their paycheck and perhaps do what they are employed to do and do it well.  But it is another level of collegial engagement when we feel that the weight is being carried together as partners in the work to which we are called.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.