Incorporating culture of peace within organisational structures

Throughout the duration of the research one of the key tasks has been to translate the value of peace and the concept of a culture of peace into practice. The researchers have asked themselves the question of how to link values, beliefs and norms based in a culture of peace to actual behaviours of individuals in relation to themselves, to others, to the environment and to any given situation that arises. In this process it has become evident that practicing and fostering a culture of peace is an ongoing process – process being the key word here. Practicing and fostering are also key words – one must continually assess whether she is practicing the values necessary for fostering a culture of peace. In other words: are you walking the talk of peace? It is not always as easy as it may seem. One may see many “successful” projects on paper, but often when looking in depth at the internal processes that have taken place preceding the “project success” it is evident that the organizational environment has suffered. When one focuses too much on the end result instead of the process taking place in the moment/s of the entire project cycle, one tends to sacrifice the possibility of meaningful relations between and among project staff, beneficiaries and any other actors involved in bringing a project to life. Is it possible to say that a project that has had such a trajectory is actually successful? Do we want successful projects or do we want meaningful processes of project realization that result in greater learning for the benefit of not only a single organization or group, but a larger network of social change makers?

Although within this report the researchers have separated what they consider to be more the external aspect of the project cycle from what can be considered to be more the internal aspect of the organizational structure, there is no doubt about the interconnectedness of the two for the purpose of integrating a culture of peace approach within the work civil society does in the South Caucasus region. One of the main tools for incorporating a culture of peace within organizational structures is the commitment to systematically assess relations between and among project staff and any other actors relevant for the realization of a given project. What this implies is a willingness to assess power dynamics and shift the ways one relate to one selves and to others so that there is enough openness and capacity to fully engage each person’s potential.
Some of the tools to use for achieving a strong, open and vibrant team are: clear and transparent communication, active listening, mindfulness, trust-building, conflict transformation and horizontal organizing.

Action proposed:

Brief discuss on the action:

All of the abovementioned tools are interrelated, as trust allows for clear and transparent communication, but so does clear and transparent communication open possibilities for trust. And obviously for communication to serve its function active listening must be practiced. In the case of integrating culture of peace elements into organizational structures and relations it is important to be clear when communicating and to be transparent. One of the organizations interviewed for this research considered the fact that sometimes people misunderstand each other. In such a case staff within the organization try to clarify the issue and they consider it to be important not to do so through a second or third person, but directly. This is how transparent communication is practiced. Another organization spoke of conversations as a method, emphasizing honesty as a key component to transforming conflicts and seeking solutions for problems that may arise in a team. Finally, transparent communication entails the effort put into understanding when one holds power of information and/or knowledge and shares that with anyone who may be a relevant actor for a project.

Active listening is something we often say we do, but fail to do. Active listening requires the full attention of the one listening to take in all that the one speaking says. What this means is that the person listening focuses only on what the person speaking is saying and tries to let go of any responses they wish to say while the speakers speaks. If active listening is practiced in a project team, with beneficiaries, targets groups and any other relevant actors then culture of peace begins to take shape within a given environment.

Being mindful is a long-term process that one must engage in our fast-paced, result-oriented world to not allow extra stimuli from taking over and distracting us from what is most important in a given moment. What this mainly relates to is the noise of our contemporary world permeating our minds and not allowing us to see clearly, be mindful of our actions and words. In order to cultivate mindfulness among a project team it can be useful to meditate together, to take breaks to breathe together and/or to create spaces in the work environment where people can go to be in silence for some time. Mindfulness allows a person to better observe and catch their thoughts, understand certain patterns of behaviour and become clearer with themselves on their boundaries when relating to others. When a person cultivates mindfulness, they are less likely to react and more likely to create possibilities for meaningful exchange.

One key thing to be mindful of when working with social change projects is the context and how one might be shaped by it. If we live in a nationalistic, homopho- bic, sexist, etc. context, we might not realize we are affected negatively and can sometimes act in ways other than what we say our values are because we have internalized these societal stereotypes. It is crucial for spaces to be created for being mindful, cultivating awareness of these internalizations without judgment and with the goal to transform harmful attitudes in a team for the benefit of projects and the overall work for social change.

Building trust is an ongoing process. It is never simply that someone has your trust and that’s the end. Trust is something that must also be maintained and it requires all of the abovementioned elements: clear and transparent communication, active listening, mindfulness. If communication is not transparent, it breeds distrust within a group. If we are unable to actively listen, the one speaking begins to distrust the one listening. If we are not mindful, we can harm each other and break any trust that was already there and/or fail to cultivate trust by not acknowledging our mistakes. When there is trust within a team there is also less of a need to micro-manage, watch over someone’s work and/or to question whether a decision someone made is correct or not. Trust allows for more support between and among the team and in turn allows for more trust with all the actors the team engages with in the scopes of a given project.

The practice of transforming conflicts starts from the principle that conflicts are not necessarily a bad thing, and therefore we do not need to avoid and/or be afraid of them. Conflicts are a clash between people and/or groups based on a disagreement and conflict does not always mean violence. But if we avoid a conflict then we let a bad situation fester and it can either explode in the end or simply cause unnecessary stress and worry. If a project team is invested in incorporating culture of peace within their team and all the work they do, there needs to be a positive attitude toward conflict. And if there is a positive attitude toward conflict it means that all members of a team are prepared to be open, transparent and trusting toward themselves and to each other for raising difficult issues that may result in a clash, in bad feelings, in discomfort and a tense environment for the purpose of restoring balance where it may be lacking due to unjust behaviours or attitudes, or even sometimes simple misunderstandings.

Many of the project coordinators interviewed and also a larger number of the participants of the seminar held within the frame of this research to receive feedback on how to incorporate culture of peace within the project cycle believe that hierarchical organizing is important for advancing projects within the work they do. The researchers are not necessarily promoting a severing with such vertical modes of organizing as we understand that in many organizations this is the structure that is set up and functioning to some degree to implement projects. At the same time, we see how hierarchical modes of organizing can contribute to organiza- tional cultures that are not in line with values of peace and projects can suffer as a result of this. So here, we would like to offer possible ways to incorporate more principles from horizontal modes of organizing so that project coordinators can integrate this in their work if they see the value of such methods over those meth- ods that they are engaging in most of the time due to the way organizational structures are set up already.

Horizontal organizing means that tasks and decision making are shared within a team, so that there is no need to have set roles that only one person takes on. For example, a project manager does not need to always and only manage, because everyone in the team can take responsibility for this and therefore, the project manager can also take responsibility for other tasks such as administration, coordination, etc. Once it is clear what the strengths in the team are, the work can also be divided according to strengths, but it should not mean that standard/technical/boring tasks are left to one person only. In addition, members of a team can have their capacity built in a particular area so that it is not always one person who has a particular “strength” or “expertise” in a particular area, and therefore an unequal relation of power is set up where the one with a particular knowledge is always the expert. Therefore, it is also important to provide a space for sharing skills, teaching others and exchanging information and knowledge (which translates to exchanging power within a team). As an example: if one person knows how to write grants, the other doesn’t, but wants to learn, it is possible to create a space for learning, which in turn allows for the opportunity for all to share the power of communicating to donors. Likewise, if someone understands finances and accounting better, in creating a space for all members of a team to learn the particu- larities of this field, there is a sharing of power in understanding how the finances are decided upon and worked with.

What to ask yourself (and within your team) to ensure that the internal organization is sensitive to culture of peace

  1.  Is there a space for you and your team members to have open and transparent communication regarding the organization, the project management and other relevant decisions?
  2. How willing are you and your team members to engage in active listening and be mindful of relations among and between each other?
  3. How willing are you and your team members to bring up issues within the team and/or in a project that may be harmful to the team and/or project?
  4. Is there a space for you and your team members to bring up issues and trust that they will be discussed with the intention to transform harmful practices, behaviours and attitudes?
  5. Where is there trust in a group and where is there distrust? Is it possible to openly discuss these issues and find collective solutions?
  6. To what extent are decisions made collectively? To what extent are technical tasks shared among the team?