A Community of Freedom

To contribute to a more loving world, we have found it essential for us to be a more loving staff and workplace. Our goal is to create an environment that welcomes people to bring their full selves to our work together. We describe our staff community where our culture comes alive as a Community of Freedom.

Our founder John Fetzer first envisioned the community of freedom in the late 1980s as he contemplated the future of the Institute. Mr. Fetzer believed that for a place like the Fetzer Institute to succeed and last it had to be more than a collection of individuals. Instead, it had to be a cohesive community that was bound together by a larger purpose. 

In 2013, we embarked on an unusual and deliberate step for any organization. For three hours each week, our full staff stops work and either together or individually cultivates their spiritual path—however they define it. We explore personal spiritual interests, share new ideas and work, build connections with teammates and partners, and learn about topics from emotional intelligence to mindfulness to spiritual parenting. We believe that providing the space to develop such a community will help us become a more effective organization by creating a culture of love and authenticity. Ultimately, we hope that this intentional effort will help us embody the work we aspire to do in the world. 

What We’re Learning 

In 2016, Fetzer commissioned an independent case study writer and facilitator to help provide a synthesis of the successes, disappointments, stumbling blocks, and breakthroughs of the community of freedom since its inception. Read the executive summary. The case study and facilitation process revealed the following key learnings:

  • The work has improved relationships, morale, and the ability of staff to tackle difficult conversations.
  • For many, this work has resulted in spiritual growth and a sense of connection to something larger.
  • This effort supported personal and community healing after a period of turmoil at the Institute.
  • For a number of staff, abstract language used to describe the community of freedom made it difficult for them to grasp just what this actually meant.
  • There was uncertainty about the meaning and purpose of the weekly gatherings in relation to the rest of Fetzer’s work.
  • Organizational policies and practices could feel at odds with the values espoused at the weekly gatherings.

Moving Forward

The community of freedom is a work in progress and continues to evolve. As we seek to live out the ideals of the community of freedom, these are some of the questions we are exploring:

  • When building a program that is designed to cultivate a community that is grounded in spiritual exploration, how can we respect different degrees of interest as well as a variety of spiritual approaches from staff?
  • What does it take to have a sense of shared responsibility and ownership for an initiative like ours so that everyone has real input and that the community belongs to them?
  • How can we translate the principles and norms or relationships developed through the three hours of work each week into other aspects of organizational life and culture?

Supporting spiritual development in the workplace is not without its challenges, but we have found it well worth the effort. We see this work as central to fulfilling the mission and upholding the values of our organization.