Consider the Importance of a Healthy Terrain for Your Organization

Healthy TerrainYou might ask, “what does a terrain have to do with an organization?” I am not sure about other words to use as a terrain is greater than a system, greater than a culture, greater than a structure, greater than a strategic plan, and yet it encompasses all of these and more.

A phrase attributed to the late Louis Pasteur resonated with me many decades ago when I was thinking about system change, culture change, conflict resolution and problem fixing. At the time, as an organizational change expert, I was being called upon by executives to come in to their organizations to resolve conflicts or to figure out what the problem was.

Apparently on his deathbed, Pasteur said “I had it wrong. Don’t go after the pathogen…go after the interior terrain”.

In other words, don’t go after the symptoms, go after the state of the organism. He was, of course, referring to the human body. I realized that the same is true for an organization. In our organizational consulting work, we advise ‘Don’t go after the symptom….go after the interior terrain. When we say this, typical responses are:

  • Do you mean culture change?
  • Do you mean system change?
  • Do you mean we need to change our organizational structure?g
  • Can’t you just fix the conflict?
  • Can’t you just fix the problem?

The answers are:

  • Changing the culture might be part of what needs to happen
  • Changing the system might be part of what needs to happen
  • Changing the structure might be part of what needs to happen
  • Fixing the pocket of conflict that you have identified is fixing a symptom.  It is likely to come back, maybe stronger than before.  As we look more deeply and work at a deeper level in the organization, the conflict will be addressed too.
  • Fixing a problem is fixing a symptom and as we look more deeply, and work at a deeper level in the organization, the problem will also be taken care of.

Working on a Healthy Terrain of the Organization

Looking more deeply, and working at a deeper level is working on the interior terrain of the organization. Working at a deeper level is creating and maintaining a healthy terrain in the organization. Neither your body nor your organization can operate at peak performance without a healthy interior terrain.

In understanding what Pasteur and others have realized about going after the interior terrain, rather than the symptoms for the human body to be healthy, you will need to make a leap into a worldview that may or may not be familiar with.

It is a holistic worldview that assumes that every organism, be it a cell, an organ, the full body, and the whole human has within it a blueprint for its optimal health. In other words, the keys to recovering health and a healthy terrain are already within the living organism. The health practitioner, from a holistic perspective, works with this blueprint and trusts that the answer to what is needed for a healthy interior terrain is present.

This same thinking can also be applied to an organization and accomplish incredible results. The organization is also made up of individual cells and organs. As organizational change consultants, we work with the interior terrain rather than the symptoms to achieve a healthy organization. In the organization. the blueprint for its optimal health is found within the people who make up that organization. We use methods such as Whole Person Process Facilitation to facilitate meetings tapping into the wisdom of the people, tapping into the blueprint for working with to re-establish a healthy interior terrain.

Can you make the leap to a holistic approach to organizations, working to nurture a healthy interior terrain?

Photo Credit: Steve Ralston |

Birgitt Williams
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Birgitt Williams is an international management and organizational solutions consultant, author, meeting facilitator, teacher, keynote speaker and executive coach. Her business focus is to create inspiring work environments that are highly effective in achieving their purpose and fulfilling their vision.

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