Ryan T. Hartwig, PhD (University of Colorado Boulder), is associate dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences and associate professor of communication at Azusa Pacific University in Greater Los Angeles. Blending his teaching, research and leadership practice, Ryan has consulted with and trained leaders at numerous universities, churches, and nonprofit organizations, helping them develop thriving leadership and ministry teams, and design and cultivate collaborative organizations. His first book, Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership (with Warren Bird) was recently published by Intervarsity Press.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
There’s much to say here, but three reasons stand out.
First, we need a work revolution because we too often say, “That’s just the way it is.” Somehow we’ve learned to turn our brains off when we go to work, to accept things as though they are part of the natural order unable to be altered, to just do what we are told, and to put forth the minimal effort to get the maximum reward. And we explain all of that away by “that’s just the way it is.” But when we do this, we fail to experience the joy, the fruit, and the delight in working – in bringing our full selves to the tasks of working with the raw material of creation to bring innovation, joy, and better life to humanity.
Second, we need a work revolution because too often work is defined as this activity – a necessary evil actually – you do to make a living. Sure, wages are a key outcome of work. But they’re not the only – or the most important – outcome. Work is so much more. Work is good. Work is an activity that engages us in the deepest parts of who we are. Work is essential to live a good life. Work is one of our greatest opportunities to make the world a better place.
Third, our response to what’s broken about work is trying to find the perfect, meaningful job, as though that’ll fix all our problems. But, as I explain in my TEDx talk The Myth of Meaningful Work, we don’t find meaningful jobs as much as we make our work meaningful.
That’s why we need a work revolution!
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
I’m a professor and a practical academic, so I’m trying to reinvent work in a few key ways. First, I’m trying to help my students – the future leaders of our world – to think well about work and the organizational world they’ve been formed by and will contribute to for the rest of their lives. Much of that involves pulling back the curtain on how the modern organization has been constructed, and helping students to see that what has been made can be re-made through communication.
Second, I believe that effective collaboration is a key aspect of “good work,” so I’m trying to develop and provide resources to real people in real organizations facing real challenges to help them collaborate more effectively on the teams they’re on and in the organizations within which they work. My book, Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership (InterVarsity Press, with Warren Bird), is a resource for teams of all kinds to develop key disciplines to grow healthy and effective. I focus on how collaborative activity on the micro level – in offices, teams, and meetings – can lead to substantial changes at the macro-level in organizational design, structure, and priorities.
Third, I personally speak and lead workshops that help people think differently about work, leadership, teamwork, collaboration.
Why do you do what you do?
It’s no surprise, but things aren’t as they’re supposed to be in this world. Let’s just admit that the world is broken, and that includes the organizational world. And that bothers me. That brokenness has affected people who I deeply love and care for, and I hope to use what’s been put into me – as a teacher, researcher, facilitator, and speaker – to bringing wholeness and healing to that brokenness.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
I love great stories about people living great stories, whether on the screen or on the page. A few of my favorites are Same Kind of Different As Me (book), Unbroken (book), and Life Is Beautiful (film).
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
We try to celebrate good work, wherever and whenever it is found. Sometimes that’s through a hand-written note, other times in an annual ceremony, sometimes in a quick shout-out in a regular meeting, but always to recognize the way people make their work meaningful in common, everyday ways. This isn’t that unique, but it’s something so many of us forget or get too busy to do.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
Construction. Comparing the work pros do to my attempts at home-improvement projects, I’ve learned how much the finest details matter. Building professionals attend to their work down to the millimeter, and it makes all the difference in the world. I aspire to do the same in my work!
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Quit trying to empower people by attempting to give them power. Instead, focus on creating an empowering environment, a place where people can empower themselves. People are powerful; they just need a place to use that power. Leaders create space for people to do human and meaningful work by not filling all the space with their own work, by carefully choosing when to speak and when to not, by assigning others beefy projects rather than pre-defined to-do lists, and by refusing to answer some of the questions that come their way.
What does your preferred work environment look like?
The inside of a Starbucks dining room.
What time of the day do you do your best work?
I write and do strategic work in the mornings, and teach in the afternoons. I’ve also found that I get into a rhythm when teaching for a long period of time, so I try to stack my classes, which also creates large stretches for creative work on non-teaching days.
What is “required reading” or “required viewing” for people who want to understand what makes you tick?
- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
- A Very Short, Fairly Interesting, And Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Organizations by Chris Gray
- Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller
Where in the world are you?
Los Angeles, California