Groups, teams, departments, companies -- they all are filled with them.
Whether or not you see them, ghost roles often roam the office after a person leaves. Depending upon the person, their personality, the relationships they've made, and time with a company, ex-employees leave sizeable openings in outer roles (Job functions), inner roles (Psychological roles, such as a cheerleader or a challenger), and/or secret roles (Sub-personalities, such as a loyal confidant) they were once filling.
In the business world, ghost roles arise from any number of changes in employee circumstances, i.e. corporate M&A's, downsizing, re-orgs, upskilling, job loss/new job opportunity, maternity/paternity leave, or even an employee going on vacation -- albeit temporary. You can see why businesses have so many specters?
You know you're dealing with a ghost, when the departed person's name often gets repeated or inferred in conversation. In some cases, ghosts can negatively impact the progression of a team, if left untreated. Though uncomfortable, airing out the pain and feelings of loss will bring about relief and has shown to shorten the time of change. In today's complex and fast-paced world, 'ghostbusting' can have immediate system benefits.
Time Spirits Like Ghost Roles, Time Spirits have a large impact on the way we think, feel, and act. The key difference is that, over time, ghost roles may one day be filled, whereas, time spirits, leave a long legacy.
[ NOTE: Leaders, you'll want to figure out not only the outer role a previous employee occupied, but also the inner and secret roles they once held on a team, too! ].
Time spirits, are often the elephants in the room, can originate outside an organization; involve an employee's culture, family, or upbringing; bring in previous personal trauma; or more prevalent appear out of past/present historical events (racism, sexism, homophobia, the Holocaust, as examples).
Some time spirits are so dysfunctional they'll need to be processed/exorcised before a company, department, group, or team can possibly move to a state of performing. I created a leadership tool as one such way to address these types of Ghost Roles & Time Spirits.
Are all spirits bad?
Certainly not; positive or negative behaviors depend upon how we interpret time spirits. In fact, history has shown that powerful time spirits may even evoke present day transformation!
Steve Jobs -- who sought to put a dent in the universe, and arguably did -- his spirit continues to linger the hallways of Apple and has had a ripple effect on the tech community, too.
Abraham Lincoln, MLK Jr. and RBG's spirit will undoubtedly live on throughout centuries in the hearts and minds of civil rights activists.
Even in our own families, we may honor our great, great grandfathers/grandmothers, who continue to play a large ghost role/time spirit in family decision-making, consciously or unconsciously.
Tap into the Spiritual Realm
So given that ghosts and spirits are aplenty in companies, what to do?
Well, now that you are aware of their existence (and have educated others), you are free to invite them in as other perspectives. When facilitating your meetings, create a safe space to call upon them OR if they've already been summoned in the meeting, give them a greater voice. You may find that by asking,
"what would <our ghost role or time spirit> say/do?"
you've just called your team to a higher plane of thinking, being, and doing.