Ikigai is a model that helps people explore what gives them fulfilment. We used it to understand individuals’ preferences in order to create a team vision that makes the most of our diverse perspectives and personalities.

For leaders striving to create cohesive and purpose-driven teams, utilising unique frameworks like ikigai can be transformative. Here’s how we’ve incorporated ikigai to build a more inclusive and equitable workspace:

Creating a safe, diverse and fulfilling workplace

Part of our mission is to develop a place of work that feels safe, and people are supported to do work that really matters to them.

At a recent team away day, we focused on ourselves as individuals, exploring and refining what brings us each a sense of purpose.

What brings people joy?

What brings us joy is not an easy question to answer, and one that some people may never have been asked or had the opportunity to explore.

To facilitate this process, we used the ikigai (“ee-key-guy”) theory, to help us reflect on this question and to also build a framework to revisit it in future.

The ikigai story starts in Japan in January 1914 where Mieko Kamiya – mother of ikigai psychology – was born. Mieko was incredibly intelligent: she spoke multiple languages and was a doctor focusing her energy on leprosy patients, as well as being a published author.

Through her psychiatry work, Mieko developed the concept known as ‘ikigai’, which is outlined in her book Ikigai-ni-Tsuite ‘what makes life worth living’.

What is ikigai?

In English we do not have an equivalent word for ikigai, but it roughly translates as ‘the feeling of wholeness’: the sense of purpose that we get from doing something that we enjoy and also the process of doing it.

Mieko observed that her patients who had a low level of ‘wholeness’ in their lives had a much higher prevalence of mental health conditions. I felt that this was a really relatable notion. When the things that we do lack purpose, there is a lack of fulfilment and a sense of ‘going through the motions’ resulting in life becoming dull or unrewarding.

Many life and work coaches use the concept of ikigai to help people navigate through identifying things that might offer them an opportunity for self growth or personal development.

How to use ikigai theory in personal development

We are using a simplified theory based on ikigai, to help inform several things from professional development to identifying where we might create communities of practice or knowledge sharing sessions.

It is a simple process that requires you as an individual to reflect on things that:

  • you enjoy
  • you are good at
  • the world needs
  • you can be paid for

The intersection of these help identify where you might find a feeling of purpose. If your life has low levels of these things, there is opportunity to explore what could be done to increase those experiences of purpose.

Helping people that feel stuck

Now and again we have all probably felt that there can be a lack of purpose when completing everyday tasks. That sense of ‘ being on autopilot’ and not feeling fulfilled with the activities that life is bringing. The more of those unfulfilling activities we do, the less enjoyable life feels and there can often be a negative impact on our mental health.

It is quite rare to find someone who always has genuine feelings of fulfilment through their career, but we want to know if it’s possible to create a space that builds that energy into the way that we operate, providing more of a feeling of purpose for everyone at William Joseph. To do that, we need to use our experiences of the world and things that we enjoy as the bedrock of our decision making.

Establishing what we do and how we do it with the things that bring us a feeling of purpose, felt like a great way to start.

Creating a shared vision

By understanding for each team member:

  • what brings them joy
  • what they’re good at
  • what the world needs
  • what they can be paid for

we can draw a roadmap that aligns individual purposes with our collective mission.

Some suggestions for how you can do this

Workshops on personal ikigai

Organise workshops where each member is encouraged to chart out their personal ikigai. Through open conversations, brainstorming, and introspection, aim to uncover the hidden passions and talents of your teammates.

Identifying common grounds

Once everyone has their personal ikigai mapped out, look for overlapping themes and values. These commonalities serve as the foundation for your team vision.

Filling the gaps

Not every individual’s ikigai will align perfectly with the team’s broader goals. But instead of ignoring these, brainstorm how to incorporate them, either through new projects, side initiatives, or by creating space for individual growth and exploration.

Constant iteration

Ikigai isn’t static. As individuals grow and evolve, so does their sense of purpose. Revisiting your team’s ikigai alignment at least once a year, ensures that your vision remains relevant and inclusive.

Promoting an ikigai-driven culture

Beyond just shaping the vision, integrate principles of ikigai into your everyday operations. This means encouraging teammates to take on projects they’re passionate about, fostering an environment where they can tap into their strengths, and ensuring that our work resonates with what the world needs.

Elevated contentment, reduced burnout, more collaboration

By aligning our team’s vision with the ikigai framework, we hope to improve the feeling of wholeness across the company.

  • Enhance engagement: projects that resonate with individuals ikigai create a sense of excitement and encourage engagement.
  • Innovation: when work feels purposeful, creativity and fresh ideas are easier to communicate.
  • Reduced burnout: a sense of purpose reduces the feeling of ‘doing tasks’ and improves wellbeing.
  • Improved team cohesion: with everyone moving towards a unified vision, the shared experiences deepen team connections and fosters an environment of empowerment.

Conclusion: ikigai as a strategic tool for leaders

Harnessing the ikigai framework isn’t just about personal development, but is a valuable strategic tool for leaders. It paves the way for higher wellbeing, lower turnover rates, and a more collaborative, empathetic team.

As leaders, we can only achieve fantastic results when the people we rely on, feel supported and engaged. Ikigai is one of those rare tools that help bridge the gap between individual purpose and collective growth.

Header photo credit: Acy Ian Malimban @eysiiyan on unsplash