Organization as Community: Showing Up As Partnership Practitioners

By Deeanna Burleson, Ph.D., RN, IMC, Partnership Leader

The topic of partnership in organizations is very dear to my heart and soul. Over the years as a nursing healthcare professional in the very hierarchical and most often dominating environment of healthcare systems: military, veterans and civilian systems, I have had many experiences of feeling the brunt of domination in action and, sadly, often aligning with the environment and dominating others. That was how I was trained, what was expected of me and what was deep within the culture organization, unit or team that I found myself over the years.

The existence on either side of that domination coin is not a good place. It does not allow anyone involved in the organization to thrive, flourish or even survive. An environment that is steeped in a domination system does not allow the organization to be as strong and effective as it can be because the individuals are not allowed to tap into their greatness but are minimized in their capabilities.

To connect with others and to thrive, it has been my experience there has to be trust, engagement, mutual support and respect; a partnership between those involved.

I believe an organization is a community. Peter Block (2009) attributes the toxicity, the struggles such as addiction, homelessness, and lawlessness that we see is a result of individuals not being connected, of not feeling a connection. In order to be connected with others—with something greater than ourselves—and to be able to thrive, it has been my experience there has to be trust, engagement, mutual support and respect; a partnership between those involved.

In a recent research study I conducted to identify the dynamics within an integrative healthcare relationship between the professional and the patient or family I discovered something that may be a ‘no brainer’ for most of us. The relationship that was conducive for healing required a partnership between the professional and the patient or family. A healing relationship requires trust, respect, listening and the time for that type of relationship to occur (Burleson, 2017).

In The Power of Partnership, Riane Eisler describes the importance of a partnership with self, which is key to creating a partnership in all the other aspects of our lives. Although we all exist on a continuum between domination and partnership, as we live and exist closer to the partnership side we experience mutual trust, a lower degree of fear, the ability to achieve actualization, we value all life, and we increasingly value caregiving.

In an organization you see the language and the actions that point to a domination culture or a partnership culture. This is seen between managers or leaders and those who report to them or between team members. It is seen between employees and those who support them, for example with housekeeping or dietary services. Actually, I would love the “report to” phrase to go away. Why not use the term “a team working together and supporting each other”, with the manager or leader facilitating that desired partnership outcome? Partnership managers can facilitate the creation of a rich partnership environment through trust, respect, and maintaining a collaborative space where all team members can thrive and excel.

This vision sounds great and is something we all would love to manifest in our daily work lives—so, now, the real work begins of learning and practicing how we show up and model partnership living and working. In our organizations we have to support (maybe even demand) the incorporation of partnership behaviors, language, and actions; and yes, training or workshops to really experience how we can live this way of being in all we do at work, at home and in our communities.


Block, P. (2018). Community: The structure of belonging (2nd edition). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Burleson, D. (2017). The dynamic interactions of an integrative healthcare experience: A phenomenological study of the lived experiences of integrative healthcare professionals. Saybrook University, Oakland, CA

Eisler, R. (2002). The Power of Partnership: seven relationships that will change your life (2nd Edition). Novato, CA: New World Library

Dr. Deeanna Burleson’s professional experience spans vast areas of healthcare systems, non-profits, Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. As a healthcare professional, a nurse, in addition to her work in all types of organizations she continues to have a strong desire and passion to create healthcare systems of well-being for patients, families and staff. Her Ph.D. in Organizational Systems with a focus in action research/ transformative program evaluation allows her to facilitate cultures of well-being through organizational development and systems science approaches. She strongly believes solid organizations and communities begin at the individual level, with self-awareness and well-being.

Dr. Burleson is an associate faculty member at the Complex Science Institute, UNC Charlotte in North Carolina. She is a certified Caring Economy and Power of Partnership conversation leader. She is a faculty coach for High Achievers providing coaching, mastermind groups and business skills training for small business owners. Most recently she has been chosen to be the Co-Director of the new US office for SE Group, a Berlin based company offering organizational system work in the area of change management.

Living in the mountains of North Carolina with her husband, Mark; two dogs, Bonnie and Charlie; three cats, Lilly, Monkey and Molly, she routinely travels where the work calls to build cohesive individuals, teams and organizations. Contact Deeanna:



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Kelly Morrow Reply

    Hello Dr Burleson—
    I’m writing the final chapter of my dissertation and I’ve been able to access a preview of your dissertation on ProQuest but cannot access the entire document—are the results of your study available in a publication through the center for partnership studies? My research focuses on safety voice behaviors of medical surgical nurses from a caring science perspective and I’d love to see your results. I’ve checked amazon and the peer-reviewed databases available to me through the University of Colorado. This work is incredibly important.
    Many thanks

    • Ann Amberg Reply

      Hi Kelly,
      Thanks for your question. Dr. Burleson’s study is not study available through CPS, but I’ve forwarded your contact info to Deeanna and she can respond to you directly.
      Thank you!
      -Ann Amberg
      CPS Leadership & Learning program

    • Ann Amberg Reply

      Kelly, You might be interested in the book Transforming Interprofessional Partnerships: A New Framework for Nursing and Partnership-Based Health Care by Teddie Potter and Riane Eisler. Available on Amazon and in the CPS Bookstore.

      Also, there are articles on Partnership in Healthcare in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies:

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