This is the second of two columns dedicated to systemic thinking. The first article explores how systems function. This article will focus on how systems respond to change.
As explained last time, in order to interrupt ingrained patterns that exist within any system, you have to be able to recognize the patterns. Typically, the person seeking that interruption is part of that ingrained pattern. Therefore, this person lacks the perspective to envision and create meaningful change. When that person does attempt change, minor deviations may occur, but there is very little actual change in the way the system functions. What this tends to look like is a person trying the same thing over and over again, with no new result.
In a business environment, this can look like meetings, retreats, evaluations… All intended to organize people to behave differently, but none actually interrupting ingrainedined patterns.
In a family environment, this can look like punishing, yelling, pleading, arguing. Again, all intended to change behaviors, but none actually addressing the underlying pattern that supports the behavior.
In each of the above examples, the system was able to tolerate the input and return to its “business as usual” way of operating. No matter what the system’s response, it is unique to that system and provides important information about how that system receives and responds to change. Some input may render the desired response. Some may not.
In order to determine what type of input will result in the hoped for change, the “doing something different” approach is the starting point.
Reading and evaluating the system’s response to any input is the first step in gaining information that will inform how you attempt to change and understand what “doing something different” actually means.
Achieving change in this proportion may involve several attempts before the system either responds in a targeted way, or provides enough feedback about alternate responses. In all instances, with each attempt at change, information is gained about how the system responds, and each attempt at change becomes more focused and informed.
So how does this translate to a business?
A business will function as it does and resist change as long as feasible. In other words, it is a system and functions as such. A business can tolerate a certain amount of fluctuation and chaos. Some of that fluctuation is part of its operating pattern and the return to the ingrained patterns is predictable and familiar.
However, when the business is stretched beyond the point of return it will undergo structural change. This may be difficult and uncomfortable because it is outside the system’s range of what it is used to.
This can be as a result of a change in the market, a personnel shift, or even due to relationship patterns within the company and its leadership. This type of structural change is as a result of outside influences that forced the system to adapt.
As a member of a system, knowing when and where to throw the monkey wrench in an effort to create necessary change can be powerful. Knowing how to read the feedback can be equally powerful as attempts are evaluated, refined and tossed back into the system once again.
Of course, when it comes to a company’s leadership, the view is often distorted and the attempts at change can be somewhat misguided. This is where an outside perspective can be beneficial in providing a measured, informed attempt at change.
When change is sought, all members of the system will be affected and will respond. This means that the person seeking change, as well as the people within the changing system, will be required to adapt to new roles and responsibilities. Resistance is to be expected. However, resistance from the one seeking the change will undermine those attempts.
Essentially, deliberate change is created in stages. Recognizing this phenomenon, and evaluating the response to change at every stage, can provide meaningful information about how the system will adapt to future attempts.
However, it all starts with uncovering the pattern of interaction in your company and the behaviors that support it. Chances are, you are a part of that pattern and unable to see beyond it to recognize it. Locating this pattern is essential to change. Finding someone with the appropriate perspective to find, analyze and interrupt it is a great place to start.
Carrie Rosenbloom is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and attorney mediator in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She specializes in helping individuals and families navigate the complexities of divorce. Carrie also works with family businesses, helping them manage transitions, create succession plans, resolve conflict, and integrate a cohesive culture throughout family owned businesses. More information can…
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