Designing Systems of Change

“Change in nature happens everywhere, all the time, in a self-organizing urge that comes from every cell and every organism, with no need for central command and control to give orders or pull the levers.”  -Frederic Laloux via Reinventing Organizations

If change is such a natural occurrence in life and within our ecosystems, then why is it not a natural and fluid part of our organizations? Why are we so poor at generating sustainable, let alone adaptable systems that infuse change as a natural occurrence within our institutions and organizations?

To believe that we have positive track record for initiating and sustaining change on an ongoing (even incremental) basis in our organizations, would be pulling the wool over our eyes in regard to how far we have progressed in our ability to initiate and maintain change processes and initiatives.

As Peter Senge conveys in The Dance of Change, ”Most change initiative fail. About two-thirds “grind” to a halt because of their failure to produce hoped-for results.” And this is not just a business issue that Senge is addressing, rather it covers the whole of the organizational landscape from education to healthcare. At some point, this is an issue we must attend to because the rate, intensity, and speed that change is now cycling through not only makes it significant, but necessary to organizational survival.

We can no longer approach adaptive and sustainable change in our organization’s believing that a good batting average (one-third) success rate will catapult our organizations effectively into the future. We are going to have to take a different approach to preparing our modern 21st century organizations and the people within to face the turbulence and chaos of change in a productive manner that supports ongoing, let alone incremental growth.

This will take a deep and reflective pause to examine our organizations and begin to determine if we are creating learning organizations that are both adaptive and sustainable. Organizations that can both ride and push through the tumultuous waves of change that we will continue to face as the rapidity of change converges at faster and faster rates.

We can begin this journey by building a deeper understanding of the command and control hierarchies that pervade most of our current organizations. Without this understanding, we will not be able to engage the collaborative and collective efforts or our organizations in a  holistic manner. A collaborative and collective effort that will be necessary to not only draw forth the creative and innovative ideas and thinking of the entire organization, but has the ability to build commitment and leadership capacity at all levels of the organization.

This requires leadership understanding that our organizations are not static, immovable structures, but fluid, living, growing and flourishing ecosystems. It is that type of lens that we place on our organizations that will better place us in a position to see change, not as a negative, but a positive process for continued growth and ability expansion. It will be that kind of organic fluidity that will push the organizational ecosystem to see change and growth as an ongoing and necessary part of not only survival, but remaining relevant in a world in flux.

It will be that kind of perspective and lens that will allow leadership to see the limitations of many of our hierarchical command and control structures and processes that often impede growth and progress. To see that many of these fossilized processes are static in nature and actually work to thwart the fluidity of growth that occurs in living, active ecosystems.

Which means that if we are going to grow and nurture stronger learning organizations to lead us effectively into the 21st century, we are going to have to not only look at the leadership skill and mindsets we have in place, but how we are transforming training of our leaders to better prepare and deal with this Dance of Change in a much more fluid and organic manner.

We like to think of our organizations as living growing systems, but for the most part they remain siloed hierarchical structures that have become their own obstacle in their ability to grow as organic, adaptable, sustainable living ecosystems.

As Fritjof Capra shares in the Web of Life, “In nature there is no above or below, and there are no hierarchies. There are only networks nesting within other networks.”

As we move forward, we are going to have to look deeply at our organizations and the systems (or lack thereof) that we’ve enacted to move us forward as authentic learning organizations. While we may never truly embrace change, we will understand that it is a natural and fluid part of life and growth.

As well as building leadership capacity that creates environments and organizational cultures where creativity, innovation and change is a way of doing and being. Leaders who can push their people past the cynical and skeptical attitudes that we’ve garnered towards change.

As we step forward, do not look at this as “reform” work; rather see this as “transformational” work. Or what Peter Senge refers to as “profound change.” Moving change from an event to a fluid and ongoing process will be difficult and heady work. It will require mindshifts and rethinking mindsets and skill-sets, as well as new ways of thinking and doing. It will take creative and innovative thinking from all levels of the organization. It will take a village…

“Imagine what organizations would be like if we stopped designing them like soulless, clunky machines. What could organizations achieve, and what would work feel like, if we treated them like living beings, if we let them be fueled by the evolutionary power of life itself?”  -Frederic Laloux via Reinventing Organizations

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