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Assessing Culture in Complex Systems

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Assessing Culture in Complex Systems

I believe that a big part of the problem lies in the way we think about culture.  In most of the organisations I work with, culture is still seen as something that can be accurately diagnosed and designed.  There is a belief that the leadership team, or a group of expert consultants can design and implement an objectively ideal culture.   The issue with this is that culture is an emergent property of a complex system.  It emerges and evolves over time from a myriad of interactions between people, their environment and the structural aspects of the organisation e.g. processes, policies etc.  It finds expression (and is shaped by) the ongoing conversation, the stories and observations shared in casual conversation, the symbols displayed and the rituals engaged in, sometimes subconsciously.  It often cannot be fully articulated, but it known by everyone who is a part of the system.

Because the culture is ever emerging and evolving, any attempt to accurately “diagnose” it is flawed.  Any culture audit result is only ever a partial point in time description, and the very act of diagnosing changes the system.   The way we go about the diagnosis is also problematic.  From a complex systems perspective,  typical culture audit instruments has several short comings:

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Making Change That Matters

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Making Change That Matters

I’ve never learned more about the actual organisational systems, and never got bigger change done, than now. We still sometimes write reports – sometimes nice ones – and I get to talk about big ideas. But the real work is making change that matters…

So when I was asked what action, what next step, I would recommend, I jotted down: ‘Learn! Explore! Think! Have a laugh…’ The final step is doubly important – a huge risk in all of this is coming to take yourself too seriously, and coming to lose your joy in the work.

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What is Control? Do Leaders Have It?

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What is Control? Do Leaders Have It?

What do we want control to mean? I bring it down to two other works – responsibility, and constraints. I don’t think you can have freedom, or creativity, without them.

Organisational leaders might not have as much control as I think (sometimes I work with chief executives who are not amongst the most influential in their organisations). But they absolutely do have responsibility. For me, that responsibility comes down to accepting that the results that come out from their behaviours and the way the organisation affects people – and peoples’ response to those things – are the results they have created. If you really want to lead, first find out what you are responsible for, the actual results.

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The Power of Mindfulness as a Conflict-Resolution Tool

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The Power of Mindfulness as a Conflict-Resolution Tool

When many people hear the term "mindfulness," they think of things like Buddhism, meditation, being peaceful, taking walks, chewing your food slowly, etc. But mindfulness is more of a general orientation than a specific activity. To be mindful is to adopt a sense of life that says "In all things, I am student first and a teacher second." It is to maintain what Zen philosophers call "Beginner's mind." It is to live with a recognition that creativity and problem-solving becomes infinitely more likely when we listen before we talk, when we look carefully before we judge, when we aim to be present with others before preaching at them...

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