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1 in a series of 3 on Systems Thinking

I am in a meeting.

I have decided I want to attend not only to the individual but also to the larger systemic and interactive dynamics among people. So what happens when we put on a pair of “systems” glasses?

Now we see through a whole different set of perceptual filters in order to make sense of what is going on and have a better chance of developing teamwork in the group. Rather than focusing on one person, we are immediately aware of multiple people, various interactions, and all the events happening in between. It’s enough to make your head spin…

Look at this example with your systems glasses taken from a real sesison of mine (but names have been changed…):

“What’s going on? Mark has been so talkative in the past but now he seems shut down. Folded arms. No expression. Not a word today. Should I say something to him or would that just be worse? Wait a minute. I’m missing something. Heather is staring at him, frowning. So is Chet. Something is going on between them. I got it! It seems like Mark’s silence is a direct expression of something going on between them, almost as if he is “speaking” for them. Perhaps I’d be better off not focusing on Mark but instead encourage others to draw him out…”

In this scenario the person leading the meeting looks at the bigger picture of how each person’s actions fit within a larger context of his or her world, as well as that of the group. This is a way to not only diagnose individual difficulties but also assess interpersonal patterns, group roles people are playing, the emotions in the systems, the systemic values or tensions, the factions expressing different ideas, and other dynamics that are important to understand.

In a sense, effective group leaders learn to see the forest and the trees. When they put on systems glasses they start making sense of the deeper forces in the group field.

Think about this in a conflict situation in your family of origin (families are great examples of a system).

Rather than functioning as a cohesive unit, family members like two siblings sometimes become competitive toward one another. They vie for attention, compete for parents’ approval, sabotage one another—as if each is trying to win a race. This dynamic can begin easily enough when one person’s behavior appears to trigger someone else to respond. (BTW If you have a sibling  and remember your fights as children you surely know what I am referring to.) But the cause is not linear, rather each person’s behavior becomes both a cause and an effect, sparking a form of circular causality where things can spin out of control.

Thanks to your “Systems glasses”, you now have a systemic view that will allow you to go deeper to get a clearer, more complete picture.

What results could you create injecting this 20/20 vision in your team dynamics?