Organization development is the most powerful technology we have for managing change in human systems. Yet, that focus on human systems, which is the heart of OD’s power, is also its problem. OD is misunderstood and misrepresented most often because Westerns in general to not see or understand human systems.
A system is anything with a variety of interconnected components that are dependent on each other to achieve the purpose of the system. The system, likewise, is dependent on the functioning of each component. As far as my understanding goes, microprocessors are little miracles; however, by themselves, they do not accomplish anything. Only when connected to a keyboard, a display, a power source, and various other components, do microprocessors become useful as part of a computer system. The same can be said of your car, your television set, and all the appliances that inhabit your house. We understand our solar system as just that, a system where if Jupiter were to move out of its orbit, it would impact the earth and all the other planets as well. We understand atoms as systems of protons, electrons, neutrons, and the forces that bind them together. From the infinitesimal to the astronomic, they are all systems of interconnected components dependent on each other for the success of the system as a whole.
We are all very familiar with systems. We commonly define everything from subatomic particles, ecological systems, the solar system, to the entirety of the known universe and nature itself, as a system. We are systems ourselves, composed of various sub- systems and always part of other larger systems. Organizations are systems comprised of conceptual systems, financial systems, technologic systems, supply chain systems, as well as the organizations’ divisions and departments. Organizations also exist within other systems, including customer markets, vendor markets, regulatory systems, and environmental systems. Organizations also include human systems, the most significant of all its systems. Organizations are systems put together by some other human system on behalf of serving or producing something for some other human systems. Even a technical organization, such as Intel, was put together by the human system of the small group of Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, Andrew Grove, various funders, and most likely others I don’t know about. They built human systems (including work teams, project teams, and task forces) to build those microprocessors to drive computers that other human systems can use for the purposes of work and play.
We understand all of this, yet, our familiarity with systems does not translate to a mindset or perspective useful to managing those human systems. What organization wouldn’t want better innovation, better problem-solving, better performance management, employee engagement, and change management that all best come from understanding and working from a human systems perspective? Somehow we miss the fact that people operate solely and completely as systems… human systems!
Our missing human systems perspective can be seen when we consider the persistent existence of poverty, hunger, and homeless in even our most wealthy countries where CEOs, entertainers, and professional athletes are being paid millions. We will not take on those issues; however, we do want to focus on organizational life, where the dearth of a systems perspective results in ineffective communication, disengaged, barely motivated employees, wasteful power struggles of all types, stifling conformity, and unnecessary turnover, resulting in general inefficiency, low productivity and revenues and high expenses. Accordingly, we are burdened with lower returns on investment than need be, as well as costly, inefficient government agencies. All of which the consumer and the taxpayer ultimately pay. This is despite many organizations professing that “our people are our most important resource.”
Having established the “missing link,” that is, a human systems perspective, it’s time to further explore human systems and how to use our understanding of them to create organizations and other human systems that are dramatically more productive and vastly more satisfying than those we are used to.
The Dragon Principle Webinar Series, that starts on January 24th featuring Conscious Use of Self, will focus on Human Systems on March 14th and 16th. It would be great to meet you there! Go to chumans.com/webinar for more information and to sign-up!
“No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” — John Donne