Organization as a System

I don’t care what kind of organization you lead — I don’t care what kind it may be, how big it may be, what you do, or what your station may be in some larger hierarchy — the conditions that give rise to resistance to change (or put another way, the conditions that are creating a drag on your change effort), are manifestations of a deeper root cause.

You’ve probably heard the adage:

Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it does.

This is also true of those complex, emergent systems we call organizations.

And that is how you need to look at your organization: as a system.  It is a special kind of system—a sociotechnical system comprised of your organization’s processes and your organization’s culture working interdependently.

As the leader, you are responsible for your whole organization — the processes and the culture. Remember the whole driving forces/restraining forces dynamic in the Lewin Force Field Model?  Almost always, the driving forces are quantitative matters of the process variety, while the restraining forces are almost always qualitative matters of the cultural variety. And just like too many leaders’ tendency is to erroneously give their first energy to driving forces, rather than to the restraining forces, so do too many leaders tend to focus on the process part of their organization’s makeup, to the exclusion of the culture part.  Too often the culture part gets attention only when there are problems.

And because your organization’s processes and culture are interdependent, you have to work them in concert, otherwise your organization will malfunction. That malfunction may not show up right away, but it will show up. You could just ignore it, give it lip service and gloss over it, cover it up entirely, or go nuclear on it (i.e., “We had to burn the village to save the village.”). These are common practices when you don’t know what to do, and they are not winning strategies.  The malfunction doesn’t die; it is buried alive only to rise up later in uglier unpredictable ways — uglier and unpredictable ways such as: apathy, ignorance, skepticism, cynicism, passive aggression, guerilla style sabotage, and outright resistance to change.