Systemic Organizational Change
The system in us is inextricably tied together with the system out there that we are trying to change.
Partners Inc.’s long-term systemic change process is based, in part, on the work of Margaret Wheatley, a forerunner in the use of complex systems thinking in school reform. Wheatley challenges reformists not only to shift their worldviews to keep up with global change, but to change the metaphor we use for interpreting how schools work. Viewing schools as “machines’ or mechanized, box-like organizations is fundamentally inconsistent with how change actually happens.
Schools are living systems, Wheatley contends, in which organizational development is advanced by “seeding” change among children, teachers, parents and other interested adults.
In making change, we must change our deeply embedded mental models from the “machine” to the “living seed or organism”.
According to Wheatley, the first step in working with life’s capacity to change, is to discover what is meaningful for those involved. Grounded in meaning, leaders then prioritize relational connection and the discovery of one another as colleagues. Because schools, in Wheatley’s view are “living networks,” with the inherent capacity to create great communications, everyone must be involved.
Partners Inc. embraces this perspective as it approaches school change.
To read more about this perspective on school change, see “Bringing Schools Back to Life: Schools as Living Systems,” by Margaret Wheatley.
Quote by Margaret Wheatley:
“I’ve learned that if we live and work in this process world, we are rewarded with changes in our behavior. I see that we become gentler people. We become more curious about differences, more respectful of one another, more open to life’s surprises. . . . I like to believe we become this way because we’re willing to work with life on its terms. Although life’s dance looked frantic from the outside, difficult to learn and impossible to master, our newfound gentleness speaks to a different learning. Life is a good partner. Its demands are not unreasonable. A great capacity for change lives in everyone of us.
“I’ve also learned the hard way that participation is not an option. As organizational change facilitators and leaders, we have no choice but to figure out how to invite in everybody who is going to be affected by this change. Those that we fail to invite into the creation process will surely and always show up as resistors and saboteurs. But I haven’t become insistent on broad-based participation just as a means to avoid resistance, or to get people on board as supporters of the change effort. I’ve learned that we can’t design anything that works if we don’t have the whole system involved in its creation. None of us is smart enough these days to know what’s gong on inside these dense networks we call organizations. It’s impossible to know what’s going on inside any system. We can’t see what’s meaningful to people, or even understand how they get their work done.
“I know from experience that most people are very smart–they have figured out how to make things work when it seemed impossible; they have invented ways to get around roadblocks and dumb policies; they have created their own networks to support them and help them learn. But rarely is this visible to the organization until and unless people are brought into problem-solving and organizational change processes and invited to contribute what they know. The complexity and density of systems require that we engage the whole system just so we can harvest the invisible intelligence that exists throughout the organization.”
Change occurs in three areas at once: