Having a systemic perspective with 3 simple questions

By Lianne Swenne

Do you sometimes notice that the energy is leaving the room? Do you keep wondering why that is, but you can't put your finger on it? Do you recognize the feeling that at the end of the working day you feel like you're moving in circles, and that your attempts to break through don't help? That the energy you put into all these attempts seems to be for nothing? ...  Yes, does this sound familiar? Then I might have a solution for you. To look at it from a new perspective, from a systemic lens.

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A systemic lens means that you don't look at cause and effect, but that you zoom out to the systems behind it, and the recurring patterns between them. Then you leave your interpretation and judgments for what they are and start noticing what is. In short, a circular approach instead of a linear approach. In the text below I give some examples and tools to get started.

Recently, I gave a Masterclass for my colleagues at Highberg on systemic advising. That is, how can we use the systemic lens in our work and when does this add value? In addition to a theoretical explanation of what makes a system vital, we discussed in particular which patterns (symptoms of the system) we encounter in our work. We often see that certain patterns have been repeating themselves for years. Examples of such patterns are: high absenteeism in a certain department, a managerial position with a high turnover rate and/or too little results or behavioural patterns that just don't seem to be able to be broken. When this is the case, it is extremely valuable as an advisor (or colleague) to change your perspective. There may be other factors at play. Often something that happened in the past still needs to be acknowledged. Or the wrong people take responsibility, and the people who have responsibility according to the systemic order dive. Discovering what makes it logical for people to behave the way they do and acknowledge the origins is liberating. For individuals, for teams and sometimes even for the entire organization.

Take, for example, that managerial position with high turnover and little result. With a customer, I found out exactly what was going on with these three simple questions. The questions I asked are;

(1) How old is it?

This question provides insight into whether we are talking about something systemic that has been going on for a long time and still needs to be looked at, or something that is a problem now, not a pattern. In the latter case, a systemic approach is not necessary and a analytical approach fits best.

(2) When was it different?

This question provides insight into when the symptoms like; energy leak, poor results and not taking a manager seriously, have begun. A question about the origin of the symptoms.

(3) Has there been a proper farewell to previous people in this position?

This question is often easily dismissed, but it is extremely important. Saying goodbye from a systemic point of view is not only about throwing a party, but also explicitly thanking the person for his/her contribution, letting the person take his/her qualities with him/her and leaving what the person has created at this company. If necessary, the company can then embrace or let go of what the person leaves behind. Making this explicit also helps. Especially in the difficult cases, when someone does not leave on good terms.

After these 3 questions, let's go back to the case we discussed during the masterclass. After asking these questions, it turned out that the organization in question did not say goodbye properly to the manager. Making this explicit, acknowledging within the team what was going on, including the undercurrent, and still saying goodbye properly by thanking him partly for what he has brought, but also letting go of what needed to be let go, gave space. Subsequently, the new manager was recognized in the position. After this, the employees were finally able to really accept the new manager in this position. Not only did that feel better for everyone, but the team results also went up in the months that followed!

 Are you curious to put on your own systemic glasses? Contact me.



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