Entries in patterns (6)


A look at culture and paradigm as a prelude to change

In an earlier post we said that as people interact over time, they generate patterns of behavior and relationship, and that the culture of a group is made up of these patterns.

Remember that in human systems dynamics, patterns are defined as similarities, differences, and relationships that have meaning across space and time.

Within any given human system, all sorts of interactions among people are taking place. The culture becomes apparent over time. You can see patterns that emerge – in the way things are done, decisions get made, people typically behave, meaning is made, people are included, etc. Culture in a system is the result of all of the human interaction. The culture that is formed in turn influences further pattern development among the individuals in the system, forming an ongoing feedback loop between the parts of the system and the whole.

Culture is emergent – it can be neither predicted nor controlled. Culture can get reinforced and influenced – policies, expectations, informal and formal reward systems are used for setting and amplifying desired patterns, and also for dampening undesired patterns. Culture is only as stable as the ongoing interactions of the people forming the patterns. Richard Seel speaks of this emergent quality in his definition:

Organisation culture is the emergent result of the continuing negotiations about values, meanings and proprieties between the members of that organisation and with its environment.

And he adds an important element – the environment. We reference this as the greater whole. The individuals in a system are parts, the system itself is the whole, and the environment it operates in is the greater whole. All influence the culture of a system – the parts interact and fit into the whole (or not – if not, they may not remain in that system). The system likewise interacts with its environment, and adapts accordingly.

Seel also references Thomas Kuhn and Fritjo Capra as he explores the concept of “paradigm at the heart of a culture”. A paradigm, according to Seel, is

A self-consistent set of ideas and beliefs which acts as a filter, influencing how we perceive and how we make sense.

This ties in nicely with how we are describing culture formation. Not only do the interactions among people form the culture, but our perceptions also come into play in what patterns are seen and amplified or dampened. The paradigm-in-use will influence what gets reinforced.

When we talk about culture change we must take patterns/culture and paradigms into account. Seel’s article goes in more depth regarding the use of this complexity perspective in looking at organizational culture and change – we’ll consider this in future posts.


Exploring possible patterns and patterns of possibility

What patterns might be generated if conditions for generative engagements mentioned in the previous post are established? We add our thinking about possible patterns to the model here:

Reciprocity – When power is shared, each participant can influence others, even as he/she is open to being influenced.  Power has nothing to do with authority or position or accountability.  The “boss” can be influenced by employee input; children can influence their parents.

When power is shared inside a common identity, people work toward shared goals or outcomes.  They give each other support, feedback, and energy as they contribute skills and knowledge for the good of the whole.  Simultaneously they receive support, feedback, and energy as they accept others’ contributions of skills and knowledge.

Authenticity – When people grant and generate voice inside a shared identity, they bring their whole selves.  They can be honest about who they are and what they need.  They give fully of themselves, creating space for others to be authentic. 

This doesn’t grant license to be tyrannical, demanding one’s needs be met.  Balance must exist between granting and generating voice inside shared identity.  If I demand my needs be met at the expense of others, I am neither generating voice others can hear, nor am I granting voice to their needs.  If I demand my needs be met at the expense of others, I’m counting my goals and identity as separate from others’.

Justice – When people allow themselves to be influenced by others and grant and generate voice, they generate patterns of justice in their relationship. If my needs influence your decisions, and if you acknowledge me when I express myself, you’re being fair with me.  If I allow your needs to influence me and I acknowledge you, justice is the pattern. 

We think of justice as mutual fairness—people get what they need and are allowed to contribute as they can. 


Pattern formation and the space between

I love when links from my twitter stream coalesce in a thought-provoking way. Three tweets stood out this morning:

The first linked to Shoshana Zuboff’s perspective as a former Harvard Business School professor in a column entitled The Old Solutions Have Become the New Problems. Zuboff talks frankly about what she thinks has gone wrong in MBA programs in recent times, stating

We weren't stupid and we weren't evil. Nevertheless we managed to produce a generation of managers and business professionals that is deeply mistrusted and despised by a majority of people in our society and around the world. This is a terrible failure.

The short article is worth reading in full. What caught my eye was her mention of old rules “invented a century ago for supplying mass consumers with affordable goods and services” and that now it is time “…to salvage what is valuable from the old and put our energies into constructing a new model based on new rules.”

Zuboff mentions some potential new rules better suited to today’s needs and ends with

…the questions start to feel more important than the answers. You're in a new place. The bad news: There are no maps. The good news? You are the mapmaker.

Later in my twitter stream, a favorite tweeter and blogger Joe Gerstandt shared this quote from Viktor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.

This was closely followed by a tweet linking to an article about President Obama’s recent Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.  Cliff Albright wanted more about peace from the President:

… a speech that began with justifying war and ended with humanity’s search for peace could have had a meaningful sweet spot in the middle. President Obama could have more adequately acknowledged that in between his concept of a just war and the concept of world peace, there’s a whole lot of space for some very real, very pragmatic alternatives to war.

The concept of the space between is the common thread that got my attention across these links. Frankl is clear about the opportunity for growth and freedom in the choices we make day to day – during his time in the concentration camp, it was about patterns of survival. Albright sees significant alternatives to be explored rather than continuing down a path that has brought war and destruction – hoping to see a shift to patterns of peace-making. And Zuboff points out that questions are very much needed when trying to find our way in this space, when we know change is needed but we are not sure which way to go. She is seeing the opportunity to create new patterns for a thriving economy.

I don’t have a map, but have lots of interesting questions…


Our actions affect others affect our actions

How does the culture of a group emerge?

Culture is created when behaviors of those within a group establish patterns over time and, in turn, the behaviors of the individuals are reinforced by those patterns. Ed Schein says “culture is the sum total of all the shared, taken-for-granted assumptions that a group has learned throughout its history.” Those assumptions, both implicit and explicit, shape the behavior of the individuals, and the individual behaviors collectively shape the ongoing assumptions.

No matter the size of a social group (team, department, organization, industry, society), culture is formed whenever the collection has enough common experience to form patterns. These patterns are not unchanging, set in stone, but instead are more like the flow of water, constantly adapting to the obstacles and paths of least resistance.  As the external environment changes, as the individuals within the group change their responses, the patterns shift. When individuals move in or out of the group, the culture changes – it is now made up of different components, influenced by different behaviors, and presents new patterns.

There are countless components to what makes up the culture of a given group of people. It may include patterns of individual behavior such as honesty, anger, service, intimidation, or conviviality. There may be components of organizational behavior - development cycles, pay schedules, responses to emerging opportunities, workflow, etc. Changes inside a system and changes in the environment affect the look and feel of culture at any given point in time. Again from Schein, “…cultural assumptions involve not only the internal workings of the organization, but, more important, how the organizations views itself in relation to its various environments.”

Let's take this to the individual level. How do you view yourself in relation to your various networks?  Do you behave differently depending on the situation and the people you are with? Think of the common experiences and backgrounds that shape your behavior in these different settings. Consider groups where you feel at home – and those where you feel like an outsider. How does this impact your behavior? When you consider your behavior across several groups, what patterns do you see?


Families as patterns of interaction

The concept of family as a pattern is shared across many cultures.  Is a family defined only as a nuclear married couple and the children in that home, or is a family defined as any close and personal bond formed by mutual love, respect, and appreciation?  Is family a closed pattern or is it one that is rich with possibility and diversity?  Do human beings create their families and communities by choosing those with whom they relate and how those relationships will play out?  Or are human beings placed, by destiny, into family and social relationships where roles are strictly defined and assigned?  Can human beings influence the patterns in their lives or are they at the mercy of chance and fate, struggling to live the roles into which they are cast? 

We believe that one scenario opens and generates powerful possibilities and the other shuts out both promise and possibility.