Characteristics of Systemic Interventions LO10228

Grover Partee (
Sat, 28 Sep 1996 16:44:48 -0700

Alan McMahan (LO9782) suggests 17 "Characteristics of Systemic Interventions:"

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1) Recognizes that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
2) Recognizes that a key to shaping systemic structures is the mental models
behind them.
3) Is wary of scapegoats and blame-shifting.
4) Recognizes systems integrity.
5) Distinguishes between symptomatic solutions that give short-term
satisfaction and long-term solutions which may have in-built delays.
6) Addresses more than one issue at a time.
7) Maps the interactions of interrelating forces with the goal to assess
relationships and affective causes one upon another.
8) Cultivates a healthy interdependence between the participants in a system.
9) Assumes that the sources of the problems are multiple.
10) Does not try to solve the problems as much as resource the participants in
a system to mutually resource each other to solve problems.
11) Identifies long-term consequences and unintended side-effects.
12) Looks at yesterday's solutions as one source of today's problems.
13) Recognizes that most organizational problems are complex and therefore any
intervention must focus on high leverage issues and have a self-sustaining,
multiplicational dynamic.
14) Recognizes compensating feedback (where pushing harder on the usual answers
has diminishing results).
15) Distinguishes between multiple levels of systemic reality (events, patterns
of events, systemic structures, mental models).
16) More concerned in leading the process, not the people.
17) Seeks to identify points of leverage to address foundational loop problems.

Whew! My poor old brain just boggles at 17 characteristics!

A systemic approach seems to me to have three distinguishing characteristics:

A. It treats the organization as an organism following some sort of
natural pattern of development and response to its environment. (Alan's
Nos 1, 4, 15)

B. It treats the organization's problems (e.g., growth plateaus) as
natural outgrowths of the organization as an organic system. (Nos. 7 & 9)

C. It searches for efficient and effective solutions by looking at the
fundamental organizing principles (e.g., how does one become a "member" of
the church) rather than the more superficial, symptomatic results, i.e.,
the presenting problems. (No 17)

No. 2 seems a special case of No. 15 and, as Dale Emery noted, pretty much
restricts us to human-derived organizations. But then those are the only
ones we don't typically view as "natural" or "organic" anyway. (Is that a
hang-over from our Judeo-Christian heritage?)

Nos. 3, 12, 13, 14 and 16 are all good practices and probablt common in
but not, I think, definitive of a systemic approach. Nos. 5, 6, 8 & 11
seem to be results. They are results which might be more likely with a
systemic approach, but they are results none-the-less and not definitive

That leaves No. 10. I think this is a result, but Im not sure what it
says. What does "to resource" mean anyway? (<Soapbox on>I scream every
time I hear Kinko's new slogan: "Kinko's -- The Modern Way to Office!"
Sheesh! If were going to make up words why can't we at least use random
collections of letters that don't already have meanings - like Haagen
Daas. "Office" and "resource" are nouns. They aren't verbs! <Soapbox

So, now what's missing? Well, not to belabor the church connection too
much, perhaps "faith." Systemic interventions must, I think, be carried
out with the full knowledge that we really can't know what the results are
going to be until we intervene. Treating an organization as a natural
organism means recognizing, to steal a phrase from (I think) Paul Ehrlich,
that everything is connected to everything else. And our brains are often
unable to comprehend all the ramifications - possibly remote in time and
space - of our actions. Our options are to give up and do nothing or to
take our best shot? at a solution and see what happens. So maybe a
commitment to follow-up is definitive of a systemic approach.

Grover Partee
Facilitation & Process Support
Seattle, WA


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