Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

Many years ago, I had the privilege of working for a short period of time with Virginia Satir, the groundbreaking practitioner of systems-based family therapy. Virginia noted that a family becomes much more complex and unpredictable once a child is added to the two-person couple. The family system grows exponentially more complex with each additional child. Similarly, an organization becomes exponentially complex with the addition of each new unit. As Miller and Page note (2007) it is not only a case of new entities being added. This will make the organization complicated—but not complex. Complexity is a matter of these entities interacting with and becoming dependent on one another – much as in the case of Satir’s growing family. This is also the case with Johansson’s interaction and the stirring up logs in a fireplace.

Johansson (2004, pp. 19-20) offers the following (partial) list concerning the outcomes of a successful intersecting processes:

[The innovations are] surprising and fascinating.

They take leaps in new directions.

They open up entirely new fields.

They provide a space for a person, team, or company to call its own.

They generate followers, which means the creators can become leaders.

They provide a source of directional innovation for years or decades to come.

They can affect the world in unprecedented ways.

While Johansson offers some valuable advice regarding how to bring about the intersection (I recommend his book), I find that there is an initial simple strategy which one can engage. We can move around the logs (entities) in an organization, so that they can ignite one another. We can also move around ideas for intersection ignition. In my own consulting work, I have often brought together people from units in an organization that traditionally don’t interact much with one another. I bring together faculty members in the sciences with those in the arts to help design physics studios and art laboratories. I invite those working on an assembly line to assist C-Suite leaders in the design of a new production facility (often in alignment with what are called “social-technical systems”). I welcome members of the local community to help government workers identify the government-related projects that have been most successful during the past year (they are often projects involving collaboration between governmental and nongovernmental agencies.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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