DID you know that whatever I do affects you? And whatever you do affects me? This is because we live in an intertwined world, where all actions generate reactions with resulting outcomes – some we like, others, not so much. Whether we like it or not, we are all part of a system by virtue of living. Smaller systems exist in every workplace and facet of life — our organisations, families and communities. These living, evolving systems develop their own identities and processes which if ignored, can result in unnecessary stress, strains on relationships and lost opportunities. To live successfully as part of any system, awareness is key.
Many of us are familiar with concepts like eco systems, circulatory systems and financial systems. The many components of these systems work alongside each other, performing specific functions to produce an outcome. Similarly, social systems have their own structures and processes which when operating together, produce outcomes. A system is like a play — every actor, prop and audience member is a component that contributes to the overall performance. Whether the play is a hit or not is not simply due to the performance. Success will be based on many intertwined factors — the mood of the audience, the weather, media reviews, a lottery win by the prop designer or a disaster that has upset and affected the performance of an actor. Nothing works in isolation. In every system, each component reacts and evolves based on what other parts do and vice versa. There is, therefore, an element of unpredictability of how actions affect outcomes.
Systems evolve to find ways to cope with their environment. If we twist our right ankle, intuitively, our mind and body systems agree to rely on our left foot to compensate for the injury, so we can continue to walk. Sometimes, however, in the pursuit of coping, dysfunctional behaviours and processes evolve, as parts of the system interact and react with each other. Over compensation for example, by the left foot can result in injury to the left foot due to overuse or strain.
Think of the financial crisis — the systems within organisations and institutions encouraged certain behaviours and thinking which evolved into the outcomes we see today. People sat at their desks, thinking their actions would be harmless to the wider world. When we view our actions and decisions in isolation, we are considering only the effect it may have on us or our immediate environment. Today, however, we are seeing some of the implications of those seemingly isolated events.
Without fully understanding or respecting the systems in which we live, we react in limited ways and produce unintended consequences for ourselves and others. A limited view of the implications of our actions can cause unnecessary stress and pain, to ourselves and others. We lose empathy for employees, colleagues, people whose lives we change by our decisions. When was the last time your organisation made a decision and considered the effects it would have on the lives of others, beyond making the bottom line look better? By acknowledging the power we have to affect others, we can make choices for the mutual benefit of everyone.
Systems are everywhere. We are immersed in organisational, family and team systems, with their own contexts and cultures. These systems may not seem obvious and include many unwritten rules and scripts. Our choices about what we do within a system, depends on how much we are aware of its existence. Look around your workplace and identify how many systems you notice — the managers, the PAs, the whole department: these all have their own unique identities and energies. Not being aware of living within systems can affect our perceptions of our world, affect our perception of the choices we have and underestimate the effect we have on others.
Next week find out how to develop that awareness of the systems you are living in to take more control of your life and work.