A systems view on organisational growth? It begins with ourselves.

As a result of the emerging digital transformation, the input on the development of open communication, non-hierarchical working culture and decentralised decision-making has been considerable. Instead of fragmenting, competing and reacting on the cultural grounds surrounding them, organisations are increasingly encouraged to re-evaluate their organisational cultures and management practices. In order to feed and sustain the new patterns of behaviour and structures, modern organisations call for leadership which takes turns (or coexists) within self-adjusting and interconnected teams and networks rendering services to one another.

Then, how should we affect change in our own organisations? 

The message we are given by some of the highly cited management journals is clear. Take a look, for example, on these articles:

Organizations Can’t Change If Leaders Can’t Change with Them (HBR 26.10.2016)

Managers Are Wasting Time and Money on People Problems (20.10.2016)

Leaders Can Shape Company Culture Through Their Behaviors (13.10.2016)

A New Era of Corporate Conversation (12.9.2016)

The “Self-Developing Organization (2.3.2015)

Yet, I strongly believe that the key understanding lies at the complexity of the emerging, socially and digitally connected networks of individuals, teams, and institutions. That is, I believe that our current perceptions on organisational growth – and on our worldview in general – is far too overdriven by the mechanical view of life and that the only ”way out” is to apply a more systemic view on how we lead the emerging change. As Dirk van Dierendonck has put it in his article on ”Servant Leadership: A Review and Synthesis”, published in the highly distinguished Journal of Management in 2011 and being among the most cited articles ever since,

Personal characteristics and culture are positioned alongside the motivational dimension. Servant leadership is demonstrated by empowering and developing people; by expressing humility, authenticity, interpersonal acceptance, and stewardship; and by providing direction. 

The systems view of life

The above synthesis by Dierendonck is quite similar to the underlying idea of Service-Dominant logic – according to which organisational success comes true as humans apply their competences to benefit others and to reciprocally benefit from others’ applied competences through service-for-service exchange (Vargo and Lusch, 2004). As idealistic as it sounds, it does support the very basics of Systems Thinking (see The Systems View of Life by Capra and Luisi, 2014). That is, the only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand it in terms of relationships, patterns, connectedness and contexts. As such, using the process of Systemic Thinking offers modern organisations a great platform for understanding the independent structures of dynamic systems and on how to lead and manage them.

It all begins with ourselves

In short, these thoughts are based on both my personal and professional experiences, particularly on my current PhD research which focuses on the preconditions for value cocreation in service ecosystems driven by innovation. As I see it, there are three major characteristics that need to be targeted when aiming to success in the exchange of services among the various independent, and yet, interconnected actors of the emerging service (eco)systems (see e.g. Maglio, 2015). These are:

  1. INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS – referring to self-reflection and the ways how we see ourselves as a part of an organisation
  2. ORGANISATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS – referring to the various institutional norms and values that form the basis for organisational management
  3. ECOSYSTEM LEVEL CHARACTERISTICS – referring to an organisations ability to interact in various different contexts and to see its role as an integral part of the (global) society

It is only once accepting the self-adjustinessness and interconnectedness of the modern world, i.e. the systems view of life, that we can truly find the ways to adapt to the growingly complex business environments. Unlike suggested by the mechanical worldview, the systems view on organisational growth does not disqualify personal experiences and emotions, but instead, encourages organisations to support the self-examination and progression of both its employees and managers.


P.S.(1)  As finishing this blog, I found myself in reading Josh Bersin´s insights of Future Work. As he explains it, the “Future of Work” is already here. Unless we accept the fact that things are changing at many levels at the same time, we may completely miss the genuine reasons behind the change. To see how he refers to the notions of personal, organisational and societal impacts, check his blog The Future of Work: It’s Already Here… And Not As Scary As You Think .

P.S.(2) If you agree on the ideas of systems view on a structural level, but still hesitate about the emotional side of it, check also Jeff Clanon´s and Fred Simon´s article about The Dark Side of Success: Dealing with the Organisational and Emotional Complexities, published at the Systems Thinker´s website.




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