One day an Executive involved in my Exponent Leadership Process asked, “Mike you talk about this system, I am not sure I know what that means?” I stood there for a short time and gave a rather weak response, thanked him for his question and said,
“Huh…that is a good question and I am fumbling, I know what it is but I cannot describe it. So, using my own logic I must not really know what it is! And this is the challenge of Managerial-Leadership and Organizational-Development ill-defined terms.”
The team of executives and I then spent 40 minutes defining their system, creating clear and distinct understanding and wording to describe their work system, what they would like it to be, and steps to move towards.
That did not answer the question, of what is a system? I researched and found the following in Steve de Shazer’s book “Putting Difference to Work” (Shazer 1991, p.21). It stems from a psychological frame exploring the ‘family’ as a system. I feel that the attributes or properties are also encompassing of Organizational Systems.
General Attributes or Properties of a System
- Wholeness: A change in one part of a system necessarily affects the whole system.
- Non-summativity: The whole is different from the sum of its parts. (emphasis added)
- Equifinality, multifinality: Equifinality means that the final state may be reached from different initial states and/or by different paths; Multifinality implies that similar initial conditions, and/or routing different paths, may lead to dissimilar end states.
- Circular causality, nonlinearity: “The relationship of the progression of causes is such that the initial cause is also affected by the progression itself” (Simon et. al., p.212) which is contrasted with linearity in which “feedback processes are not involved…the cause-effect sequence does not lead back to the starting point.” (Simon et. al., 1985, p. 212)
The above reads like a psychological nightmare. For now the important thing to know about systems, it is close to impossible to escape. In the next couple days I am going to explore the above attributes or properties of systems and hopefully, make sense.