It’s not personal, it’s systemic

May 16th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · No Comments · Culture, Leadership, Organizational Culture

3d,Rendering,Of,People,InterconnectionWorkers think that senior managers are heartless, arrogant and distant. Senior managers think that workers are childlike, blaming everybody and not understanding the need to get on board with the latest initiative. Middle managers are just too run off their feet to think anything at all and clients simply feel ignored and undervalued.

If this was just the thinking in a dysfunctional organisation it wouldn’t be so bad, but the truth is that this type of thinking is commonplace in many organisations, repeating itself in recurring patterns that sabotages the real need to get collaboration flourishing up and down and across the organisation.

When problems occur people blame individual’s lack of caring, their incompetence or their difficult personalities as if people’s personal attributes were source of all organisational problems. In reality it’s not personal, it’s systemic.

Making up stories

People fall into a typical thinking pattern, they observe someone doing something and first thing they do is take it personally, then they make up a story to explain why people in other parts of the organisation did what they did, these stories almost never have anything to do with what is really going on and yet people react to them as if they were the universal truth. Then, they get angry or they disconnect, or they get even. As a result, any chance of building collaborative partnerships across the organisation or with clients and suppliers simply goes out the window.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Predictable conditions that generate typical behaviours

The key is understanding that much of the way that people behave in organisations is more a function of where they are in the system than anything else. The problem is that people see the behaviours but they don’t see the system, they suffer what Organisational Dynamics expert, Barry Oshry, calls System Blindness. According to where they are in the system, you  can predict the behaviour they will nearly always fall into.

Senior managers live in a world characterised by enormous complexity and accountability. They will therefore typically fall into overload.

Middle managers live in a world were they are pulled in a million directions, senior management asks them to get things done, the workers ask them to look after them, other colleagues from other parts of the organisations try to get their help on the latest new initiative. They naturally fall into getting crunched. They are simply run off their feet.

The people at the bottom of the organisation have less power than everyone else, they have to live with many restrictions and most often don’t have the information necessary to understand what they are being asked to do, they naturally fall into feeling disregarded, leading them to feel vulnerable.

The clients just want to get a solution to their problem but all too often they just get passed from one person to the next, they naturally fall into feeling neglected.

Our gut reactions just make everything worse

Human beings understandably will act like human beings. Being faced with something we don’t really understand we simply make up a story because we need to give situations a meaning, we need to understand what is going on. But the stories people make up usually have little to do with what is really going on and will lead to actions that will just make the situations worse.

The typical reactions of senior managers are to just keep on taking on more, thereby just becoming even more overloaded.

The typical reaction of middle managers is to slide in between the people at the top and the people at the bottom and take on their problems leading them to become even more crunched.

The typical reaction of the workers is to take on the victim mentality and just blame “them” thus making themselves even more vulnerable.

The typical reaction of clients is to stay aloof and hold their supplier responsible leading to them feeling even more neglected and badly mistreated.

First understand other people’s worlds and think differently

Oshry believes the key is seeing the organisation as an organic system and understanding that people’s behaviours are largely determined by the forces that system places on them. Once we decrease System Blindness, senior leaders, middle managers, workers and clients will realise that they can apply different strategies and behaviours that will counteract the negative pressures that the system places on them. Also, if we take into account what it is like to be in the other person’s world, then the reactions that we will get will be totally different. This will change attitudes, produce behaviours that make the system more efficient and increase collaboration.

Increased collaboration across the organisation unleashes creativity, makes the organisation more agile, creates a better work environment and above all, improves service to clients. An ideal result all around.


·      System Blindness leads to negative interpretations of other people’s behaviour.

·      Understanding system dynamics gives people new options that lead to different behaviours.

·      These behaviours lead to increased collaboration and therefore better business results.

There are ways to help your employees to see the system more clearly, and that can change everything.

Tags: ···

No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment