Facing adversity – what does it take?


July 19th, 2016

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Connect with any of the news outlets informing our lives currently and you’ll see more than enough examples of change and uncertainty to worry and concern you. In fact, you could say, that the news thrives on such change and uncertainty spending its time exciting debate and controversy about who’s responsible, who’s in charge, who can be blamed for messing things up and who should fix things! And these are not just questions about Brexit, our politicians, Iraq and the other bigger issues of the day but, it seems, from what people say, part of the common and, sadly, often negative discourse in many organisations currently facing adversity and struggling, in heated environments, to cope.

The questions connect to a discussion theme that arose when I was leading an Organisational Workshop™ (OW) recently, an immersive simulation designed around the research of the organisational anthropologist Barry Oshry. The theme: What does it take for perfectly intelligent and powerful people, even in the face of adversity, to hang on to their power, future focus and optimism so that they can continue to fix and change the organisations and systems they are part of even when buffeted and bruised by change and adversity?

Barry Oshry, the organisational anthropologist and creator of the OW, talks about seeing yourself as central to the success of your organisation regardless of where you sit within it. Not peripheral to, or a bystander of – very often where much negativity is being pooled – but a central player that can make a difference. He reminds us that we are always making differences anyway as much by the things we don’t do as the things that we do. The only real choice is about the size and quality of the difference we are making. He also suggests that we should be very clear that we ought to make a difference in our organisations. Not as a burden to be suffered, but as a challenge to be welcomed.

And what can help? Well a good understanding of how your system(s) really tick wouldn’t go amiss. System sight and system sense he calls it! Seeing and knowing your system as a whole and gauging its current condition. How did it get there? What are its strengths, where is it blocked and what’s completely missing from it and where does it go from here?

And most importantly – and this was a key insight on the OW – recognising that your system passes through you and that your feelings are a reflection of IT. So if you’re feeling anxious and apathetic about fixing the system, or not competent to change it, these emotions may be less about you and more about the system and your relationship to it! In other words change your system by changing your relationship to it. If you get better so will it.

So centrality, responsibility, system sight, and system sense place you under starters orders to recognise what needs doing. Fire these up with a good dose of will to push you beyond the old self limiting beliefs and attitudes– fear, resistance and resignation – and the chances of making the right moves at the right time are optimised.