This high-impact, experiential workshop centred on the highly acclaimed work of Barry Oshry, addresses these four key questions: How can you generate greater partnership and engagement across your organisation? How can you create a more empowered, collaborative and innovative work culture? Do you want to learn practices to deepen your insight, cultivate your compassion and enhance your effectiveness? What can you expect? Practice of mindfulness skills relevant to leadership Simple, strategic frameworks that offer deeper insight and wiser action strategies Time for reflection to relate the learnings to your unique circumstances. The centrepiece of the day is an organisational workshop exercise where participants enter a fast-moving, turbulent environment as either a top executive, middle manager, worker or customer.
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We are system creatures shaped by the contexts in which we live and work. For the most part we are blind to contexts Top, Middle, Bottom, Dominant, Other… and their impact on our consciousness i. Awareness of systemic relationships and dynamics the patterns of relating leads to more accurate sensing and responding. Oshry challenges us to recognise that we too often over-privilege the personal and interpersonal lens.
He highlights that there are also other systemic forces shaping our experience which have little to do with the psyches or temperaments of this particular group of individuals, or this particular situation or sector. The experiential exercises Oshry has created 1 day to 7 days in length reveal how many of us reflexively and blindly respond to contexts in habitual, predictable ways.
In the first flush of enthusiasm of working with Teal principles some of us may have neglected the potency of habitual behaviour and paid insufficient attention to personal and organisational transitions.
This requires a practical fluency in exercising personal and systemic power: appreciating the way in which individual consciousness is shaped by the wider system, but also how the individual is always central, whether they realise it or not, to the potential evolution of the wider system.
Systemic power, according to Oshry, enhances the capacity of the system to survive, develop, and thrive with its environment. People just flow and navigate between these different spaces, including within the same day. So, on one initiative I am leading it, and I am in a Top space. Another time, somebody else is leading and I am just following; I am the Bottom. And in another situation, I might be sort of the Middle, somebody else is really leading the big picture of it, but I am designing some elements; I am coordinating some stuff.
We tend to think that being Top is so great. We often underestimate the weight of the poor people at the Top of the organizations who constantly have to be Top, and can never relax into Bottom, where I can just follow.
Fred went on to remind us that Teal thinking works with natural not fixed hierarchies: where those with passion, energy, and skills step into the Top space and lead, creating a much more fluid and agile organisation. The goal of self-management is not to make everyone equal, to have everyone having the same say on all the questions.
It is really the opposite. But in reality, that is not the case. So, if you think of a factory such as Favi in the north of France, the automotive suppliers that are very good in their mechanisms to be self-managing: a machine operator might spend most of the day in the Bottom space, but then spend just 10 minutes or an hour leading something. I say he because he is mostly man. He really is in a Top space. He does not need to get approval from the Middle manager or Senior manager.
He uses the advice approach structure to make that happen. And on the other hand, there might be people who spend a much greater proportion of their time in the Top space. An engineer who is designing a new factory might be spending a lot of time in top space and much less time in Bottom space.
Nothing is basically forcing your butts into one of these spaces. So in my sense, the context of Top, Middle, and Bottom and Customer very much exist as a relational space, but not as a label. I think that is really the big attraction of Teal. What are you going to do about it? This requires a self and system awareness.
Could you expound on what wholeness means and the shift in practice and culture to bring it about? We need people who indeed have a high self and system awareness to deal with the forces that push you towards often unhealthy behavior. And when you have healthier structures, like self-managing structures, there is a whole learning curve to play the game in new ways because we have not learned this in school. Brian Robertson from Holacracy speaks about this in very powerful way. Life as a journey to reclaim all of our parts: integrate ego and spirit; integrate masculine and feminine; integrate the rational and emotional and the spiritual, etc.
And a big precondition, I think, for any of us to dare go into more wholeness is for an absence of fear or judgment to be there. It is for us to feel safe enough to actually reclaim some of those parts, especially to reclaim them in a community of peers. But it does not get rid of all of it! Self-management gets rid of a lot of the poison in the system, a lot of the fears of hierarchy. All the fears of bosses at the top, of keeping people in line … But many companies find out, in itself, that this is not enough.
What I have seen is people doing sometimes really pretty wonderful things at their own level below them. The leader here, she would play by that rule and sign for some targets, but those are not actually cascaded down in the same way. And in many cases, people at the Top accept that. For instance, one practice that proves time and again to be very powerful is imagine you are the head of a business unit.
If you had a direct report that needs to be nominated, instead of you nominating your direct report, let the team 1 level below do that, so 2 levels below you write the job description and interview the boss, the future boss, and decide on it. So, that is a practice that most of the time HR does not even need to know about. The trouble is that if you leave because for whatever reason you get promoted or if a more traditional manager comes in, not much of that will probably remain, and it is unlikely that… your example, however successful and spectacular it might be, will in itself get leaders to see the world from a Teal rather than a Green or and Orange perspective.
Which way is the system likely to go? And of course, that is not true, and which way it is going to go … who knows? Very clearly, I think the pain in the system is increasing, and it leads people in different directions.
One of my favorite writers, Parker Palmer, talks about it. Our heart can be broken in two ways. It can shatter into a thousand pieces that hurts everyone around us, or it can break open to take in more love, more reality, and more of the world.
And I think that is what we are seeing, these two forces happening. And which direction is it going? Which will prevail? Probably both for quite a while. I think that the power of example is a big one. If I just look at Buurtzorg in the Netherlands, just maybe to promote a prominent example of an organization that has really changed the way the industry talks about it.
But they almost feel like they have to do it. It has become part of the discourse. Just like an African dictator who says that he is doing democracy even though he is not. But you know, it is just impossible not to say that you are doing it. I am really curious where this whole thing is going to go.
John specialises in consulting on stuck or complex situations where a breakthrough in mindsets, ways of working, and performance is desired.
Is Barry Oshry’s Systems Thinking Still Relevant at the Teal level?
We can be Bottom at any level of the organization. In other interactions, we are Middle, when we are experiencing conflicting demands, priorities, and pressures coming at us from two or more individuals or groups. And in still other interactions, we are Customer, when we are looking to some other person or group for a product or service we need in order to move our work ahead. In each of these conditions there are unique opportunities for contributing to total system power; and in each there are pitfalls that readily lead us to forfeit those contributions. In this paper we will examine: the unique contributions we can make to total system power when we are in Top, Middle, Bottom, and Customer conditions, the pitfalls in each condition that can cause us to forfeit those contributions, and how we can avoid those pitfalls while working together to create systems with outstanding capacities to survive and develop. Total System Power 1.
Barry Oshry’s Organisation Workshop
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TOTAL SYSTEM POWER