People make the organization. You can take this very literally: through their actions (what they say, what they do) they form the complex patterns of meaning that we call the organization. Therefore, if you want to change the organization, you will have to work with the people who form it.

A complicating factor here is that this is a complex process and that you therefore never have control over which new patterns of meaning are created. Complexity arises from the interaction of various ‘agents’ who all do their own thing (self-organization) and thus cause patterns that are predictable and unpredictable at the same time.

Smart strategy

A good example is traffic: the various agents (motorists in this case) all want to go home as quickly as possible. To this end, they choose a strategy that they think (or hope) will be the most successful under the given circumstances: one leaves work half an hour earlier, the other chooses a shortcut… The problem is that no one knows for sure whether the strategy he or she chooses today will actually get them home sooner. For example, if everyone chooses to go home earlier, you will still be stuck in traffic. But it is not completely unpredictable, because in the summer when everyone is on vacation, you can usually continue driving. Unless you want to go to the beach like everyone else.

This complexity of human agents is amplified by our giving meaning to the things around us and inventing stories about reality. As a result, we can exhibit quite irrational behavior. For example, some people are fine with being stuck in traffic for half an hour; this way they can relax from their work before the hustle and bustle at home starts. Others have an irrational fear of the train, fabricating the story that it is always delayed and you never get a seat on it.

Complex processes of meaning making

Organizations can also be regarded as complex processes of meaning-making. We are constantly talking to each other and give meaning to the things that happen and the meaning we make of them (sense making). And you also see a lot of irrational behavior in organizations, such as hours-long meetings, political games and bullying. You can at least call this behavior irrational, if you assume that an organization is a means to achieve certain goals (such as providing good care or making a cool product) as effectively as possible.

If you want to change the behavior of people in organizations, you can never do it directly and according to a detailed plan. Precisely because the organization is complex, a small intervention can cause completely new and unexpected patterns. And you never know what patterns they are. Just because the boss says the people in the organization need to change their behavior doesn’t mean they will.

Influencing patterns

That does not mean that you are completely powerless. By talking to each other about the sentence you want to make together, you have an opportunity to influence the patterns that arise. That is also the reason why at Spring Today we prefer to work with the people in the organization ((young) professionals, managers, administrators) and want to talk to them about the meaning they want to make. For example, a desire for good care, good education, a good product, et cetera, the things they feel like. We call this social innovation, but you can also call it new organizing or reinventing the organization. It’s not about the name you give it, but about what it does and what vision is behind it.

If you are curious about this, we would be happy to come by for a conversation.



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