‘Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.’
A healthy organisation is a system that is in coherence with its purpose and able to fluidly adapt in partnership with a dynamic environment.
Imagine a murmuration of starlings, each sensing and responding perfectly to external and internal motion, an ease in this aerial dance.
Giles Hutchins in ‘Leading by Nature’ writes that regenerative leaders and organisations must be in a process of ‘letting go of old ways of being and generating a fresh way of both responding externally and recreating itself internally.’
There’s a shift here, for our being, thinking and doing, that represents a return to what we intuitively know, and have forgotten: how to relate in full participation with each other and our changing environment.
We hope these five ideas are a useful stimulus as you consider this shift.
- In Harmony with Nature
The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and how people think. Gregory Bateson
Here are two ideas from nature that might influence how you perceive and respond to the world around you.
The micro reflects the macro and vice-versa — Fibonacci patterns show up from space to cauliflower. The tiniest most mundane act reflects the biggest creations we can imagine. Kat Aaron
In other words, ‘what we practise at the small scale sets the pattern for the whole system’ (brown, 2017). This insight has reverberations for personal and systemic change.
For example, if you want to soften a pattern in your own behaviour, focus on the smallest change within the bigger pattern, trusting that it will ripple out to other spheres of your life.
For example, if there’s a relationship you are finding challenging, experiment with a small, generative shift in your behaviour. Notice how softening this one cell of a brittle pattern influences other contexts.
Similarly, if you are shaping systemic change in your organisation, consider the smallest opportunity for that change and practise it there.
- Change is constant
Like flowing water, we can choose to accept we are forever in a state of change and adaptation. When we are in fear or tension, we contract, resisting this flow and stagnating, but change will happen with or without us.
We recently learnt that Charles Darwin’s well-used phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ is not about competition. What he actually wrote in Origin of the Species, was ‘survival of the fit.’ In other words, our capacity to thrive is predicated on our ability to adapt alongside the conditions around us to find our best fit, not to compete with elements around us.
To welcome this sense of continual motion, experiment with using more verbs and fewer nouns:, I am thinking, feeling, noticing, sensing, experiencing, moving…
- The Principles of Systemic Health
These four systemic principles are a useful lens to try if there is stuckness in an organisation that can’t be explained at the surface. To restore flow, pay attention to these principles. Where are they being honoured, and where are they being transgressed or ignored?
Acknowledge what is
To change a system, start by acknowledging what is.
Just as it is.
Those who joined the system first need to be acknowledged before those who follow can find their authority.
Everybody in the system has an equal right to belong. If people leave badly, and their contribution is not acknowledged, they continue to influence the system.
There needs to be a continuous balancing of giving and receiving for the system to remain in flow.
In his book ‘Systemic Coaching and Constellations’ John Whittington uses these principles in his definition of organisational health:
Everyone has a safe and respected place in the system.
Skills and contributions are acknowledged and included.
Contributions from the past are remembered
People who stay and leave flourish
There is a balance of giving and receiving
People feel safe and know they belong
There is flow, clarity and ease
- Mapping your Stakeholders
Think of a leadership challenge or opportunity facing your organisation. Ask yourself:
- What is the issue?
- Who and what is involved?
Now create a map of the eco-system of your stakeholders, rippling out through time and place: students, their future selves, the community, the site team, teachers, different cultures, your board, parents, the environment, the planet, your family, your future self.
We recommend you do this using the floor and big pieces of paper to represent each stakeholder.
Now walk around this space, standing in the experience of each stakeholder and listening deeply to their wisdom with your whole self. Feel what they want you to know, and be curious to hold a fuller picture of who and what you are accountable to, and what is required of your role.
Come back to your challenge. What is your insight?
- The Story of Us
The Story of Us opens up the systemic dimensions of time and place, requiring us to accept our transience as part of a line of people who came before and come next.
Owen Eastwod describes this image of the line we stand in, our arms linked, as ‘whakapapa,’ a term from his Maori culture. Each of us has only a short time in the sun, so what can we do to honour our inheritance and pass on our role with responsibility and care?
To forge meaning and belonging to this line, we derive ‘The Story of Us,’ the story of how the organisation was born, what the original purpose was, who the founders were, the highs and lows (including everything), dreams of for the future and what this Story means for us now.
Revisit this story at intervals, revising it in the light of who is joining, leaving and what the world needs most. This is a story that all and everything is included in, that all and everything belongs to.
- Inner Coherence
Performance is potential minus interference
These ideas are inviting us to cultivate systemic intelligence. It’s not an intelligence most of us working in schools have been called to develop in our education and development so far.
So it requires learning and unlearning. A good place to begin is paying attention to our own system, our inner coherence. Coherence can be described simply as ‘joining what’s been wrongly separated.’
Here are two axes of coherence:
Horizontal coherence is to rebalance the right and left hemispheres of the brain. We rely on our LH for thinking function, analysis and language. In contrast, the RH is about the system, seeing and sensing the world as an interrelated whole.
Vertical coherence is the alignment of our head, heart and gut brains, each of which has a specific role in supporting us to access our full intelligence. We talk about ‘gut feel’ and might say, ‘I know in my heart,’ but how often do we consciously attune to our embodied knowing below the neck?
Try this exercise as a step towards attunement then coherence.
Take a few moments to be still.
Notice your breath.
Let everything go and simply be here.
Take your attention to your mind and the left side of your brain. A place of thinking, clarity and wisdom.
Now put your attention on your right brain, where you source creativity, making connections and sensing.
Now drop your attention to your heart and place your hand there. A place of compassion, love, your values and gratitude.
Finally, drop your attention to your core, your gut. A place of inner knowing, truth, courage and strength. The place where you hold your boundaries and from where you take action.
Now imagine a white light connecting these three parts of your system and hold the possibility that these three parts of you can be in coherence for you, and for others, in your relationships and leadership.
They are also different perspectives, all with wisdom to bring to your life.
I invite you to listen in…
What do you know in your gut in this moment?
What do you know in your heart in this moment?
What do you know in your mind?
When you are ready, come back and let any insight unfold and settle…