Your organization is a Complex Adaptive System.

You might not know that it is, but think of it this way, a complex adaptive system is a system in which many independent nodes or agents interact, leading to emergent outcomes that are often difficult (or impossible) to predict simply by looking at the individual nodes. The “complex” part refers in fact to the vast interconnectedness of these systems.

Those nodes or agents (employees) working towards emergent outcomes (the bottom-line revenue). Sound familiar?

Some characteristics to note:

  • The individual parts, or agents, in a complex adaptive system follow simple rules.
  • There is no leader or individual who is coordinating the actions of others.
  • Through the interactions of the agents, emergent patterns are generated.
  • If elements of the system are altered, the system adapts or reacts.

Consider the second bullet here—There is no leader coordinating, rather the emergent patterns are generated through the interactions of the agents. In a Complex Adaptive System, it is not an understanding of the individual nodes or agents that is key, it is the interactions among these nodes or agents. If you look at your organization, company, group, team, the agents are your people, the interactions are the relationships and the results are emergent.

The Source of Emergent Results

The principles that guide the interactions (speaking and listening) between agents of the system lay the foundation for “emergent” future results. It is important to note that this is not a cause & effect, linear phenomenon. In the absence of guiding principles for interactions (speaking and listening) within a group, relationships among agents often devolve into a state of entropy leading to failure of the system or organization. The true source of the failure is often incorrectly explained away after the fact by leadership and those agents of the system as having been caused by something else.

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