Home Tools Internal Politics The Art of Organizational Coaching: In Search of Patterns and Variations

The Art of Organizational Coaching: In Search of Patterns and Variations

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What about the relationship between energy and variations in the patterns of organizations? Variations often lead to misalignment and hence reduce energy in an organization. Variations can also disrupt energy conversation processes. However, variations are needed for the flow of energy from more differentiated to less differentiated subsystems. The system remains static (and energy-less) without these variations in levels of complexity.  Furthermore, as I noted at the beginning of this essay with regard to the nature of sonatas, the tensions between variations can itself produce considerable energy In musical terms the variations can attract and hold the attention of those listening to the music. This tension between variations might produce energy that takes the form of competition between the variations. Warfare of any kind always produces energy (and often casualties). The tension can also produce the energy of cooperation and the variations might ultimately complement one another in the organization.

There is yet another energizing feature. Variations often enter the picture and provide energy when we are being creative and innovative (playing) within an organizational system. Csikszentmihalyi’s flow experience is often based in an attempt to do something that is not only challenging, but also different from what is usually done. Without the variations, work becomes boring. As Taleb notes, if systems tend to always operate in the same way for many years, then when the unanticipated event (Black Swan) does occur, the system is overwhelmed and unable to cope with the change. Csikszentmihalyi  (and at an earlier time, Nevitt Sanford) proposes that when there is pervasive boredom or debilitating anxiety, learning does not occur and motivation is lacking to take any action (let alone try something new). It is in the act of exploring variations in a basic pattern that members of organizations find the threshold between boredom and anxiety (the threshold of “flow”). They are trying something new, but not something that is so new and different that it shatters the pattern and produces panic and overwhelm. Thus, we see that variations can both create and disrupt the flow of energy in any system—and certainly within organizations.

Benefits of the Patterns and Variations

What then are the benefits associated with patterns in the life of our client or in the life of the organization in which our coaching client works? What about the benefits associated with variations in the life of our client and in the life of their organization? Obviously, the answers to both questions reside, in part, in the analysis I have already offered regarding the sources of energy to be found in patterns and variations, as well as the analyses I have offered regarding the source(s) and maintenance of patterns and variations. Patterns are established to engage existing expertise in the life of a client or organization. We like being competent and successful, hence re-enacted patterns of behavior that work for us and establish habits that have been finely honed. We make some decisions and take some actions early on in our life that made sense at that early point and that we hope still make sense. We take comfort in seeing our world in the same old way and want to live in a world that is consistent and conforms to our deeply-seated assumptions and expectations.  Our daily rituals and even the formal rituals that are performed in our religious institutions provide reassurance and renewed commitment. Life and life purposes are reaffirmed through our informal and formal patterned rituals.  As Heath and Heath note in Switch, we (the rider on the elephant—our procedural brain) finds a shift in routine to be very stressful. We are threatened by analysis-paralysis  when we are faced with many options and with making adjustments to changing conditions—we would much rather stay with simple patterns and with the tried-and-true.

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