SYSTEMIC OD—FROM EXPLOITING RESOURCES TO UNFOLDING POTENTIALS
In German there is a word to express that something has been accomplished the way it should, close to optimal. And we use this word in very complicated contexts, such as education, partnerships, or conferences. Then we always say: "Es ist gelungen," which means it has been accomplished in a way that is (close to) the best we could ever think of. What is interesting about this "gelingen" is, that the word does not exist in English. For a conference, that is, you would probably say, has been successful. But there is a difference. Successful means something different. "Gelingen" implies that we have a deeper knowledge of what something should be like, and we are able to compare the actual outcome with this deeper knowledge. We all have clear ideas how a cooperation or relationship should work, we have an idea what supportive leadership could be, or what would be necessary to unfold someone's potential. At the moment, in 2012, we find ourselves facing a highly interesting transition; we are experiencing a cultural shift because in the past we were not really able to understand what "gelingen" meant. We treated the world and all living species as objects. We assigned them certain places, we treated them in certain ways, we taught them, told them what to do. That is an object-relationship, and in such a relationship—where one is above and the other is below—nothing is going to "gelingen." The two may be, and often are, trying to get in contact with each other but they will never meet. In this culture everything is made and regarded as a resource. So in the past we were searching for resources: nature was a resource, animals were a resource, planes were resources, oil was a resource, energy was a resource and people were also resources. We even regarded our children as resources: the school system was using and teaching them to produce academic resources. But this cannot be the way to continue—the resources will come to an end. Resources cannot be exploited infinitely and without limit. Therefore, we are now facing a shift. We are forced to perform the transformation from a resource exploiting to a potential-unfolding society. Of course, potential unfolding is only possible if we are able to meet each other as subjects, if we invite each other to unfold our own and each other's potential. This poses a radically different way of leading a team (Lenglachner, 2007).
Systems are organized around problems as well as solutions. Systems, which focus in their communication on problems have become used to this kind of auto-organization. Teams operating on this principle, which often invest a lot of time and energy in futile attempts to improve the status quo, are full of mistrust and desperation and too exhausted to hope for a better future. In the background and simultaneously, nevertheless, a multitude of solutions resides in the hearts and minds of those involved. These solutions deserve to be commended for all the time and energy employees have spent trying, albeit unsuccessfully.
By contrast, solution-oriented systems offer creativity, power and trust in solving existing problems. They are focused on committed goals, common rules, awareness of differences and role expectations and joint responsibility, thus creating a different relationship to the problem.
Significant aspects of solution orientation:
• Solution does not automatically mean happiness and success
• Solution orientation offers a new relationship, forms a new context, dissociates from the problem system
• Solution orientation loosens blocks and leads to flow in systems by using the available resources
• Solution orientation is the start of something new or different and it is not a negotiation of problems
• Solutions give rise to new resources in a system
The systemic organizational development process embedded in a higher order of learning architecture is based on three solution-oriented systemic assumptions:
• Systems are auto-organized in their specific contexts, which generate their specific meaning, culture and language in their own rhythm
• Systems are organized around business objectives, their solutions and their problems
• Systems develop their characteristic internal logic, maintain it and interact with their environment accordingly - in their past, present and future.
The basic solution-oriented systemic attitude provides the foundation for working in intercultural contexts in and between companies. Thus, it is useful to make the specific cultures of different departments in an organization explicit for successful cooperation. In this process, problem-focused attitudes, delegation of responsibility and linear cause-effect thinking are no longer sufficient in our complex intercultural world where quick change and flexibility, innovation and creative solutions have become a prerogative. Change is the only stable constant in our times.
Organizations use a range of processes to adapt styles of learning for new fields of application. Learning often takes place implicitly and unconsciously, and former styles may be unlearned to cocreate new styles. This modification of learning styles offers tremendous potential for far-reaching and essential creative changes. Therefore, a specific systematic approach to organizational learning (Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, & Flowers, 2004) seems highly desirable.
The notion of "irreverence" marks the approach by which internationally renowned family therapist Gianfranco Cecchin (Cecchin, Lane, & Wendel, 1992) seeks to encourage searching for the best solution no matter how strange it sounds and never being satisfied with a compromise or the first option. In this context, knowing a given situation extremely well is essential for being able to act irreverently towards it. In other words, irreverence means maintaining one's curiosity to be able to choose from different approaches when considering a given situation. The power of irreverence invites a system to discover its optimal solution instead of low-powered compromises or uncreative, nontransformative and nonfuture-oriented halfsolutions. Reaching for stars is empowered by irreverence.
The art of solution-oriented systemic leadership and diversity management across cultures is important for the future. Solution-oriented systemic management (Lenglachner & Madl, 2011) is a challenging learning process that supports growth by providing inspiring challenges and stimulating trust in the potential of everybody's mind and emotions. It requires the abilities of thinking ahead and outside the box, being flexible, being independent yet staying in touch, being versatile in one's roles and in changing between them, having a large number of resources and tools available, and in leading by example.
Solution-oriented systemic leadership is a big challenge. This means being a good listener, having natural authority and being authentic, simultaneously keeping distance and being in contact, sharing passion, moving easily between the different roles, staying flexible, choosing between a variety of helpful, challenging tools and learning architectures, making learning happen easily, supporting trust, staying independent as a leader, focusing on the goals and instilling trust that the goals are certain to be reached.