Dissolution of problems in organisations (Human Complex Adaptive Systems) – part 2/4 – the systematic method

Today’s blog post will go through the method of Dissolution of Problems in human Complex Adaptive Systems, a problem-solving approach, where the focus is on organisations. Problem-solving in organisations is always urgent, irrespectively if it is product problem or an organisational problem, where the latter can lead to the former. This is why organisational problem-solving is so important, due to the organisational problems are so tight connected to product and service problems.

Let us start to collect all individual problems seen in the organisation. The reason for starting the work shop with an individual part is many-fold, where the individual part also can be emailed in advance to reduce the work shop time. We need to collect problems (symptoms and consequences) that each individual perceives under no influence from others, from different positions in the organisation. We also need plenty of problems, enough problems to be able to find the root causes to the seen problems, think about the Cobra Effect. The found problems are never rewritten by the facilitator or higher managers, they are the reality, the problems seen within the organisation. The problems can be seen as negative narratives in the organisation, narratives that we want to get rid of, so we truly can increase our system learning. After this first individual step, the continuation of the work shop will focus on connecting these problems (symptoms) with each other as well as all the way down to the root causes, our non-fulfilled organisational principles.

The role of the facilitator is only to be an administrative help and a catalyst for connecting the problems found and finally finding the root causes, even though the facilitator also should be aware and understand the organisational principles, and that the only root causes that can be found, are non-fulfilled principles. The goal of the work shop is stated above, to find the (normally entangled) problem picture with its connections between the problems found, and down to the organisational root causes, but not the solution to the root causes. By asking “why?” on a problem, we can connect the different problems found, from high-level problems like “we have bad flow in the organisation”, all the way down to the root causes. Since we are not trying to solve the root causes, we are neither going into context, nor the domain of the organisation, since all the problems, root causes (the non-fulfilled organisational principles) and all the problems are context independent (context-free). This can easily be seen on the problems found as well, since it is not possible to see what organisation the individual problems or the total problem picture originate from, meaning that organisations with the same unsolved root cause, will experience very similar problems. From the root causes found it is therefore also many times easy to see in which context the organisations have its main concerns in the Cynefin model; the Clear, Complicated or Complex domain.

By doing this kind of root cause analysis, a retrospective assessment on the current way of working to achieve the purpose of the organisation, together with the individual part for collecting the different problems seen by the employees and managers, many items from the list to consider can be avoided. In this way we are achieving also the important non-cognitive and non-verbal dimensions aspects of the functioning of our human system [1], our organisation.

If we refer to some of the items in the list regarding phenomenology, we will individually experience different problems (for example inattentional blindness). This means that everyone’s perception of the reality of problems within the organisation, will be subjective and therefore problematic. By instead individually gather many different problems for the Big Picture of problems, this subjective phenomenology from each person’s individual perspective, is not an issue since no perspectives are suppressed. Gathering many problems are also a necessity, to be able to find the effect-and-cause chains down to the root causes as stated in a former blog post in this series, with reference to the Cobra Effect. If we refer to the Cynefin model, the Confused domain is the place for phenomenology. This makes sense, since we cannot or at least should not, as already mentioned, try to ontologically place symptoms or consequences in one of the Cynefin model quadrants, due to that they are not solvable from a system (wholeness) perspective. This means also that we should avoid talking about solutions having premature convergence in these cases, since the symptoms and consequences are unsolvable, and instead talk about immature convergence, due to the impossibility. This is what Dr. Russell Ackoff referred to as Dissolution of Problems, which is the only way of truly acting systemically, by changing the system (or its environment if that is possible) to be able to get rid of the problems within it.

That means that we will get into deep trouble, if we accept subjective epistemology from each person’s individual perspective about how to solve these problems, since we cannot directly solve symptoms or consequences. And since symptoms or consequences cannot be solved, epistemological pluralism or wisdom of crowds will not help us either, since many views of how to solve the symptoms and consequences, will neither aggregate to solving the root causes.

That is why the first step of “A systematic approach to systemic learning” are heading for the root causes, so we instead can discover the right ontology for the solution of the root cause, the Clear, Complicated or Complex domain. This means that we can dissolve the problems in the organisation, by solving their root causes, and it is not until the solution of the root causes, where epistemology comes into the picture.

If we are successful with finding the root causes to all our organisational problems, the first step of a “A systematic approach to systemic learning” above, we can also see that we have avoided all the items in the list. This makes life a lot easier.

The next blog post in this series is a deep dive into the theory behind Dissolution of Problems.

C u there.



[1] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-07-17.
ligne de fuite: 2 of 3 – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

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