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Shifting my focus
Shifting my focus

Shifting my focus

By Andy Howie

I missed out on the possibility of some work recently and I think it may have been because I was too slow. I was taking time to consider what the commissioning organisation needed and when I went back to them they had moved on. In preparing a pitch I had been looking back at Space2think’s experience of similar bespoke interventions, reading literature about the commissioning organisation itself and considering what energy we had for the task ahead. Perhaps I took too long, and I have an idea about why that might have been.

We are very experienced in people focused work – such as individuals’ roles, the person inside the manager, interpersonal dilemmas – and this possible piece of work was more system focused, so I started some wider research and got a bit lost in it. In the process I felt I was learning something valuable and I don’t want to let go of that.

I started to see that there are limits to the impact of people-focused interventions if the system the people work within doesn’t change – the system affects the people – so I began to investigate in two ways. I considered my own experience and personal and professional interest in the subject, and I looked at what other people are saying and doing. As I did so, I began to feel that Space2think could offer more that would benefit the whole organisation. A few challenging question arose in my mind: is what we do enough and what is it that is missing from our usual interventions? The questions felt adventurous and there is a restlessness within me that I knew from past experience to pay attention to.

Perhaps to be truly holistic we need to work more with the systems in which people operate. When I work with people within an organisation I know it can change that person and impact others, but I sometimes feel frustration about the limited outcomes for the whole workplace. I hear a lot of people speak about being stuck in silos and that communication is only happening in one direction: from top to bottom. People view the system from the perspective of their own role and don’t get beyond it, so those on the ground feel disconnected from those higher up and those higher up see themselves as the strategic thinkers. They need one another, but sometimes the link in the middle is missing. Edgar Schein, the psychologist and organisational development expert, says that there is a real challenge when it comes to communication up a system, which can be inhibited for many reasons, for example when a surgeon is seen as a god. So systems need illuminating as well as people, and change is less likely when there is no space within the system for people to reflect on these things.

I now see people-focused work and system-focused work as two halves of a whole, and I’m curious about where this thinking could lead me to. If you have experiences to share with me please do.