A member of a high-performing team is promoted to a new post elsewhere in the organisation in the hope that she’ll help lift the performance of a flagging team. She’ll bring some of the magic she learned in her previous role with her, won’t she? Wrong. The team she moves into soon begins to unravel and her own performance becomes, frankly, underwhelming. What went wrong?

There are many ways of exploring the answer(s) to this question. Today, I’d like to focus on one: systems thinking, which the promotion took no account of. When we turn up to work each day, it’s easy to remain unaware that we instantly find ourselves participating in (and being ceaselessly influenced by) the system we’re part of. The system functions like the air that we breathe. It’s just there. We only tend to notice it when it changes, upsetting the patterns and routines we’ve become accustomed to.

When we’re in a system, whether it’s our own family system or our work system, we’re immediately part of a loop, producing outputs in reasonably predictable ways to inputs. If we’re fortunate to be part of an open system, we’ll perform innumerable recalculations to deliver the optimal outputs when those inputs fluctuate (closed systems such as bureaucracies tend to have no living relationship with their environment: they do things right, according to the rules, rather than doing the right things).

In the scene above, the team member was viewed as an organisational part rather than an integral member of a whole human system. She may well have been deriving the energy and verve with which she carried out her role from the system of emotionally infused interpersonal relationships she was an integral member of.

Talent can be grown but it can rarely be surgically transplanted. By looking at the system as a whole, we get to see how the whole is contributing to the failing situation. That’s the level that really needs to be dealt with.

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