proudly presented by Our World Group & the Leadership Psychology Institute
by Dr. Sarah Hill and Tony Melville
David Kantor’s theory of Structural Dynamics provides the foundation for the interventionist work that we do in many different organizations and communities. Structural Dynamics is a theory of how face-to-face communication works and does not work in human systems. It asserts that beneath style and content it is the deeper universal structures of how conversations proceed, that are the most significant predictors of the outcome of any verbal interaction. Structural Dynamics interventions focus on leading change, working deeply and powerfully with individuals and teams in organizations. The emphasis is on working with behaviors in order to change the prevailing culture and enable transformational change. It is this kind of fundamental change that has the potential to liberate an individual or an organization from stuck patterns of behavior that can hold them back from realizing their aspirations.
Our experience from one of these interventions demonstrates how Structural Dynamics works. We were mid-way through a day working with a large group of senior leaders in an organization. They had come together to discuss business risks and, in particular, a mounting financial crisis. Hundreds of years of experience were gathered in that room, along with specialists from every conceivable field. The CEO’s hope? That by unlocking the collective wisdom of the group leaders could place themselves in the best possible position to tackle the challenges ahead of them. The CEO was struck by the circular superficiality of the conversation. She was frustrated at seeing a repetitive pattern of behavior that she had observed elsewhere in the organization. While she couldn’t name it, much less describe it, she realized this was part of the organization’s culture and it was manifesting over and over again. It was not uncommon for meetings to become stuck, paralyzed forums where communicative competency was far from reach. However, we knew that what was happening could be described in the language of Structural Dynamics, and that an intervention could be made to change the nature of the discourse. We introduced the CEO and her team to Structural Dynamics, and in particular the Four Player Model; in any effective face-to-face interaction all four vocal acts need to be present. A ‘Move’ sets forth a direction, a ‘Follow’ validates and completes, an ‘Oppose’ challenges and corrects, and a ‘Bystand’ provides a perspective on the overall interaction and attempts to reconcile competing acts. What is so noticeable about stuck interactions, such as this one, is that they do not have a balance of these vocal acts.
They usually display dominance in one or two particular modes at the expense of the others. We were witnessing a group that had gone into a spiral of “moves.” They had a very strong and stuck pattern of serial random moving. There was no effective opposition (oppose) and no members of the group expressed support for any particular stance (follow). The speed with which the moves emerged left anyone who may have been able to provide perspective (bystand) reeling in their wake. It was an example of behavior that was actually causing chaos and frustrating any kind of change in the wider organization. In the weeks that followed, we worked with the CEO to release the pattern of behavior that was preventing her team from being able to achieve anything meaningful. We became focused on trying to change the discourse so that there was clear and effective opposition, sufficient ‘follow’ for an action to be carried forward to completion, and space for people to provide perspective on what was happening within that forum. The intervention was successful.
We saw a behavioral change that the group welcomed and that they could see the benefits of. Of course as with all could say…….