A little Theory to Go with the “Problem”

July 7th, 2015 by Patricia Jehle Leave a reply »



Last week I argued that we are all a part of the problem, even though we probably don’t want to be. Now I want to look at the “why” question.


Why? Systems, we are part of “the system”!


As a coach, I had to learn a lot about systems theory in my training. This is why I can say I believe that we are all part of the problem. We are part of the problem because we are all part of the systems we are in, big and small. This membership is one of the factors that makes change very difficult and it makes it nearly impossible to have a balanced view of a situation you are in.


Why so? Systems Theory says this:

Ackoff’s definition of a system is a set of two or more elements in relationship one to another that satisfies the following conditions:

The behavior of the elements and their effect on the whole are interdependent. As a simple example, you belong to the marketing department. Anything you do (or don’t do) in this department affects the whole department, but your department is part of the whole company and what your department does affects the company as a whole.

Some basic principles of systems theory are: everything is connected to everything else; you cannot eliminate the observer, even if you want to; most truths are relative (from inside the system); and finally, most views are complementary.

As an example, let’s take the same marketing department. Let’s say that Joe is sick for a month with a ruptured appendix. He then can’t make his sales goals for the quarter, affecting the whole department’s sales goals, which then affects the company’s turnover (everything is connected).

So, what is the principle of complementarity?  Often, raw observation is too detailed and we systematically ignore many details, and also, all our descriptions are partial, filtered by: our perceptual limitations and our personal values and experience, which are biased. In the case of Joe being ill, the exact reason why he did not reach his sales goals may not be known to the upper management, nor may they even care. They just know that the department is behind in sales targets and that this is a problem for the company as a whole. However, Joe’s line manager knows and hopefully cares.*

This is why independent coaches are so important because they are outside of the system and can be less biased, and can see the situations more clearly.


Where does that leave us? So what?


Thus, before you think you are “right”, assume you can’t (or at least totally) be correct. The example with Joe is that the Director of Marketing may or may not know what has happened in the department and may make false assumptions about Joe (Joe is lazy). It is always best to assume that you are biased, but also know that the others are biased, too.


Therefore, rule one for me is: Take yourself and the situation as gracefully and “lightly” as possible. Why?


Because of rule two: Relationships are the value and worth in a system.


Relationships Matter!


The system is made up of the relationships and the quality of the relationships shows the health of the system. The relationships may change in strength, but the relationships are actually the constant of the system, not the situation. The situations change. Therefore, we need to value those relationships over our perceptions of the situation at the moment because even though the situation will change, the elements (read: people) remain.   It’s people that count. It’s the relationships that matter, in the end.


So, even though I really don’t like the children’s song, “Let it go”, we should pay attention to the people, as they “last” and are “real”. The situation will come, and eventually go, so let it.


* summarized and taken from: http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~sme/CSC340F/slides/08-systems.pdf

you may contact me at www.jehle-coaching.com




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