How Do Systems Change?

by | May 16, 2023 | Dismantling Domination Systems

For many years, I’ve been doing human relationship work in a wide variety of organizations and systems, and no matter where I go, everyone wants to know: What does it actually take to make deep, systemic and cultural changes in the way we do things?  

Although the answer is complex and multifaceted, I want to highlight three simple principles, and the pivotal role that human connectedness plays in systemic change efforts.  

First, systemic change needs a focus and a vision.

Let me suggest something very simple, like this:

  1. Take care of yourself
  2. Take care of one another
  3. Take care of our environment and the shared spaces we occupy.  

If we intentionally and deliberately asked our organizations to operate in alignment with these three principles, and to change whatever doesn’t align with these core principles, massive systemic changes would emerge. It starts by defining what actually matters to us at the end of the day, and often this is a choice between profits and people.  

Second, to create more health in any system, we simply need to connect it to more of itself.

Organizations and institutions are filled up with living, breathing, feeling human beings, and the tangled web of relationships between those beings create the culture and inform the policies and principles of that organization.

Whether we are talking about our interior psyches, or we are talking about exterior systems and institutions, the more connected we are to ourselves and others, the more we are able to heal, integrate, attune and use emergent feedback loops for our collective growth and learning.

This holds true whether we are talking about your relationships with yourself and all your parts and inner conflicts, or we are talking about your (dys)functional family system, your workplace, board governance, or world politics.  

Living systems are a web of interconnected relationships.

They change as a result of the quality of those relationships. High-quality, strategic solutions emerge from conversational and co-creative processes directly aligned with the needs of the people who are impacted by the issue.  

Anytime we have curious, compassionate, courageous, connected, choiceful conversations with one another (instead of getting mired in old habits of punishment, shame, blame and coercion) we often discover exactly what is needed to address the issue at hand and help our institutions thrive even more.

One of the primary tasks of those conversations is to surface, identify and get aligned with the deeper, universal human needs at play in that system.  If change is not aligned with the needs of the human beings who make up that system, it fragments and fails. We are seeing this kind of disintegration happening both inside ourselves and all around us these days.

Remember, institutions are supposed to exist to serve the well-being of people.  
People don’t exist as tools and objects to serve the well-being of the system.  
When a system is not meeting the needs of the people, let’s work on upgrading our systems, instead of pathologizing the people being harmed by it.  

Whatever kind of system you’re working in, give it a meaningful set of principles to live up to,  connect it to more of itself, and align all change efforts with the universal human needs at play in the situation.

Interested in reading more about this topic?  Check this out.  

In our membership program we have been focusing on the dialogue skills necessary to bridge differences and heal rifts. 

In June we’ll be focusing on “Cultivating Aliveness: Where does the energy come from to do the work we are longing to do?”  If you’d like to cultivate your capacity to make meaningful changes in our world, and be part of an open-hearted community of practice,
consider joining us.  

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